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Democracy, human rights and the rule of law must not become the pandemic’s ‘collateral damage’

The Bulgarian Parliament during pandemics

As states reintroduce extraordinary measures to deal with recent increases in the COVID-19 virus, PACE’s Standing Committee has again warned that “democracy, human rights and the rule of law cannot be allowed to become the collateral damage of the pandemic”.

While supporting States and public authorities in giving priority to saving lives and protecting populations, the committee pointed out: “No public health emergency may be used as a pretext to destroy the democratic acquis.”

Approving a resolution and recommendation at a meeting by teleconference today, based on a report by Ian Liddell-Grainger (United Kingdom, EC/DA), the committee warned governments against abusing emergency powers to silence opposition or restrict human rights. Most importantly, any emergency measures introduced in response to the pandemic should “not exceed the duration of the emergency situation warranting them”, the committee said.

During the pandemic, parliaments should “continue to play their triple role of representation, legislation and oversight”, the latter being even more essential in times of emergency. The parliaments of most Council of Europe member States had responded with “flexibility and creativity” to the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic, the committee added, continuing to exercise their statutory duties without interruption.

The committee also spelled out principles for any decision to postpone elections during a public health emergency, including that any postponement should be foreseen by law, necessary, proportionate and limited in time, that all political parties and other stakeholders should be involved, and that campaigning should be open and fair, with meaningful debate. It also suggested developing alternative arrangements for assessing elections, underlining that this process “goes well beyond the physical observation on election days”.

Constructive multilateralism is a form of capital for anticipating and addressing real threats and restoring confidence in intergovernmental institutions, as well as tackling “the far-reaching health, economic, political, infrastructural and social implications of the current crisis,” the parliamentarians said.

They called on Council of Europe member and observer States to ensure that diagnostic tools, treatments and vaccines are available and affordable to everyone, starting with the most vulnerable groups, among Europe’s 830 million citizens.