In crisis situations, the protection of human rights is particularly important. In his address to the Committee of Ministers, Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis, head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), stressed that restricting fundamental freedoms because of the COVID-19 pandemic was only acceptable under the strict provisions of the ECHR. He added that "crisis situations reinforce the value and meaning of the ECHR."
The session, which was held virtually because of the current pandemic, was attended by the foreign ministers. The ministers adopted the 'Athens Declaration', setting out the principles for "responding effectively to public health crises while fully respecting human rights, democracy and the rule of law." It also emphasised the important role of the CoE's various institutions in crisis management. The declaration further reaffirmed the existing commitments of the member states to European unity and solidarity, and to ensuring an effective public health response while respecting human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
European Convention on Human Rights turns 70
Following the ministerial session, the chairs of the Committee of Ministers and Parliamentary Assembly, the secretary general and other senior representatives of the CoE, met in Athens to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the ECHR. The Convention was opened for signature by CoE member states on 4 November 1950 in Rome, establishing a genuine Europe-wide system for the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms. Today, almost 830 million people are entitled to bring cases to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg if they believe their rights have been infringed. The long-term effectiveness of the ECHR system has largely been ensured by the so-called Interlaken reform process, which was initiated during Switzerland's chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers in 2010.
Council of Europe and the COVID-19 pandemic
Since the last session of the Committee of Ministers in Helsinki in May 2019, the CoE has managed to meet the political, institutional and financial challenges it has faced in recent years, particularly in connection with the repercussions of Russia's annexation of the Crimea in 2014. This year's public health crisis has forced the CoE to devise new ways of operating. Switzerland is committed to ensuring the CoE's capacity to function.
The CoE was founded in 1949. It is headquartered in Strasbourg and has 47 member states. Switzerland joined the CoE in 1963. Greece's six-month chairmanship will end on 18 November when it will be handed over to Germany.
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