This edition of the European Yearbook on Human Rights has been produced during an unprecedented global health crisis which has had economic, social and humanitarian dimensions, resulting in a severe impact on human rights. COVID-19 exposed the weaknesses of public healthcare systems and access thereto, prevailing structural inequalities and the fragility of the rule of law in times of emergency. Hate speech, fake news, the targeting of vulnerable groups, nationalism and populism have spread alongside the virus and pave the way for the adoption of repressive measures for purposes unrelated to the pandemic. Human rights appear as afterthoughts in the global pandemic rather than as the guiding principles for response and recovery measures. The crisis, however, did not disclose anything new. Instead, it revealed existing human rights protection gaps and exacerbated persistent shortcomings. The European Yearbook on Human Rights has always provided a platform to address contemporary human rights issues and identify weaknesses in the human rights protection system. Even though the topics had been selected well before the pandemic, they remain of great importance for the wider debate on the future of human rights protection in Europe both during and after the crisis.
The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) have ensured stability, security and peace in Europe over the last 70 years in a unique way. Therefore, this year's edition opens with a contribution from the former President of the ECtHR, Linos-Alexander Sicilianos, on ‘The European Convention on Human Rights at 70: The Dynamic of a Unique International Instrument’. In his contribution, he reflects on the dynamic the ECHR has developed over the years, creating its ‘extraordinary impetus for a protection of human rights’. However, the protection of human rights requires not only strong instruments but also effectively working institutions, and not just in times of crisis. In light of the pandemic, Katarzyna Gardapkhadze, First Deputy Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), in her opinion piece, ‘On International Organisations and Responsible Leadership: A Snake Eating its Own Tail’, strikes a blow for the need for a new responsible leadership framework for international organisations rooted in strong moral values and being inclusive and people- centred in order to make international organisations become truly relevant and able to bring about the change they were founded for.