COVID-19: We must face the pandemic while respecting economic and social rights, says committee Chair

“European citizens are on their balconies and at their windows every evening to pay tribute to health workers, but Europe should not be content with applause and thanks,” said Luís Leite Ramos (Portugal, EPP/CD), Chair of PACE’s Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development.

“As never since the Second World War, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the need for strong protection of human rights, including economic and social rights. It is precisely the model of society based on human rights, democracy and the rule of law that is now in peril – it is the duty of all of us to remain vigilant in the face of adversity and this disease,” added Mr Leite Ramos.

In this context, he announced that a motion for a resolution had been put forward by Jennifer De Temmerman (France, ALDE), Chair of the Sub-Committee on Public Health and Sustainable Development, and signed by members of the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development and other members of the Parliamentary Assembly, entitled “COVID-19 – an effective and human rights-compliant response”.

In this respect, Ms De Temmermann said: “I am concerned that some states are taking democratically questionable measures using the pretext of the pandemic. Health emergencies were envisaged by PACE as early as 2016. The current situation highlights both the absolute need to review our priorities and the role of Council of Europe parliamentarians as guardians of human rights.”

“Beyond the difficult situation into which COVID-19 has plunged our hospitals, we must remain as supportive as possible of our older people to protect their rights and maintain intergenerational solidarity,” said Selin Sayek Böke (Turkey, SOC), Chair of the Sub-Committee on the European Social Charter. “The rights to health, social protection, employment, education and protection against discrimination are under pressure. More than ever, the rights defended by the European Social Charter are being challenged,” she said.

“The closure of the continent’s schools ensures that we are protecting young lives and the future of all the peoples of Europe, but also presents a challenge to the best interests of children and equal opportunities,” underlined Lord Don Touhig (United Kingdom, SOC), Chair of the Sub-Committee on Children.

For his part, Kestutis Masiulis (Lithuania, EPP/CD), Chair of the Sub-Committee on the Europe Prize, made clear that the sub-committee’s activities would continue.

“In spite of all the difficulties, the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development stands squarely alongside Europe’s most vulnerable. It will continue its democratic mission – this is the least we can do, at a time when health workers are risking their lives and citizens are losing their lives,” concluded Mr Leite Ramos, the committee’s Chair.