Woman wearing mask
25 Mar 2020

COVID-19: How are National Human Rights Institutions in Europe responding?

As the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread, it is important that governments keep human rights and fundamental freedoms at the heart of measures to combat the pandemic. Through their mandate to promote and protect human rights, National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) play a crucial role in ensuring that human rights are not forgotten in such uncertain times. Here is how some NHRIs across Europe are responding to the situation.


AlbaniaArmeniaAustriaAzerbaijanBelgiumBosnia and HerzegovinaBulgariaCroatiaCyprusCzech RepublicDenmarkFinlandFranceGeorgiaGermanyGreat BritainHungaryIrelandLatviaLithuaniaLuxembourgMoldovaMontenegroNetherlandsNorthern IrelandNorwayPolandPortugalScotlandSerbiaSlovakiaSloveniaSpainTurkeyUkraine

Statements from partners


Albania

The Albanian NHRI (Office of the Ombudsman of Albania) has welcomed measures to restrict the circulation of citizens to stop the spread of the coronavirus, but called for government accountability. In particular, it highlighted the risks of emergency measures being misused to suppress the democratic essence of society. The Ombudsman called for humanity and understanding from authorities and the avoidance of extreme measures when they are unnecessary.

Read the statement (Albanian)

Armenia

The Armenian NHRI (Office of the Human Rights Defender of the Republic of Armenia) has issued a note outlining advice to the public in relation to the outbreak of coronavirus in the country. For example, it includes points about adhering to virus prevention requirements, exercising caution regarding the circulation of false information and respecting people’s personal data, among others. The NHRI also published a guide on frequently asked questions about Coronavirus and human rights in the state of emergency (English; Russian; Yazidi and Kurdish: latin words, cyrillic; Assyrian; Hindi)

Read the statement (Armenian)

Austria

The Austrian NHRI (Austrian Ombudsman Board) has published a note addressing the main legal implication of the coronavirus outbreak in the country. In the note, the Austrian Ombudsperson, Bernhard Achitz, and law professors, Martin Spitzer and Harald Eberhard, answer a number of legal questions concerning private law, damages and compensation, as well as the new restrictions’ impact on fundamental rights.
 
Read the statement (German)

Azerbaijan

The Azerbaijani NHRI (Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Republic of Azerbaijan) has issued a statement addressed to the nation, emphasising the necessity of the government’s measures to contain the outbreak and protect the health of the population, including the elderly, children and people with disabilities as among the most vulnerable. The NHRI has also donated to a fund to support the fight against coronavirus.

Read the statement

Belgium

In Belgium, Unia, Myria* and the Combat Poverty, Insecurity and Social Exclusion Service* have issued a joint statement welcoming the policy to combat the pandemic but expressing concerns about the potentially negative consequences of the protective measures in certain situations. The statement particularly emphasises the situation of parents of disabled children placed in institutions, people in need of international protection and people living in poverty and insecurity. The Combat Poverty Service has also released a separate statement on the particular issues facing people living in poverty and insecurity.

Read the joint statement (DutchFrench)
Read the statement from Combat Poverty Service (Dutch, French)

Bosnia and Herzegovina

The NHRI of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Office of the Ombudsmen of Bosnia and Herzegovina) issued a press release urging citizens to strictly adhere to the instructions issued by authorities and reduce their movement. The statement also urged those responsible to ensure full pay for private sector employees, and expresses special appreciation for health and social services.

Read the statement

Bulgaria

The Bulgarian NHRI (Office of the Ombudsman of the Republic of Bulgaria) has published a note outlining the Ombudsman’s position on the announcement of a coronavirus emergency. It highlights that, even if extraordinary measures may temporarily restrict the exercise of individual rights of citizens, the constitutional text guarantees that respect for fundamental human rights remains a priority.

