COVID-19 impact on democratic rights and role of NHRIs discussed on BBC World News
ENNHRI’s Secretary-General, Debbie Kohner, spoke on BBC World News on 16 July about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on democratic rights and the rule of law in Europe. While outlining worrying trends seen across the region, she also pointed to the human rights framework, including National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), for solutions to these challenges.
This came after the launch of ENNHRI’s report on the state of the rule of law in Europe last month, which brought together insights from NHRIs across the region about the rule of law situation in their country. The report shed light on how several COVID-19 emergency measures have lacked oversight, consultation and participation, resulting in a broad range of human rights being threatened.
In the news segment, Debbie Kohner highlighted the lack of clarity and precision in laws, giving a lot of discretion for enforcement, as well as limited transparency and access to information, as regulations may not be published or journalists may not be able to access information. Also, she mentioned that limited access to remedies or courts impacts how people can enforce their rights, while measures in some countries have had limited constitutional review. She also noted that with restrictions on civil society and freedom of assembly, people often cannot express their views or objections.
While these trends can impact on everyone’s human rights, certain groups are disproportionately impacted, such as those with disabilities, living in poverty or in detention, as well as Roma, migrants and refugees, and women. Also, as the pandemic is ongoing, there are concerns that emergency measures and restrictions on human rights may continue without an end in sight.
However, Debbie Kohner also pointed to the potential of the human rights framework, and NHRIs in particular, to address these challenges, saying: “The human rights framework does offer a solution and it helps to find a way out of this difficult situation to ensure that everyone’s human rights can be respected.”
NHRIs can review the changing situation to ensure that emergency measures remain necessary and proportionate, advise state authorities and report to international mechanisms on the human rights situation. They can also inform the public about their rights during the pandemic and, in some cases, assist individuals whose rights are infringed.
Also joining the discussion was Professor Sandra Liebenberg, Vice-Chair of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, who gave a view from African context, where COVID-19 measures have given executives broad powers to impose a range of restrictions on fundamental rights.
- Visit ENNHRI’s report: State of the Rule of Law in Europe
- Learn more about European NHRIs’ work on democracy and the rule of law
- Learn about European NHRIs’ responses to COVID-19
Top photo: Debbie Kohner, Secretary-General of ENNHRI, on BBC World News (16 July 2020)