CROATIA: In the times of pandemic we must not forget democracy

Article originally published on GONG, 19 March 2020 – accessible here

The Government of the Republic of Croatia, like most states, has adopted extraordinary measures to help contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Those measures should not be abused. Restrictions imposed must be motivated solely by public health reasons, enforced following the Constitution, and should last only for the duration of the pandemic.

Gong considers the measures taken so far to be appropriate and essential in preventing the spread of the virus, but stresses the importance of respecting rights and procedures in times of crisis.

The announcement by Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic of an information system (surveillance application) for monitoring infected persons and persons in self-isolation and other IT solutions raises questions of possible abuse of and the necessity for surveillance. The rule of law and freedom of citizens must not be forgotten because of the fear of contagion.

Imposing restrictions on individual rights and freedoms (Article 17 of the Constitution) requires a two-thirds majority of Parliament, and in case the Parliament cannot work, measures can be implemented by the joint decision of the Prime Minister and the President of the Republic.

Regardless of the emergency of the situation, all branches of state power – executive, judicial and legislative, must not forget their rights and obligations for citizens to have the basis of legal certainty and trust in the functioning of the rule of law.

Crises should not be an excuse for the suspension of civil rights, but an opportunity for civic education in practice. If a different regime is in place compared to everyday situations, citizens have the right to ask and understand the purpose of it.

Focusing on the health security of a nation, we must not ignore the constitutionally prescribed authorities and the separation of powers. It is worrying that the Government was trying to suspend Parliament’s work by proposing to the opposition to authorize the Government for issuing decrees with legal force.

In this way, the role of the President of the Republic would be bypassed, which could – amid health problem – cause a constitutional crisis. Article 101 of the Constitution prescribes that in case of Parliament’s impossibility to be in session, decrees are passed by the President – at the proposal of the Government, with the Prime Minister’s signature.

The Government invites all citizens to be accountable, and we demand the same accountability from the executive power. Democratic procedures are most important in times of crisis.