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Aggression against Ukraine, populist excesses and the Covid-19 pandemic: the Council’s values threatened on all sides

Bern, Switzerland

The PACE Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights held its meeting in Bern and Neuchâtel (Switzerland) on 5 and 6 September 2022.

In particular, it discussed the report of its ad hoc sub-committee which visited Kyiv, Bucha and Irpin at the end of June, and decided to declassify this document. In light of the numerous violations of international law in this conflict, the members of the committee underlined the importance of allowing justice to run its full course.

The committee also discussed and adopted reports presented by Sunna Aevarsdottir (Iceland, SOC) on vaccine discrimination and by Margreet de Boer (Netherlands, SOC) on the impact of Covid-19 restrictions on civil society. Both reports will be published on the committee's website in the next few days.

The committee also held major hearings with experts on the threats posed by “Pegasus”-type spyware, on the relationship between national constitutions and the European Convention on Human Rights, on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on prison populations and on the feasibility of setting up an ad hoc criminal tribunal to try the crime of aggression, in this case those directly responsible for the Russian Federation's war of aggression against Ukraine. The experts invited to the hearings appear on the agenda.

Finally, the committee held exchanges of view with senior Swiss representatives, including Thomas Hefti, the President of the Council of States (the upper house of the Swiss Parliament) and Karin Keller-Sutter, the Federal Councillor (Minister) in charge of the Federal Department of Justice and Police.

“The intense and constructive work of the committee has once again demonstrated the importance of defending the Council of Europe's common values of democracy, the rule of law and human rights,” said committee Chair Damien Cottier (Switzerland, ALDE). “Unfortunately, these values are under threat from all sides, be it the war of aggression against Ukraine, populist excesses or the upheavals caused by crises such as the Covid-19 pandemic. The committee will continue to contribute actively to the discussions on these important issues in order to defend the individual freedoms of the 675 million people living in the 46 member States of the Council of Europe.”

The committee met for the first time since 2019 outside its usual venues in Strasbourg or Paris. It met in Bern and Neuchâtel at the invitation of the Swiss delegation to PACE.

Continuing its visit to Neuchâtel on Tuesday 6 September, the committee meets with cantonal and municipal authorities as well as academic representatives to discuss the Swiss legal system, the role of international justice and the challenges facing the European Court of Human Rights. It will also look at the role played by Neuchâtel jurist Emer de Vattel (1714-1767) in the emergence of international law in the 18th century.