On 17 March Secretary General of the Council of Europe Marija Pejčinović Burić delivered a lecture “Europe at a crossroads – Council of Europe and key challenges to democracy, human rights and rule of law” at Riga Graduate School of Law (RGSL).
Addressing RGSL students and administration, the Secretary General approached the defining challenges of Europe today and instruments already at work to apply human rights standards to them. “There is no doubt that artificial intelligence already has an enormous impact on the way that we live – that this will only accelerate – and in many respects make our lives easier.
But it also raises a range of ethical issues. How do we stop algorithms from discriminating against individuals or groups? What happens when low-skilled jobs are replaced by machines? How can we prevent – or determine legal responsibility – for attacks on election campaigns, technology and systems?”
“Similarly, there can be no doubt that increased environmental harms and climate change pose a real risk to our human rights – including the rights to life, private and family life, and property. Some domestic courts in Europe have already cited the European Convention in judgments that require cuts in specific emissions. That is why we are also in process of developing new tools on the subject of human rights and the environment – to safeguard the future,” M. Pejčinović Burić said at RGSL.
She also addressed the issue of the ratification of the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention. “On this, I take a moment to say that I heard the recent call by Latvia’s Ombudsman for the 14th Saeima to ratify the Istanbul Convention. I hope that the members of the Saeima heard it too. If they take this step, they will do so with the support of the Council of Europe – and to the benefit of Latvian society. It would also give a clear signal to anti-rights movements across Europe that the misconceptions and misrepresentations they spread about the Istanbul Convention – and other instruments – can be overcome by reason, resolve and reality.”
The Secretary General said that 37 of the CE member states have ratified the Convention, and the monitoring shows that where this has happened, domestic laws have been amended, and women have been better protected.
M. Pejčinović Burić said the democratic security has failed when it comes to the Russian aggression against Ukraine. “The decision to resort to violence was not the starting point of Russia’s democratic decline –but a horrifying staging post in a journey that has been taking place before our eyes for years.” Therefore, Europe needs to decide what direction it will take.
“Having moved so far forward on the basis of common standards – made possible by common values – are we about to deviate? Worse still, are we about to U-turn and go back to the past, following Russia’s example? Or will we pause – breathe deeply – and drive forward with confidence into the better future that is ours for the taking? Ultimately, that’s a question of political will. We need the governments of every Council of Europe member state to recommit to Europeans’ fundamental rights – and to multilateralism as the way to overcome common challenges.” The Secretary General stressed that they will have the chance to do that in Reykjavik this May – at the Council of Europe’s 4th Summit of Heads of State and Government.
She also urged RGSL students to actively participate in shaping their societies. Citizens “can lobby their politicians – participate in civil society – and, of course, they can vote. In doing so, they can send a clear message what the future they want – and what they will and will not tolerate. You are of course such citizens. And as educated law students, you are better placed than many to make your voices heard – and go on to play a role in setting the future of your country.”
The Secretary General of the Council of Europe Marija Pejčinović Burić visited Riga on 16 – 17 March as Latvia prepares for its presidency of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers. She met with the President of Latvia Egils Levits, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Latvia Edgars Rinkevičs, members of the Latvian parliament and had a lecture at Riga Graduate School of Law together with the Latvian ambassador to the Council of Europe Jānis Kārkliņš.
The full lecture is available here: