Civil Society Groups Warn Democracy Must Not Be Forgotten

Total Croatia News

ZAGREB, March 28, 2020 – Ombudswoman Lora Vidovic believes human rights and freedoms must be restricted to protect people’s health in the current epidemic, the House of Human Rights says the restrictions must pass the test of proportionality, while GONG says that democracy must not be forgotten despite the current situation.

Over the past few weeks, the national civil protection team has adopted a number of restrictive decisions with the aim of curbing the spread of the coronavirus, including a ban on the work of restaurants and bars and public gatherings and on leaving one’s place of residence.

Human rights ombudswoman Lora Vidović says that some of the rights and freedoms need to be restricted in order to protect people’s health and the freedoms and rights of others in the current epidemic.

She underlines, however, that restrictions may be introduced only by law or based on an explicit legal authority, their scope being the smallest possible to protect public interest.

Ivan Novosel of the House of Human Rights nongovernmental organisation says that restrictions must be proportionate to the danger of a certain phenomenon and be introduced on the basis of individual cases.

Asked how citizens can protect themselves against arbitrary restrictions in the current crisis, Novosel says that crises do not rule out democratic safeguards through which citizens protect their rights and that those safeguards cannot be suspended.

Human rights violations can be reported to the body supervising police work, the ombudswoman, nongovernmental organisations for human rights, as well as to parliamentary committees, he says.

Vidović says that dozens of citizens contact her on a daily basis.

“Most of the cases are workers who have been laid off, who are worried about their workplace safety during the epidemic, who work under a compulsory work order or who inquire about their rights during the period of unemployment. They also inquire about issues related to health insurance, restrictions on the work of farmers’ markets, changes in the prices of goods, the obligation to wear face masks when entering offices, etc. We have also received a few complaints regarding measures restricting the freedom of movement,” Vidović says.

Oriana Ivković Novokmet of the election monitoring NGO GONG says the task of the civil society in the current crisis is to prevent attempts to create authoritarian states and societies of control.

She says that the introduction of restrictions in the fight against the coronavirus is understandable but that preventing the misuse of those restrictions is of paramount importance.

“Just as in times of major crises, such as this epidemic, we must not forget about democracy,” she says.

All restrictions must be compatible with democracy and human rights and be motivated exclusively by reasons of public health, be implemented in line with the Constitution and be time-limited.

Ivković Novokmet, Novosel and Vidović point to shortcomings of the government-sponsored bill on electronic communications, which was put forward to enable the tracking of citizens in self-isolation via their mobile phones, and they believe that the bill should be further amended.

Vidović, who has submitted an amendment to the bill, says that the bill restricts the constitutional right to privacy, which is why it needs to specify the persons to whom tracking applies, limit the duration of the measure and provide for oversight.

“It is important to enable the parliament to work as long as possible so that all relevant decisions are made through the parliament and so that the parliament can oversee the management of this crisis,” says Novosel.

Ivković Novokmet says that in some countries parliamentary work has been suspended as part of measures to curb the spreading of the disease and that Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, too, made such an attempt, proposing that the government be given the authority to pass decrees and regulations with legal force, thus shutting out the parliament.

She warns that without the parliament’s oversight, a small group of people could be deciding about issues such as restriction of movement and the tracking of people via their mobile phones, as well as possible changes to the Labour Act, suspension of collective agreements and the like.

“There is no democracy without parliament,” she says.

More coronavirus news can be found in the Lifestyle section.


Subscribe to our newsletter

the fields marked with * are required
Email: *
First name:
Last name:
Gender: Male Female
Please don't insert text in the box below!

Leave a Comment