Upholding human rights in Europe during the pandemic

23-09-2020

The severe coronavirus outbreak has forced governments across the world to resort to drastic measures in order to slow down the spread of the virus and prevent a public health crisis. As elsewhere, these emergency measures taken in Europe have affected all aspects of societal life and profoundly impacted people's personal freedoms and individual rights, as enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Although certain human rights can be suspended in situations of emergency, human rights conventions, such as the ECHR, continue to apply even then. In fact, many human rights instruments provide for such situations and contain dedicated 'emergency clauses' that give governments additional flexibility to address crises. Indeed, within the ECHR framework, Article 15 is one such clause that allows Council of Europe (CoE) member states to temporarily diverge from their ordinary convention obligations to resolve an emergency, provided certain conditions are met. During the coronavirus pandemic, derogation clauses such as Article 15 of the ECHR, have gained particular importance, as so far 10 CoE member states have notified their intention to derogate from certain ECHR provisions in order to tackle the outbreak. This briefing explains the functioning of Article of the 15 ECHR and its application to the current health emergency. Furthermore, it lists some fundamental rights and freedoms that have been affected by the coronavirus emergency measures, while also showcasing how Member States have sought to reconcile measures to protect public health with the fundamental rights principles enshrined in the ordinary framework of the ECHR. The briefing also stresses that it is key to protect the human rights of vulnerable persons, including during the implementation of recovery strategies.

The severe coronavirus outbreak has forced governments across the world to resort to drastic measures in order to slow down the spread of the virus and prevent a public health crisis. As elsewhere, these emergency measures taken in Europe have affected all aspects of societal life and profoundly impacted people's personal freedoms and individual rights, as enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Although certain human rights can be suspended in situations of emergency, human rights conventions, such as the ECHR, continue to apply even then. In fact, many human rights instruments provide for such situations and contain dedicated 'emergency clauses' that give governments additional flexibility to address crises. Indeed, within the ECHR framework, Article 15 is one such clause that allows Council of Europe (CoE) member states to temporarily diverge from their ordinary convention obligations to resolve an emergency, provided certain conditions are met. During the coronavirus pandemic, derogation clauses such as Article 15 of the ECHR, have gained particular importance, as so far 10 CoE member states have notified their intention to derogate from certain ECHR provisions in order to tackle the outbreak. This briefing explains the functioning of Article of the 15 ECHR and its application to the current health emergency. Furthermore, it lists some fundamental rights and freedoms that have been affected by the coronavirus emergency measures, while also showcasing how Member States have sought to reconcile measures to protect public health with the fundamental rights principles enshrined in the ordinary framework of the ECHR. The briefing also stresses that it is key to protect the human rights of vulnerable persons, including during the implementation of recovery strategies.