Article originally published in Italian on In Difesa Di, 6 April, 2020 – accessible here

The network “In Difesa Di – Per i diritti umani e chi li difende” sent a letter to the Interministerial Committee on Human Rights (CIDU), requesting the United Nations to be notified as soon as possible on the exceptional measures approved to address the COVID-19 emergency and that a monitoring mechanism on the exceptions to fundamental human rights is put in place.

The dramatic and exceptional situation we are experiencing, and the need to safeguard the right to health and life, in fact, authorizes States to approve drastic measures that limit or suspend – albeit temporarily – certain fundamental rights, including movement, assembly, organisation and participation in demonstrations, or privacy.

From the very beginning, it was clear that the state of emergency at global level could turn – especially in countries governed by autocratic regimes and with authoritarian drift – into a permanent state of exception or could become a pretext for further limiting civic space and civil liberties were a risk. This is why last month several UN experts and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet urged states to ensure an approach based on respect for human rights, to approve only proportionate and temporary measures, and to guarantee the right to health for all, including the most vulnerable and marginalised people.

International law foresees situations, such as pandemics, in which exceptions to civil and political rights are allowed, but at the same time it also indicates certain checks and balances and guarantees. These include the obligation to notify the UN treaty bodies of approved measures and exceptions to civil and political rights in place. According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, any derogation must in fact be limited to the measure strictly required by the situation and States must be able to justify any measure taken.

The Network In Difesa Di therefore asks the CIDU first of all to immediately notify the United Nations of the declaration of the state of emergency, the measures taken, and how they impact fundamental rights. Secondly, the CIDU is called upon, in the absence of an independent national human rights authority, to ensure constant and publicly accessible monitoring of the compatibility of these measures with international human rights conventions.

Finally, Italy, as a member of the UN Human Rights Council, should make every effort to ensure that the emergency situation does not become a pretext to justify human rights violations and attacks against human rights defenders in other countries of the world, as also underlined in the Communication of the UN Special Rapporteurs.

Francesco Martone

Spokesperson for the network “In Difesa Di – Per i diritti umani e chi li difende”