The Belgrade Centre for Human Rights calls on the relevant state authorities to ensure that all measures involving derogation of human and minority rights guaranteed by the Serbian Constitution and ratified international treaties that are imposed during the state of emergency declared due to the SARS CoV-2 (coronavirus) pandemic are proportionate to the purpose of their introduction, in compliance with binding provisions on the state of emergency and anti-discrimination principles. The Serbian Government’s response to the pandemic must be based on respect for human rights and the provisional measures imposed by the state must be prudential, proportionate, based on the law, accessible and comprehensible to all individuals they affect.
Restrictions of the freedom of movement, which entered into force on 18 March 2020, pursuant to an order of the Minister of Internal Affairs, have given rise to a number of dilemmas, thus creating room for arbitrary interpretations and potential abuse. The prohibition of movement of all people over 65 in urban areas and of all people over 70 in settlements with a population under 5,000, as well as the curfew applicable to all people irrespective of their age from 8 pm to 5 am, with the exception of those issued individual permits by the MIA and those in urgent need of medical assistance, needs to be elaborated in greater detail and explained officially and in writing.
The Serbian Government decision limiting the movement of people living in asylum and reception centres in Serbia outside these centres to 24 hours, except in “justified cases”, also needs to be elaborated in greater detail and clarified. The people living in such centres must be adequately notified of all the measures undertaken by the Serbian Government to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Article 15 of the European Convention on Human Rights prohibits derogations of the right to life, prohibition of torture and ill-treatment, prohibition of slavery and no punishment without law. Article 202 of the Serbian Constitution lays down that derogations of human and minority rights enshrined in the Constitution shall be permitted only to the extent deemed necessary and that measures providing for derogation may not bring about distinction on grounds of race, sex, language, religion, national affiliation or social origin. The BCHR also draws attention to a statement issued by UN human rights experts, who emphasised that “[R]estrictions taken to respond to the virus must be motivated by legitimate public health goals and should not be used simply to quash dissent” and that the emergency declarations should not be used “to target particular groups, minorities, or individuals” or “to silence the work of human rights defenders”.
The BCHR therefore believes that the Serbian authorities must:
- Issue an official written document specifying how the daily needs of people, whose movement is restricted all day, will be met;
- Impose the same regime applicable to people over 65/70 on people suffering from chronic diseases (such as asthma, diabetes, et al) who are more vulnerable to coronavirus with a view to protecting their health;
- Lay down the rules of safe hygienic behaviour at public venues during the coronavirus state of emergency;
- Individually assess the need to restrict the freedom of movement of people seeking international protection in the same manner and under the same conditions as other categories of the population (depending on the country they came from, their contacts with other individuals, age, existence of chronic illnesses, et al);
- Provide all individuals in collective accommodation facilities with protection kits and familiarise each of them individually with the protection measures in a language they understand;
- Perform larger-scale coronavirus testing in all collective accommodation facilities (not only in asylum and reception centres, but also in homes for the elderly, penitentiaries, psychiatric institutions, et al) under easier conditions than in the case of people living in private accommodation facilities (and especially of people with mental disabilities);
- Officially translate all Government decisions adopted during the state of emergency into English and make them available in all collective accommodation facilities and officially translate all these decisions into a language individuals who do not speak either Serbian or English understand.
The BCHR hereby offers the relevant Serbian authorities its expertise to help in the common fight against the coronavirus. Its staff is engaged in volunteering and other projects extending assistance and support to the most vulnerable groups of people.
Please feel free to contact us by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at +381 11 3085 328 should you require any additional information.