The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is a challenging and rapidly evolving situation that is impacting almost every aspect of our lives. Based on the authorities’ recommendations to limit the spread of COVID-19 in Norway, NIM has temporarily closed our offices and all staff are working from home.
The NIM team will continue to work with protecting and promoting human rights in Norway. In addition to NIMs regular work, we will be monitoring legislative and other measures adopted in Norway in response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic to assess whether they are consistent with human rights, the rule of law and the principles of transparency, dignity and equality.
NIM Director, Adele Matheson Mestad, says:
The State has a duty to protect its citizens in times of crisis, and it is understandable that extraordinary measures are taken in the face of the unpredictable situation that Norway now finds itself in. For example, the State has a human rights obligation to secure everyone’s right to life and health. At the same time, it is very important that we do not set aside democratic principles to a greater extent than is strictly necessary to deal with the crisis. A prerequisite for effective crisis management is that citizens can see that the interventions involved in crisis measures are well-founded, proportionate and necessary.
The Corona Act and Temporary Regulations
On 21 March, the Norwegian Parliament unanimously adopted emergency legislation to assist in responding to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The purpose of the Corona Act is to provide the Government with “sufficient flexibility to take necessary and reasonable measures to minimise disruptions in normal social functions in connection with the outbreak of COVID-19, and to remedy the negative consequences for the population, business and industry, the public sector and society at large”.
The Act stipulates that the Government can, through the adoption of temporary regulations, supplement or derogate from over 60 laws as far as is necessary to safeguard the purpose of the Act. On 24 March, the Parliament also amended their Rules of Procedure to ensure such regulations can be dealt with swiftly and effectively. Regulations can be repealed if parliamentary representatives, who together represent at least one third of the Parliament’s members, state in writing that they do not support all or part of the regulations.
The Corona Act also stipulates in Section 2 that any temporary regulations adopted must not contravene the Constitution, the Human Rights Act and Norway’s obligations under international law.
NIM made a submission to the Parliamentary Committee on Special Issues Concerning the Corona Crisis with two suggestions for amendments to the Corona Act. The first suggestion was to clarify the purpose of the Act in Section 1 to ensure that measures are limited to what is strictly necessary. The second suggestion was to add a requirement in Section 5 of the Act to ensure that assessments made by the Government as the basis for preparing temporary regulations are made publicly available.
NIM has also made, and will continue to make, hearing submissions regarding temporary regulations made pursuant to the Corona Act. The first submission made by NIM in this regard concerned measures to strengthen the efficiency of the judicial system, with NIM recommending that steps are taken to ensure the use of remote audio/video technology in litigation is consistent with the right to a fair trial. The second submission concerned the enforcement of penalties in the criminal justice system, with NIM recommending that steps are taken to ensure that restrictions on prisoner visitation are consistent with the right to respect for family life and to ensure that the use of electronic monitoring (house arrest) is consistent with the State’s duty to protect citizens from violence. NIM will continue to make such submissions, and will post them on our web-site.
Links to More Information
Information in English about the measures taken in Norway in response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic can be found on the Norwegian Government’s website. More advice and information is available in English from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and the Health Directorate.
Opinion pieces from NIM (in Norwegian) can be found on the media section of our website.
NIM is also streaming regular panel discussions on our Facebook page (in Norwegian) for our ‘Human Rights in the Garden’ series, which explore human rights issues related to the Coronavirus pandemic.
The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has released statements, press releases and a guidance note on the human rights dimensions of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights has released statements on human rights issues related to COVID-19 in Europe.
The European Network of National Human Rights Institutions has compiled information on the responses of European NHRIs to the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are also several human rights blogs that have posted interesting articles regarding COVID-19, such as Strasbourg Observers, OpinioJuris and EJIL:Talk!.