Rósa Björk Brynjólfsdóttir (UEL) warns ‘COVID-19 could become human rights crisis’

In this week’s debate of the PACE Standing Committee, Ms Rosa Björk Brynjolfsdottir, Head of the Icelandic delegation and member of the Enlarged Bureau of UEL said that “when it comes to response of the Council of Europe Member States to the Covid-19 pandemic with the respect to human rights, democracy and the rule of law, we have seen how powerful the Council of Europe is when it comes to assuring and reminding us constantly that even and especially in times of enormous crisis, like we have been faced the last weeks, we must uphold and respect human rights and the rule of law. Even when we have all been faced with serious restrictions of our freedom of movement or our rights to have an education or social contacts.”

Ms. Brynjólfsdóttir stated that “during these difficult times we must not forget that this pandemic affects us all differently and can have a devastating effect on the most vulnerable groups in our member states, like marginal groups that are facing deprivation of human rights. Women and children who are faced with higher rate of domestic violence locked in their home, journalists who are faced with restriction of freedom of speech.”

She highlighted “the necessity of parliaments and governments to combatting domestic violence with clear and effective measures; with awareness raising, educating the public and by putting more budget into women’s shelters and to ensure access for women and children to hotlines and professional help.”

She noted that in Iceland, “we have taken measures to support vulnerable groups, work against violence, counteract social isolation among the elderly and disabled and ensuring even more than before that children from low-income families have the opportunity to participate in recreational activities. Priority will be given to increased access to mental health services for these groups and remote medical services will be strengthened.”

Being the vice-chair of the PACE Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons she expressed her particular concerns regarding the situation of a very fragile, marginal group, namely the refugees and migrants. “We have a lot of people in detention centres during these times in Member States. We have a risk of infection due to close quarters or overcrowding, deteriorating health care as the health care system becomes overwhelmed, the increased waiting time for relocation,” she said.

Further, Ms. Brynjólfsdóttir referred to the statement of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, mentioned in the toolkit for member states from the Secretary General of the Council of Europe.

“The CPT remind us of our obligations towards persons deprived of their freedom in these difficult circumstances, including in immigration detention centres. We need to guarantee the continued monitoring of these facilities throughout the crisis,” she said.

In her contribution to the debate, Rosa Björk Brynjólfsdóttir also welcomed the call on Council of Europe and OSCE member States to accept to resettle the refugee children now living on the Greek islands in inhuman conditions initiated by a member of the PACE sub-committee on refugee and migrant children, a member of the OSCE PA ad hoc committee on migration.

She also called upon parliamentarians to “back the programme set up by EU Commissioner Ylva Johanssen for financing relocation flights for child refugees and to urgently intervene with their governments in order to ensure that vulnerable child refugees can be relocated within more of their states.”

“And because we have to remember that this is a health crisis that is turning into an economic crisis, we must do anything to prevent that this will become a human righ’s crisis. We have the right tools and means to prevent that here in the Council of Europe,” Ms. Brynjólfsdóttir concluded.