Council of Europe (CoE)
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s address to the participants of 130th Session of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe held via videoconference, Athens, November 4, 2020
Madam Secretary General of the Council of Europe,
Mr President of the Committee of Ministers,
It is symbolic that we have met to celebrate, albeit virtually, the 70th anniversary of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in Athens. Hellas is the birthplace of the notions of human rights and democracy.
We also remember that the Convention, which crowned three thousand years of the development of European law and humanist thinking, was formulated in response to the horrors of World War II and as a guarantee that this will never happen again. This year we celebrated the 75th anniversary of Victory over Nazism. The Soviet people liberated Europe from the Nazi plague, sustaining, together with the other European nations, irrevocable losses in the fight for this victory. However, it turned out that some members of our organisation have a very short memory. They are revising the outcome of the war, glorifying Nazis and their accomplices and destroying monuments to the liberators of Europe. They have forgotten the price that was paid for the values and ideals enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.
I am convinced that historical revisionism is one of the main threats to the Convention and the legal order that is based on it. There are practical examples to prove this. Large-scale human rights violations are reported in the countries that are rewriting history and erecting monuments to Holocaust criminals. Millions of people are being discriminated against in Ukraine and the Baltics for being Russian or for speaking Russian. Hundreds of thousands of people recorded as non-citizens have been deprived of their fundamental rights. The Council of Europe must not turn a blind eye to these examples of apartheid in the 21st century because this is doing irreparable damage to its reputation.
The ECHR is the backbone of the common humanitarian space in Europe, which is reinforced with the norms of international law rather than some “rules” which some countries and their blocs are arbitrarily promoting. However, this space will not be complete until the European Union joins the Convention without any exemptions and exceptions. This is in the best interests of all Europeans.
Russia has always complied and will continue to comply in good faith with its obligations under the ECHR, including in the current complicated period when all of us have to take restrictive measures to protect our people from the coronavirus infection.
The focal point of the ECHR is the right to life. Russia has done its utmost to provide assistance in the fight against the pandemic to all countries in need of such assistance. We called for lifting all barriers and sanctions, which are hindering us from helping each other in this difficult period. It is gratifying that many member states of the Council of Europe did the same.
In this connection, I would like to express our gratitude to the Greek Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. During the pandemic our Greek friends not just acted in accordance with the commandment of their great compatriot, Hippocrates, which is, “First, do no harm.” They have attained practical results and laid the foundation for future constructive work. Russia has always called on the Council of Europe to do more than just supervise the implementation of the ECHR and other conventions. It can do more, in particular, formulate a unifying agenda to combine the countries’ efforts in healthcare and social protection. The tragic lessons of the coronavirus crisis are forcing us to review the organisation’s priorities in order to strengthen its social dimension based on its mechanisms, notably, the MEDICRIME Convention, the European Social Charter and the European Pharmacopoeia.
Russia has certified its first coronavirus vaccine, Sputnik V. We are also working on two other vaccines. We are ready for cooperation in the field of vaccination at the platform of the Council of Europe. We know that not everyone is happy with these Russian achievements. But political and economic considerations must not take priority over the protection of people’s health. I would like to quote from another of your great compatriots, Socrates, who said, “If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way; if you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.”
The coronavirus pandemic has shown again that Europeans must stand together against common threats. We have always believed in the unifying potential of the Council of Europe, and we viewed it as an image of a Common European Home. However, it should be admitted honestly that our 25-year experience of living in this “home” is not completely unambiguous: there were incontestable achievements, as well as frustrated hopes and disappointments.
The 2014-2019 crisis in the Council of Europe has shown clearly what happens when the charter principles and norms are violated, when double standards are used and attempts are made to use the Council bodies for promoting bloc interests and settling political scores. I hope that all parties have learned the lessons of the crisis and would like to avoid a repetition. The main conclusion that we have come to in Russia is that the Council of Europe should maintain its independence and identity as a truly common European organisation based on the principles of sovereign equality of states and respect for their specific features and policies. Only in this case will it be able to move confidently forward, towards the main objective formulated in its charter: to strengthen the unity of European countries and promote their economic and social progress, as well as the creation of a common legal and humanitarian space from Lisbon to Vladivostok.