“Europe is the continent with the highest human rights standards. (...)However, a look at Europe’s external borders and in the East of Europe shows us that, even today, peace and security, stability and welfare cannot be taken for granted,” said Angela Merkel, Federal Chancellor of Germany, in a speech today to a hybrid session of PACE, bringing together almost all of its members.
“All around us we see that basic human rights, not least freedom of the media and freedom of expression, are curtailed. If we shy away from facing up to the fact that our basic rights, the centrepiece of our democratic endeavours, are being violated, that would call into question our entire European vision. The rule of law is an essential pre-requisite for ordinary people’s trust and confidence in their state and in their institutions. People must be able to trust that their state will fulfil the obligations it entered into under international law, and is therefore subject to international law and the courts. That confidence is a pre-condition for a functioning and stable democracy. We all know that trust is fleeting, and that we must continuously work to earn the trust of our citizens.”
The coronavirus pandemic is one of the challenges we must overcome. Our health and welfare systems face a massive challenge, affecting our ability to co-exist. This is a real litmus test for our societies. We were obliged to curtail individual freedoms in order to tackle the pandemic, and of course we had to put in place very stringent pre-conditions, but all our measures had to be properly justified; they had to be limited and they had to be proportionate,” she underlined stressing that “the rule of law must serve everyone to create confidence, domestically but also internationally."
“Alongside its work promoting the rule of law, the Council of Europe also makes a very major contribution towards greater reliability at international level through its efforts to combat corruption. In addition, a rules-based order is the key basis for peaceful relations between states. It goes against our shared fundamental values if the sovereignty and integrity of states is called into question and flouted, as we are witnessing in Crimea and Nagorno-Karabakh. The Council of Europe can play a decisive role here – but only if all Council of Europe institutions co-operate closely," she said, encouraging the President of the Assembly to continue to strive for consistent co-operation and confidence-building between parliaments and states, as well as between the Parliamentary Assembly and the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. “A positive sign of such co-operation is the new joint mechanism which the Council of Europe will use to sanction any violations of its basic standards,” she added.
“A rules-based international order is also necessary to rise to the major challenges of our age - that no individual country can deal with successfully on its own - such as the global pandemic, climate change, or the risks and potential opportunities of cyberspace.” The Chancellor welcomed the Assembly’s active scrutiny of all aspects of Artificial Intelligence in the fields of human rights, the rule of law and democracy, pointing out that Artificial Intelligence must place human dignity centre stage.
“We can only genuinely protect rights if we respect the impartiality and independence of the judiciary - and that is why it is all the more worrying that the division of powers in some European countries is being called into question, and the rights of the judiciary being curtailed. The European Court of Human Rights is available to more than 800 million people, the length and breadth of the European continent, because their rights are enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights and reflected in their domestic legal orders. However, many countries drag their feet when it comes to actually executing judgements of the court, or indeed fail to implement them at all. That is why it is important that all judgements, especially those relating to political prisoners, are respected and executed immediately. We cannot countenance any pre-eminence of national law over the rights enshrined in the European Convention,” she concluded.
“Quite obviously, the Council of Europe and the European Union will have to work together effectively to safeguard fundamental rights and freedoms, and that is why I am delighted that the EU is poised to accede to the ECHR. A comprehensive system for the protection of human rights can only be of benefit to all of us.
We are celebrating the 10th anniversary of the opening for signature of the Istanbul Convention, which sets the benchmarks for combating violence against women and domestic violence. That is why it is a matter of deep regret for me that Turkey has decided to withdraw from this convention. I would have hoped that it would stay, and I would urge all members of the Council of Europe who have not yet done so to sign the convention. Women’s rights are human rights. Women’s rights must not be ignored, and any violation of them is a crime - and must be named as such. This is all the more important as violence against women is on the rise against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic,” the German Federal Chancellor underlined.
In conclusion, she recalled that 70 years ago Federal Chancellor Adenauer came to the Council of Europe with a European conscience. “Since then, times have changed - as have the challenges we are facing - but the basic values on which Europe is founded have remained immutable, as have the values which give shape to our European identity. We are all responsible for promoting these values, and we are all part of the European conscience. I can only encourage you to remain alert, to remain committed, to breathe life into the Council of Europe’s values. We must give a proper voice to our values, the values of human rights,” she concluded.