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Miltiadis Varvitsiotis: restrictions imposed in situations of health crisis must be ‘necessary, temporary, proportionate and under constant review’

“Confronted with the COVID-19 pandemic, people widely observed the restrictions imposed to protect human life and public health, showing a strong sense of maturity and respect for human life,” said Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, the Greek Alternate Minister for Foreign Affairs, Chairman of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, addressing the PACE Standing Committee today. “This does not mean that democratic values and fundamental freedoms can be restricted easily or without adequate explanations in the future, every time there is an emergency situation. The measures adopted in similar situations need to be necessary, temporary, proportionate and under constant review,” he added.

Mr Varvitsiotis underlined that the main theme of the Greek Chairmanship would be the “protection of human life and public health in the context of a pandemic – responding effectively to a sanitary crisis while fully respecting human rights and the principles of democracy and the rule of law”. He announced that the ministerial session in Athens on 4 November should be an opportunity for the Committee of Ministers to adopt a set of prescriptions, in the form of a political declaration, on how to protect human rights in the context of a pandemic.

“We also intend to put special emphasis on specific thematic priorities regarding the rights, hopes and concerns of young people, in particular as regards education and democratic culture in the digital era (access to information, to schools and universities). These are essential in order to keep young people involved in our democratic process through digital means, but also to preserve them from fake news and all the distortions of reality of social media,” he added.

Other priorities of the Greek Chairmanship mentioned by Mr Varvitsiotis included protecting children as vulnerable persons at risk of poverty or becoming victims of violence, trafficking or forced labour, and unaccompanied migrant minors; safeguarding the right of younger generations to enjoy cultural heritage unaffected by the impact of climate change; as well as the European Social Charter and social rights in the framework of the Council of Europe, particularly the impact of the pandemic crisis on the right of access of vulnerable social groups to health as a public good.

Finally, the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers announced a number of ministerial conferences organised in the framework of the Greek Presidency, in particular the holding of a conference of the Ministers of Justice on the “Independence of Justice and the Rule of Law” in Athens on 21-22 September; a conference of the Ministers of Education on the founding of an “Observatory for the teaching of history” in Athens at the end of October, as well as conferences of the Ministers of Culture and Sport.

“It would be extremely important that the Athens Declaration would set a number of standards to which to abide for next crisis concerning freedoms, rights, the rule of law, democracy, because unfortunately, there might be a similar situation in the future, and although we know that life will be different after any crisis, our values should remain untouched," said PACE President Rik Daems. "I am extremely glad that you have taken the link between environment and human rights on board in the context of your presidency. Climate and environmental issues are crucial because nature has given us the most valuable gift that anyone of us can receive, that is life –Article 2 of the Convention says ‘the right to live’. It is therefore obvious that these two important issues, environment and human rights, should be linked,” Rik Daems concluded.