Dear guests, dear students, dear colleagues,
It is a great pleasure for me to open the Annual Conference on Human Rights which RGSL organizes in cooperation with the Latvian Ministry of Foreign affairs. The conference this year takes place in a very peculiar and difficult moment for all of us as the pandemics has affected all contries in Europe and beyond them. The unusual online modalities adopted for the conference however, will not lessen the interest that it triggers, nor be an obstacle to the exchenge of ideas today. Similarly, the Covid-19 crisis has not prevented RGSL from discharging its educational duties in this challenging time and we are running our activities, where human rights play a central role, with enthusiasm and dedication to our students.
As you know, to organize an annuall conference on human rights is a a consolidated tradition for RGSL, which confirms the important role it plays in bolstering the culture of fundamental rights and freedom in the Baltic region and beyond.
This is also a special moment because recently the 70th anniversary of the signing of the European Convention on Human Rights on 4 November 1950 was celebrated and this is the right moment to take stock of the achievements of and of the outstanding challenges for the European Court of Human Rights. This is what will be discussed today during the conference with the contribution of several outstanding speakers, including RGSL academics, represetatives of the Latvian Ministry of Foreign affairs and the President of the Latvian Constitutional Court.
Since several years the RGSL annual conference on human rights raises awareness in the Latvian audience on recent case law of the European Court of Human Rights with particular, but not exclusively, focus on Latvia. Today the speakers will provide the audience with a comprehensive overview regarding the most significant developments in the field of human rights protection at national, European and international levels stressing their relevance to Latvia.
The specific focus of the conference this year is on the judicial dialogue on human rights between different courts at both international and national level. This judicial dialogue is of utmost importance in a moment when the rule of law and fundamental freedoms are under attack in Europe and elsewhere and the pandemics implies restriction of human rights which need to me constantly monitored.
The Israeli intellectual Yuval Noha Harari, in a famous article published in the Financial Times in March 2020 entitled ‘The World after Coronavirus’, provides a fascinating analysis of the challenges that the pandemic is positing globally for humankind. He argues, among other things, that we are probably facing the most significant crisis of our generation. The impact on human rights of such a crisis, and of the measures adopted by national and international stakeholders to face it, are currently in the spotlight of legal scholars, policy makers, journalists, think-tanks and NGOs. The long-term consequences, however, remain uncertain and under-researched. They will affect not only our health systems, but also the way we move, work, study, socialize and the enjoyment of human rights such as the freedom of movement, assembly and privacy, as well as economic, social and cultural rights. While states during the COVID-19 pandemic have a duty to adopt positive measures to guarantee the right to life and the right to health, which can also imply the adoption of extraordinary measures, they must also respect, protect and fulfil the entire gamut of human rights. The latter are in fact non-divisible and mutually reinforcing. Equally important is that processes of democratic accountability are not suspended due to the COVID19 emergency.
In this context, it is important that the European Court of Human Rights, in a constant dialogue with other courts, plays its role to safeguard fundamental rights and freedoms emerging as ‘the conscience of Europe’ and demonstrates that the European Convention on Human Rights is a living instrument 70 years after its adoption.
In parallel, RGSL will keep doing its job in the field of human rights and it will do it in its elective field of excellence: through education, shaping new generations of human rights experts who will contribute to the work of courts, tribunals, NGOs and academic centres. The guardians of the Convention in fact are not only needed in Strasburg, but also here, among us, in all democratic societies.
Dr. Pietro Sullo, Rector, Riga Graduate School of Law