Read the statement (Bulgarian)

Croatia

The Croatian NHRI (Office of the Ombudswoman of Croatia) is closely monitoring the state of human rights during the coronavirus pandemic, including the imposed restrictions of the right to privacy and freedom of movement, as well as the protection of the vulnerable groups such as older and homeless persons, those living in the rural areas and Roma. The Ombudswoman has also called on citizens to act responsibly and respect all measures and recommendations given by the epidemiologists. 

Read the article 
See also articles on Amendments to the Electronic Communications Act and Practices that constitute discrimination 

Cyprus

The NHRI of Cyprus (Office of the Commissioner for Administration) has issued a statement on the measures for persons deprived of their liberty in the context of coronavirus. Despite considering the measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 necessary, it underlines that fundamental rights of prisoners during the pandemic must be fully respected, with particular attention to vulnerable groups. It also notes that states should continue to guarantee access to monitoring bodies in all places of detention.  

Read the statement (Greek) 

Czech Republic

In the Czech Republic, the Public Defender of Rights* has informed the broader public with coronavirus-related national updates through press releases on its website. The Ombudsman especially addressed issues concerning children and young people and offered them and their parents particular support.
 
Read the press release (Czech) 

Denmark

The Danish NHRI (Danish Institute for Human Rights) has published a note with human rights considerations in the fight against COVID-19. It recognises that the seriousness of the situation requires the government to take extraordinary measures and encourages everyone to act in accordance with regulations and guidelines from local authorities. However, it recalls that these measures must be temporary, have a clear legal basis and must be proportionate. It also advises authorities to prioritise and first and foremost protect the most vulnerable as the elderly, the sick and healthcare staff.  

Read the article (Danish) 

Finland

The Finnish Human Rights Centre has published webpages on the national and international measures relating to COVID-19 and human and fundamental rights. The pages provide general information on fundamental and human rights and their possible limitations. They also link to the Parliamentary Library’s Legal Information Package on the Emergency Law containing all the legislative processes and the Constitutional Committee’s opinions and experts’ views given to that Committee. A special section dedicated to the rights of elderly and persons with disabilities, underlining that they must be respected in the context of coronavirus.
 
Visit the website (English, Finnish, Swedish)
 
The Parliamentary Ombudsman and the Deputy Ombudsmen have served as independent experts in the Parliamentary committee hearings reviewing the Government proposals to impose the Emergency Law and the various decrees limiting fundamental and human rights that have followed. The Parliamentary Ombudsman has also drawn the Government’s attention to the impact of such restrictions in practice. Due to the current situation, inspections of closed facilities are on hold, but special measures and methods are being developed to exercise the legal oversight function of the Parliamentary Ombudsman.
 
Visit the website (English, Finnish, Swedish)
 

France

The President of the French NHRI (National Consultative Commission on Human Rights), Jean-Marie Burguburu, has communicated to the Prime Minister and parliamentarians regarding human rights concerns associated with the emergency measures put in place. Also, the NHRI, together with the Defender of Rights and General Controller of Places of Deprivation of Liberty, have published an article in Le Monde stressing the need to safeguard fundamental rights during the crisis, particularly for those most vulnerable to confinement and social distancing measures.

Read the statement and the article in Le Monde (French)

Georgia

The NHRI of Georgia (Office of the Public Defender of Georgia) has published a statement on human rights standards during a pandemic/epidemic. In the statement, the NHRI responds to a number of frequently asked questions about human rights standards in the current situation. The NHRI has also published news on a number of coronavirus-related issues. Among others, it addressed the rights of persons with disabilities and provided information on rights and responsibilities of employees and employers.

Go to website

Germany

The German NHRI (German Institute for Human Rights) has issued a press release calling on the federal and state governments to align measures to combat the corona pandemic with human rights. It also calls on politicians to consider relevant information from civil society organisations and expresses an urgent need for action at the European level.

Read the full statement (German)

Great Britain

The Chair of the NHRI of Great Britain (Equality and Human Rights Commission), David Isaac, wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson about the human rights and equality considerations in responding to the coronavirus pandemic. In the letter, he underlines how the role of government to keep people safe and protect the nation’s future will be most effective when public safety and economic interests are balanced with long-held values of freedom and respect.

