Human Rights must remain a fundamental pillar of the response to COVID-19
PLATFORMA and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean (PAM) organised on 18 September 2020 a joint webinar on the cooperation between parliamentarians and local authorities: a key to ensure Human Rights protection and sustainable recovery.
The objective of the “EU Neighbouring South – Safeguarding human rights in the post-Covid-19 context” online event was to assess the status of Human Rights at the local and regional levels in the EU Neighbourhood South, and to present the work of parliaments, local and regional governments in jointly safeguarding, promoting and advancing the Human Rights agenda around the Mediterranean basin through legislative, political, social, and economic cooperation.
The webinar gathered more than 100 participants representing national and international parliaments, local and regional governments, senior experts, academic institutions and civil society.
Delegates analysed the impact on the fundamental rights of the unprecedented restrictive measures adopted at the onset of the crisis, by governments to curb the spread of the pandemic, and the need for reinforced cooperation between local and regional authorities and parliamentarians to ensure a sustainable recovery. The webinar focused on core areas related to decentralization, human right violations, and individual versus collective rights in public health services.
Consent and trust, openness and transparency, fairness and inclusion
Mr. Frederic Vallier, Secretary General of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR), welcomed the participants, stressing that Human Right should be based on consent and trust, openness and transparency, fairness and inclusion, and social innovation. “Local and regional governments in this programming are critical for responding effectively to the recent crisis,” he also stressed.
“COVID-19 has triggered significant consequences on human rights, fostering economic inequalities also in economically developed states,” said Mr. Harald Bergmann, Mayor of Middleburg (the Netherlands), Thematic Spokesperson on Human Rights at the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe, Council of Europe. He emphasised the need to implement human-rights policies in housing, health care, education, security and public order, and urban planning, and to include citizens in the decision-making process.
He also called for specific attention towards the most vulnerable groups, such as children, elderly people, national minorities, and people with disabilities or migrants, as they may face discrimination in accessing their rights or because their rights are simply more likely to be violated.
Stronger collaboration between the spheres of governance
“This is a crucial moment to pave the way for a stronger collaboration between the local and the central level of governance,” announced Italian Member of Parliament Yana Ehm, PAM Vice-President and President of the PAM 3rd Standing Committee on Dialogue among Civilizations and Human Rights.
She recalled the importance of the cooperation between PLATFORMA and PAM and the partnership between local and regional governments, and parliaments in their national and international capacity, to address the human rights challenges and inequalities, and jointly safeguarding, promoting and advancing the human rights agenda around the Mediterranean basin.
In particular, she referred to the exacerbating inequalities which the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed, especially for education and health systems, as well as the exponential increase in gender-based violence, and the challenges that migrants and refugees are facing.
Emergency measures implemented in accordance with international standards
Belgium Member of the European Parliament Maria Arena, Chair of the Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI), stressed the key role of local and regional authorities to adapt and address challenges in the post-COVID-19 context, as ecological transition, employment and inequalities, research and development but also the question of the EU’s role in globalisation.
In that way she called for the deepening of internal and external solidarities in particular through the recovery of the EU’s southern partnership concerning the safeguarding of human rights, development cooperation projects and engagement of the South Mediterranean countries in the proposed EU pact on migrations.
Hon. Ammar Moussi, Algeria, PAM Rapporteur on Migration, stressed the duty of parliaments, through their legislative roles, oversight and accountability, budgeting and advocacy, to ensure that emergency measures are implemented properly and in accordance with international standards, that restrictions on freedoms are proportionate and temporary, that financial emergency funds are disbursed where needed, and that security and stability are upheld. “We have to draw the line where the restrictions are proportional and where not, by an international agreement,” he said.
He highlighted three priority areas for policies: local administration of public services, ensuring that resources are allocated following the local needs; consultation with local government for the economic recovery; and digitalisation to limit the negative effects of the restrictions.
“Policymakers should not rely entirely on science”
Prof. Mukesh Kapila, PAM Senior Medical Advisor, Professor of Global Health and Humanitarian Affairs, University of Manchester and former Director for Emergency Response at the WHO, highlighted the dilemmas between maximising public health and safeguarding individual liberties, particularly in the case of the controversial issues such as vaccination: “Public health is in competition with people’s health: to pursue the first you need to limit the second,” he stated.
He stated that policymakers should not rely entirely on science, as the current level of knowledge of COVID-19 is still lacking in terms of prevention, control and measures ahead to control it. He invited countries to adapt measures at the local level in a flexible way, while informing people of all risks for them to take part in the broader public debate.
In this regard, he referred to a series of seminars that PAM will organize to address global health and governance at the time of COVID-19. The programme will deal with key aspects of human rights: legal issues, training, international cooperation, vulnerable groups, food security and migrants pandemic and human rights, so that everybody becomes an “expert” in addressing sensitive policies and decisions.
During this webinar, representatives of local authorities from Morocco, Palestine and Tunisia shared some examples and lessons learned. These included, inter alia, cross-Mediterranean city-to-city cooperation, and decentralization cooperation projects, which touched upon the gender related issues at local level, as well as reinforcement of public policies and role of women and civil society.
Ms Zakia Mrini, Member of the House of Representatives, President of the Moroccan Institute for Local Development, IMADEL (Morocco), presented the 2020 PLATFORMAwards first laureates: Marrakesh-Safi Region (Morocco) and Barcelona Province (Spain).
Dr. Neila Akrimi, Director General, VNG International Centre for Innovative Local Governance, CILG-VNGI (Tunisia) was also there to present a study on COVID-19 impact on women and girls.
The debate that followed provided participants with the opportunity to exchange practices and highlighted the critical relationship between parliamentarians and local authorities in protecting human rights, especially for people in the most vulnerable situations, including migrants and refugees. Among them, were noted the interventions by Hon. Belal Qasem, Palestine, PAM Vice-President, Mr Jean Pierre Elong Mbassi, Secretary General of United Cities and Local Governments of Africa (UCLG Africa), and by Mr Vincent Garce, President of the Mediterranean Citizens’ Assembly Foundation.
Amb. Sergio Piazzi, PAM Secretary General and Executive Officer of the UN, delivered the concluding statement and highlighted the broad consensus between parliamentarians and local governments that Human Rights must remain a fundamental pillar of the response to Covid-19 and must be tailored to assist all groups.
He recalled the key issues raised in the course of the conference, including the effects of globalisation, migrations, digitalization, new technologies, green economy, and the unique role of local governments, at the forefront of delivering critical services to the communities during this crisis.
He reiterated the satisfaction of PAM for the establishment of a structured cooperation with PLATFORMA and the reinforced partnership with European institutions.