Europe’s rights body fears virus measures hurting democracy

Europe’s human rights watchdog is warning that democratic rights and personal freedoms have been eroded during the coronavirus pandemic

In a 148-page report lamenting a state of “democracy in distress,” the Council of Europe said several countries where safeguards for the judiciary and other institutions were already under threat had been further eroded in 2020.

It highlighted a “clear and worrying degree of democratic backsliding,” said Marija Pejcinovic Buric, the council’s secretary-general. “The danger is that our democratic culture will not fully recover.”

Based in Strasbourg, France, the Council of Europe was created after World War II to protect human and democratic rights and its membership expanded to include Russia and many formerly Communist states. It’s not a European Union institution.

Among countries cited for undemocratic practices were Russia, Turkey, Moldova, Hungary, and Azerbaijan. The practices included intimidation and arbitrary detention of government critics, journalists and members of civil society, as well as changes to the judiciary that were seen as threats to its independence.

Buric said violence against women had also worsened due to lockdown confinement while migrants and other vulnerable groups were facing more frequent abusive behavior at the hands of authorities.

“The sad reality is that an increase in the rates of domestic abuse was predictable from the very outset of the crisis. Periods of confinement mean that victims are often trapped with their abusers,” she said by videoconference at a meeting in Athens that coincided with the report’s release. ——— Lorne Cook reported from Brussels.


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