Read the statement

Hungary

In Hungary, the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights of Hungary, the Deputy Commissioner for the Protection of the Rights of Nationalities Living in Hungary and the Deputy Commissioner for the Protection of the Future Generations issued a joint statement on the issues related to the vulnerable groups of society in the context of coronavirus, recommending that relevant policy makers set up a task force to provide them with extraordinary protection and support.  

Read the statement 

Ireland

In Ireland, the NHRI (Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission) has sent a letter to the Prime Minister in recognition of the pandemic. The letter underlines that it is essential that human rights and equality norms are upheld during this public health emergency. It highlights relevant legislation that underlines that human rights restrictions imposed in emergency measures must be necessary, proportionate and non-discriminatory, and that human rights and equality principles should inform their implementation.

Read the statement

Latvia

The Latvian NHRI (Ombudsman’s Office of the Republic of Latvia) has addressed the new legislative amendments introduced by the Latvian government to deal with the outbreak of COVID-19. The Ombudsman’s office provided a thorough insight of the measures taken, especially focusing on their impact on employers, employees, people living in poverty and people with disabilities.

Go to the website (Latvian) 

Lithuania

The Lithuanian NHRI (Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office) has issued a statement on human rights in the context of COVID-19. It recognises the efforts of the state executive to protect public health and human lives, but at the same time it recalls that human rights are of the highest value and that their protection must remain a state priority, even in an emergency

Read the statement (Lithuanian) 

Luxembourg

The President of the NHRI from Luxembourg (Consultative Human Rights Commission of Luxembourg) has sent an open letter to the Prime Minister addressing equality issues arising from the coronavirus pandemic. In the letter, he welcomes the commitments made by the government to respond to the health and economic emergency, but also draws attention to the consequences of coronavirus for the most vulnerable groups, including, among others, people who are homeless, people with disabilities and people deprived of their liberty.  

Read the open letter (French) 

Moldova

The Moldovan NHRI (Office of the People’s Advocate of the Republic of Moldova) addressed national authorities and citizens in a press release with a call for solidarity and civic responsibility to better cope with the outbreak of the coronavirus in the country. Also, the NHRI has published news and opinions on a number of coronavirus-related issues. Among others, the NHRI has addressed the amendments to Law on the state of emergency, the access to information during the pandemic, the prevention measures in penitentiary institutions and new possible budgetary allocations to counter the spread of the virus.
 
Go to website (Romanian) 

Montenegro

The NHRI of Montenegro (Protector of Human Rights and Freedoms of Montenegro) addressed the Director of the Criminal Sanctions Administration (UIKS), Milan Tomić, to request information on healthcare plans and measures for persons deprived of their liberty in the context coronavirus. It also advised to develop a plan for crisis management with specific guidelines for the conduct of both the health service and all UIKS officers and to prepare a plan for how to perform day-to-day duties with possibly reduced capacity.

Read the statement (Montenegrin)

Netherlands

The Dutch NHRI (Netherlands Institute for Human Rights) has issued a note responding to questions concerning coronavirus and human rights. Despite welcoming the strict measures taken by the government, it also underlines that the accessibility to medical facilities, as well as to information and communication, must be guaranteed equally for everyone, with particular attention to vulnerable groups.

Read the statement (Dutch)

Northern Ireland

The Northern Irish NHRI (Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission) has issued a statement on stressing the importance for everyone to follow the advice of the Government, Chief Medical Officer and Public Health Agency in order to save lives and protect health care and other frontline workers. The statement also emphasises the importance of human rights in this context.

