2021 ELI Annual Conference: Keynote Speech by Council of Europe Secretary General


ELI is honoured that Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić addressed its Members and Friends in a keynote speech on challenges to human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe.

In her keynote speech of 6 September 2021, Secretary General Pejčinović Burić provided insight into the history and work of the Council of Europe, in particular the wealth of its treaties, aimed at protecting human rights in Europe, which remains unprecedented on other continents.

She pointed out the harsh reality that parts of Europe have experienced the rise of populism and extreme nationalism over recent years, which poses a direct challenge to the values and standards that underpin the Council of Europe as well as presents a threat to multilateralism itself. She added that her recent annual report entitled State of Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law: A Democratic Renewal for Europe provides clear evidence for democratic backsliding among Council of Europe Member States, which was expedited by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Secretary General Pejčinović Burić went on to identify specific challenges to the right of freedom of expression, the right to freedom of assembly and association, and the prevention of discrimination against minorities and vulnerable groups, underlining that the values in the European Convention on Human Rights are non-negotiable. She also presented the Council of Europe’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, a crisis which has emphasised the value of international cooperation. The Council of Europe provided advice and practical support on a number of issues in this context over the past few months, as exemplified by the Secretary General in her keynote speech.

The Secretary General added that other challenges have continued to evolve and emerge during the COVID-19 crisis too, such as the question of how to apply human rights in the digital age, the issue of hate speech, the threat posed to human rights by environmental harm and climate change, and the issue of violence against women. She presented the latest Council of Europe developments aimed at addressing these issues.

The keynote speech by the Secretary General was followed by a stimulating Q&A session during which ELI President Christiane Wendehorst posed questions, that had been submitted by ELI Members, to the Secretary General. These pertained in particular to the combating of human trafficking, vaccinations against COVID-19, Protocol 15 amending the European Convention on Human Rights, the regulation of new technologies and the digitalisation of justice systems. ELI is grateful to Secretary General Pejčinović Burić for her insightful keynote and observes the overlaps in the work of the Council of Europe and the topics covered under its current and upcoming projects.

The recording of the welcome addresses and keynote speech is available below.