Covid passes: Council of Europe takes a stand

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe explains the legal and human rights preconditions required for the use of Covid passes.

How far can the Covid passes go? Will they impact Human Rights? Foto: Inès Tempel / CC-BY-SA 4.0int

(Inès Tempel / CoE) – A committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has clarified the necessary preconditions for the use of covid passes, declaring their use “fraught with legal and human rights complications”. The use of such passes, which would partially lift Covid restrictions for holders, “above all depends on a high degree of certainty about medical risks”, PACE’s Legal Affairs Committee pointed out in a unanimously approved draft resolution, based on a report by Damien Cottier (Switzerland, ALDE).

The committee set out a series of issues that would have to be addressed if such documents are to avoid being discriminatory whilst maintaining protections against the spread of Covid-19. Such passes should contain categories distinguishing between those who have been vaccinated against Covid, those who have recovered from it, and those who have tested negative for it – and any relaxation of restrictions granted by the pass should be consistent with the risk of transmission for these different groups, also taking account of the epidemiological situation in the country concerned, the committee said.

In addition, such passes should take account of the relative effectiveness of different vaccines, including against variants, and the degree of risk involved in the different activities they might give access to, especially if holders might come into contact with people who are not yet immune.

Finally, a system of Covid passes should have a clear basis in law, comply fully with data protection standards, and be protected against counterfeiting or other criminal abuse. Any system of passes should be strictly limited in duration to the needs of the current emergency, and should not be “repurposed” for other aims without prior democratic scrutiny and legal oversight. Recalling an earlier Assembly resolution, the committee warned that any system of Covid passes must “not become tantamount to coercion and effectively make vaccination compulsory”. Any indirect undue pressure could be mitigated if Covid passes were available on grounds other than vaccination.

As the Council of Europe rightly points out, the establishment of such sanitary passes is a matter of very complex ethical principles, which go far beyond simple health-related issues. As stated by the commission, these Covid passes could potentially undermine the concepts of human dignity and human rights that are essential to our European democracies. The question the authorities must now answer is whether these passes are really worth the risk of damaging such core notions.

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