Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatovic warned on Friday that the coronavirus pandemic had revealed shortcomings in human rights protection systems but welcomed the fact that awareness of that had risen at a time when people were faced with restrictions of freedom.
“The pandemic has revealed shortcomings in our systems for the protection of human rights… It has also, in a way, revealed the advantages. I believe that the awareness of human rights has grown after people realised what it means when their freedoms are restricted,” Mijatovic said in an online event hosted by Public Ombudswoman Lora Vidovic.
The coronavirus crisis has jeopardised the rights of persons with disabilities, the elderly, women and children, and minorities, with domestic violence having increased, and it has also affected the right to protection of privacy through the introduction of contact tracing applications, Mijatovic said.
“Those who were poor have become even poorer. Those who were marginalised are now marginalised even more,” she said, warning about the importance of mental health “about which we all speak but do too little.”
Deputy Prime Minister for Human Rights Boris Milosevic spoke about increasingly vocal questions about the lawfulness and constitutionality of restrictions introduced to curb the pandemic.
“It is important that the measures introduced by governments to protect human lives are proportionate, that they do not cause discrimination and that their duration is defined,” he said.
Milosevic added that he was confident that in Croatia there was “a consensus that health protection in the current situation is a legitimate goal of the different measures that are being adopted.”
Mijatovic said the pandemic had shown the importance of independent institutions, notably in times of crisis, as well as the importance of reporters and human rights defenders.
She warned about the withholding of information and about reporters being prevented form attending certain conferences, which she sees as an indicator “that the pandemic has caught us unprepared.”
Mijatovic also warned about online attacks and threats against reporters, notably women.
Some governments have used the pandemic to have laws passed that threaten human rights, targeting, for example, LGBT groups and women's reproductive rights, she warned.
The Polish constitutional court has made a decision that almost completely bans abortion in that majority Catholic country, which has caused mass-scale protests across Poland.
Speaking of examples of good practice in the pandemic, Mijatovic mentioned Italy, which has reduced the number of people in migrant camps and relocated them to other places.
Portugal, too, has secured accommodation “not only for migrants but also for people who happened to be there and could not return to their countries of origin,” Mijatovic said.
She warned about the treatment of migrants and noted that the way we addressed the problem would determine “what Europe will be like in 10 or 20 years… a fortress with ramparts…. or truly a continent where human rights are respected and maximum effort is made to make it possible for all people to enjoy the same rights.”