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«We have a vaccine – this is the Convention on Human Rights: SPILF has discussed curbing rights and freedoms amid pandemic

The St. Petersburg International Legal Forum 9 ½ has discussed the controversy of human rights restriction amid pandemic. The speakers have paid a special attention to the rights of the most vulnerable social groups and fake news.

Speaking via video-link, Linos-Alexandre Sicilianos, President of the European Court of Human Rights, said that the current situation justified the measures taken by various countries. «This crisis is totally unprecedented. The problems we are facing are huge, but we have to address them all together. Meanwhile, we have to remember that the European Convention on Human Rights outlines the founding European values of the XXI century. <…> We have to preserve these values and to address the crisis at the same time. This is what our goal is about», he said

Still, in the current circumstances many norms are now contradicting each other. It was explicitly stated by Mikhail Galperin, Representative of the Russian Federation in the European Court of Human Rights and Deputy Minister of Justice of the Russian Federation.

«We see new and quite unexpected conflicts of fundamental rights arising. For instance, the one that could hardly be imagined before- the conflict of the right to life and health on the one hand and the right to freedom of movement on the other. <…> Very often, in such a situation, the people and the society would demand more restrictions. Fear, totally justified in that case, and feeling of uncertainty, experienced by our people, may translate into some pressure, exerted on local, regional and federal authorities.», he said.

«The Council of Europe has no vaccine or a medication to protect us against the coronavirus. But we have another vaccine – that’s the Convention on Human Rights. We have other conventions that can help us protect our society, our lifestyle against this pandemic», Jan Kleijssen, Director of Information Society and Action against Crime Directorate, Council of Europe, said.

Tatyana Moskalkova, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Russian Federation, reported on the proposed changes to the international law. «Practical propositions help us embark on drafting a protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights or even a stand-alone Convention on Human Rights amid deadly infection or a pandemic. So far we have only an international UN Act, that embraces the actions of a war or postwar times. Still, it is crucial to understand the legal status of regulation for restricting rights and freedoms and the one of quarantine. How will the control mechanisms, set up to oversee the exercise of human rights, work  in that case, what commitments the state has to fulfill, probably this includes liability for fake news dissemination, as it spreads panic», she said.

The problem of fake news and freedom of expression was also covered by Jan Kleijssen. He rendered an example of fake news of drugs, that allegedly were efficient against the coronavirus. «Some say it should raise hope, but on the contrary, it causes anxiety. In this context media and professional journalists, in particular public broadcasters, have a key role and a special responsibility for providing timely, accurate an reliable information to the public, but also for preventing  panic and fostering people’s cooperation. They should adhere to the highest professional and ethical standards of responsible journalism and thus convey authoritative messages and refrain from publishing or amplifying unverified stories», he said.

Some time during the discussion was devoted to vulnerable social groups.  Jan Kleijssen said: «We see an increase in domestic violence and violence against women and children. In Europe we have the ability and the most modern legal tools to prevent and counter these crimes. The Council of Europe adopted Conventions to tackle violence against women and abuse of children. We know what we need countries to do, especially the ones that want to protect most vulnerable social groups».

Christos Giakoumopoulos, Director General Human Rights and Rule of Law, Council of Europe, said: «As late as yesterday the Strasburg Court delivered an important decision. It recognized that the new compensation mechanism for inadequate detention conditions is an effective remedy. It is common ground that the detained people<…> may suffer more than others during the sanitary crisis. The question of sanitary conditions in detention facilities is of utmost importance. The new domestic remedy recently introduced by Russia is a welcome response to the Court’s pilot judgment. And the Strasbourg Court has very quickly reacted and taken it into account. This interaction between the Strasbourg Court and member states, that has not stopped at the time of crisis, will progress further and will help to restore justice. 

Alexander Kalashnikov, Director of Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia reported on the issue of inmates in Russia. He said that the suspects, accused and convicts enjoy all the necessary legal aid. At the same time, the penitentiaries take comprehensive precautions measures to contain the spread of coronavirus.

Another problem is finances of individuals and businesses amid the pandemic. Dmitriy Aristov, Director of the Federal Bailiffs’ Service, Chief Bailiff of the Russian Federation, spoke about it.

«Regretfully, we have to admit that in the context of lockdown people’s and corporate solvency is going down. The Federal Bailiff’s Service is one of the worst hit in that situation. One of our main objectives is to enforce debts. Probably it is just a minor aspect of law and law enforcement, but in the context of the European Convention on Rights and Freedoms it is the enforcement that acts as a final, ultimate exercise of right to legal remedy, execution of a court ruling. This function does not work. It means that one of the main rights- the right to legal remedy – is not exercised. Obviously, the measures, conceived to support people and businesses, have to imply fast track procedures for those involved in court enforcement proceedings. How do we balance the interests of debtors and creditors?»

He also added that Russia does a lot in that area.

St. Petersburg International Legal Forum 9 ½ : Rule of Corona is held on April 10 through April 12 via video conferencing. It brings together Russian and international authorities, lawyers, academics, politicians and journalists. The Forum focuses on legal aspects of public and business life amid COVID 19 pandemic.