Expert on international law with the Committee Against Torture Ekaterina Vanslova prepared a review on the topic “Limiting the citizens’ rights in the countries of the Council of Europe during COVID-19 pandemic”:
“International agreements – namely, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, – provide that in case of emergency threatening the life of a nation, the government may derogate from its human rights obligations. At the present time, nine countries of the Council of Europe have already used this right due to coronavirus pandemic and stated publicly about it.
Officially, Russia did not declare that it is derogating from its human rights obligations, but it is not mandatory, since the Human Rights Convention itself directly provides for human rights limitations which the state may introduce on its territory in certain cases, for example, “in the interests of national security and public order”.
Now, the limitations of the number of conventional rights on the territory of our country due coronavirus are de facto introduced. For example, in almost all the Russian regions the so called “high alert regime” is applied. This regime may limit such rights as the right to freedom and personal integrity; fair trial; respect for private and family life; freedom of speech; freedom of assembly and of association; right of education; freedom of movement.
The restricting measures taken by Russia are not illegal in terms of the international law, however, they should strictly correspond to the criteria developed by the European Court of Human Rights.
For example, despite the limitation of a number of rights on the territory of Russia, the authorities are still obliged to observe the absolute human rights provided by the Convention, even in the conditions of a coronavirus pandemic. For example, this involves the right to freedom from torture and other brutal treatment and the right to life.
Defense of these rights in the conditions of a coronavirus pandemic demands that the state strengthen the measures for their observance – in particular, observance of the positive obligations of the authorities related to special protection of people who are in the state’s care, as well as seriously ill patients, disabled or elderly people from the risks of this terminal sickness as well as from all possible suffering related to it. In the context of this pandemic the state must provide access to quality medicine for the patients.
In case if a citizen of the country of the Council of Europe decides to submit an application to the European Court of Human Rights with regard to the limitation of his rights, introduced by the state during the coronavirus pandemic, the ECHR will pay attention to the quality of the limiting measures in each particular case, and will examine every case, which is claimed to be a violation, with regard to its legality, justification, necessity and adequacy of intervening regarding this or that rights”.
The review consists of two sections. The first one describes the general provisions of the human rights restriction, provided by the European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in the conditions of crisis situations. The second one includes the analysis of the situation with human rights restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
This review may be useful for lawyers with human rights organizations, defense lawyers, law-enforcement officers and everyone who is interested with human rights defense in crisis situations.