Read the statement

Norway

The Norwegian NHRI (Norwegian National Human Rights Institution) has published a short notice explaining how the institution’s work is being affected by coronavirus and the countermeasures taken. Also, the NHRI provided input to the competent parliamentary committee on the draft ‘Corona Act’, which lays down rules on new restrictions such as quarantine and isolation. It has emphasised the need for transparency and the use of consultative processes when developing measures in response to COVID-19, as well as the need to safeguard the rights of vulnerable groups, such as prison inmates, children and people with disabilities. The NHRI has also created a document with information regarding the Norwegian Government response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read the NHRI’s input to the Norwegian Parliament and insight on the Corona Act

Poland

In Poland, the NHRI (Office of the Polish Commissioner for Human Rights) has released three statements in relation to the pandemic. One statement calls on the Minister of Health to take steps to provide adequate health care for patients who are not infected with coronavirus. The others relate to the situation of Polish citizens awaiting return to Poland from South America, and a call for Poland’s May elections to not take place.

Read the statements on healthcarecitizens awaiting return and the May elections (Polish)

Portugal

The NHRI of Portugal (Office of the Portuguese Ombudsman) has published a statement clarifying possible questions rising from the state of emergency measures occurring in the country. It acknowledges that, in view of the current public calamity, some of the rights and freedoms can be temporarily suspended. However, it stresses that the state of emergency does not imply the suspension of the Constitution and that the measures taken must keep respecting democratic legality and citizens’ rights.

Read the statement (Portuguese)

Scotland

The Scottish NHRI (Scottish Human Rights Commission) has issued a statement which especially addresses the restrictions imposed by the newly published draft coronavirus emergency legislation in the UK. The statement stresses that human rights can and should inform and strengthen the ways in which decisions are made, and how measures are put into practice.

Read the statement

Serbia

The Ombudsman from the Serbian NHRI (Protector of Citizens of the Republic of Serbia), Zoran Pasalic, visited the renovated Reception Center in Subotica to make sure that all the prescribed conditions for accommodation, food and medical protection are fulfilled during the state of emergency declared in the country. During the visit, he also urged all citizens of the Republic of Serbia to abide by the measures of the government.

Read the article

Slovakia

The Slovak NHRI (Slovak National Center for Human Rights) has posted an update about the state of emergency measures in the country, stressing that fundamental rights and freedoms must be guaranteed for all people, without exception. In its message, the NHRI outlines how the measures taken must respect the principle of equal treatment in areas such as employment, social security, health care, the provision of goods and services and education.

Read the statement (Slovak)

Slovenia

The Slovenian NHRI (Human Rights Ombudsman of the Republic of Slovenia) has created a new page on its website which is specifically dedicated to the COVID-19 pandemic. This section includes the measures taken to curb the outbreak in the Republic of Slovenia, relevant acts adopted by the government, the Ombudsman’s opinions and press releases, announcements by international organisations, as well as useful news and information.

Go to the webpage (Slovenian)

Spain

The Spanish NHRI (Office of the Omubdsman of Spain) has expressed confidence in the state of emergency measures put in place by the government, calling for unity of action of state authorities and institutions. However, it also underlined that, in these exceptional circumstances, citizens’ fundamental rights must be guaranteed, and that while rights and freedoms may be temporarily restricted, they but must not lose their essence.

Read the statement (Spanish)

Turkey

A statement from the Human Rights and Equality Institution of Turkey* underlines that, in the context of the pandemic, the right to health should be evaluated together with other rights, such as the rights to life, environment and development. It also calls on all states to fulfil their human rights responsibilities and the public to contribute to the protection of public health.

Read the statement (Turkish)

Ukraine

The Ukrainian NHRI (Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights) has informed the public about measures taken to counter the coronavirus through updated notices on its website. Also, the Commissioner, Lyudmyla Denisova, called upon different heads of ministers to especially protect the most vulnerable and exposed groups of people, such as persons in places of deprivation of liberty, medical personnel and people living in conflict areas. She also urged citizens to comply with the exceptional restrictive measures.
 
Go to website (Ukrainian)

Statements from partners

General
Asylum and Migration
Democracy and Rule of Law
Rights of Older Persons
Torture, NPM and People in Detention

* These institutions are associate members of ENNHRI and not accredited NHRIs

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