On 16 and 17 October 2020, the AIRE Centre and Civil Rights Defenders will host the Seventh Regional Rule of Law Forum for South-East Europe. 

The Forum will comprise of a central conference bringing together the President of the European Court of Human Rights, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, and judges and former judges of the European Court of Human Rights. Representatives from across the region will meet at national working hubs in Belgrade, Podgorica, Pristina, Sarajevo, Skopje, Tirana and Zagreb, where attendees will include presidents and judges of supreme and constitutional courts, ombudspersons, government agents before the Strasbourg Court, representatives of judicial centres/academies, representatives of NGOs, and prominent legal experts from the region. 

The Forum will be an interactive event, with the opportunity for participants from across the region to connect and engage with the central conference, and with each other, via video technology. The Forum is supported by the UK Government, the Government of Sweden, the Konrad Adenaur Foundation, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdome of the Netherlands.

The topic for this year’s Forum is Covid-19 and the rights protected by the European Convention on Human Rights. The Covid-19 pandemic is one of the greatest global crises since World War II. Governments all over the world have taken unprecedented measures to deal with the challenges posed by the pandemic and to limit the dangers posed to life and health. It is also the first time in the history of the Convention that many Member States have been affected concurrently by the same exceptional crisis situation, and by one which affects so many Convention rights. 

The pandemic has engaged States’ positive obligations to protect life and health, whilst the measures such as lockdowns which were implemented to try to contain the pandemic and protect health have interfered with numerous other Convention rights. For example, the closure of courts, schools, places of worship and hospitality venues has raised issues under the right to a fair trial, education, freedom of religion and peaceful enjoyment of property, whilst restrictions on movement and gatherings interfered with the rights to freedom of movement, expression, association and free elections. 

Clearly, the Covid-19 pandemic raises novel legal questions and new challenges regarding how to balance the multiple rights at stake. There is, therefore, no doubt that a range of Convention rights cases related to the pandemic will soon land on the desks of national and international judges. As the nature and impact of the pandemic continues to evolve, it is also likely that judicial responses to these questions will help to shape States’ responses to the pandemic going forward. It is therefore essential that those dealing with questions relating to the pandemic understand what the ECHR requires of Member States in such a context. Not only will this help to ensure a human rights compliant response to the Covid-19 pandemic, it will also impact on the development of longer-lasting human rights norms in the field of public health and help to condition the effectiveness of human rights law in emergency situations for the foreseeable future.

An understanding of existing, relevant ECtHR case law can help provide the keys to overcome new challenges and provide a useful framework within which to address new legal questions. 

The Forum will provide an opportunity to reflect on how existing ECtHR case law may be applied to the novel legal questions and factual situations which have arisen in the context of the pandemic. It will bring together experts in the field to discuss the extent of the positive obligations which Member States might be under, and when exactly such obligations might arise. The Forum will also facilitate conversation regarding the main threats to human rights which have arisen in the context of the pandemic and provide an opportunity for participants to share their insights into best practice solutions to these challenges based on their experience dealing with the pandemic so far. As always, the Forum will encourage collaboration between participants to develop solutions on how to manage the challenges which they continue to face and/or which may arise in the future.