Coronavirus

Bucharest “forgot” to inform the public about the suspension of the human rights convention

Many have criticized the Romanian government for using the spread of COVID-19 as an excuse to request a suspension of the European Convention on Human Rights. The interesting side of the story is that the Romanian government forgot to inform the public about the suspension, and citizens found out about it in an article published by AFP. The Council of Europe and the Helsinki Commission spoke on the matter reproachfully, local news portal maszol.ro reports.

The Council of Europe does not encourage Romania to suspend the European Convention on Human Rights because the measures taken to stop the spread of the coronavirus – including restrictions on freedom of movement and assembly – are covered by Article 11 of the Convention. This section allows certain legal restrictions if they are necessary in a democratic society to protect public health, the AFP quoted a spokesmen of the Council as saying.

The Council of Europe – the institution that monitors the compliance of the treaty – spoke up after Romania, Republic of Moldova, Latvia, Estonia and Armenia activated Article 15 of the Convention, which suspends the entire Convention. The countries used the spread of the coronavirus as an excuse. The Council of Europe informed AFP about this matter, which is how the Romanian public found about it, since the authorities in Bucharest and the Group for Strategic Communication forgot to mention it.

The abovementioned section states that: “In time of war or other public emergency threatening the life of the nation, any High Contracting Party may take measures derogating from its obligations under this Convention to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation, provided that such measures are not inconsistent with its other obligations under international law.” The section specifies that “Any High Contracting Party availing itself of this right of derogation shall keep the Secretary General of the Council of Europe fully informed of the measures which it has taken and the reasons therefor.”

Romania’s suspension of the Convention was heavily criticized by several jurists, politicians and human rights activists. According to Judge Cristi Danileţ, this means that Romania is withdrawing itself from observing the rights guaranteed in the Convention and cannot be made responsible later for its violations under the state of emergency. He added: The Government did not choose the best method to escape its international obligations.

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Danileţ explained that activating Article 15 means, in practice, that Romania is not obligated to comply with any other law other than the protection of life and the prohibition of torture for as long as the suspension of the Convention is maintained. He added that Erdogan’s Turkey used similar techniques. The judge also complained that the authorities withheld this information.

According to Danileţ the suspension also raises legal concerns. The Presidential Decree of March 16 declaring the state of emergency instructs the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to inform the Secretary General of the UN and the Council of Europe about the measures taken. Two days later, a country representative informed the Council of Europe but without explicitly stating which rights were restricted or withdrawn, he said.

The Helsinki Commission also criticized the fact that the Romanian public was informed about the suspension a week later by a French news agency. According to the institution, President Klaus Iohannis, PM Ludovic Orban or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should have informed the public simply because they had been demanding for weeks that Romanians should only use official sources for information about the coronavirus. The Commission also pointed out: How are other countries dealing with the introduction of a state of emergency without restricting fundamental rights, and why is Romania unable to do so?

Title image: The Council of Europe does not encourage member states to suspend the Convention. Photo: Facebook/Council of Europe

Author: Orsi Sarány