Expert: Norway’s coronavirus measures are a human rights balancing act

Adele Matheson MestadPhoto: Cornelius Poppe / NTB

According to the director of the Norwegian Institute for Human Rights, at least two of the measures during the coronavirus pandemic may have lacked a legal basis.

“Isolation of prisoners in prison and a restraining order in adapted housing for the mentally handicapped in the early stages of the pandemic are probably the measures that have been particularly problematic when it comes to human rights,” Adele Matheson Mestad, director of the Norwegian Institute for Human Rights (NIM), noted.

On Thursday, she will meet Minister of Health Bent Høie (H) to discuss exactly how human rights have been safeguarded during COVID-19.

The question is not very easy to answer, precisely because several considerations must continuously be weighed against each other – including professional infection control assessments.

“When the government implements measures to protect (people) against a serious infectious disease, it is to protect the right to life and health, which is a fundamental human rights obligation,” Mestad pointed out.

“There are conflicting considerations all the time. Measures to protect human rights intervene in human rights, and they must be balanced against each other. 

“Human rights can actually be helpful when it comes to finding this balance and the order of things when decisions are to be made,” she said.

Høie: – Good reviews

The Minister of Health Bent Høie’s (H) believes that human rights have been taken into consideration.

“I believe that good assessments have been made of human rights. I’m pretty sure of that,” he told news bureau NTB.

In order to respect human rights, politicians must weigh all measures against a requirement of “proportionality,” namely that the measures are in proportion to what they protect against.

“It is not the case that it will always be contrary to human rights to have a regulation that determines how many people you can have at home, but there is a higher threshold for that,” Høie noted.

Important considerations

Mestad also emphasized that politicians can adopt laws and regulations that interfere with human rights, but they have to be based on law, serve a legal purpose, and be proportionate.

“We have also seen this during the pandemic. Rules that restrict freedom of assembly, freedom of movement, the right to private and family life, and measures that interfere with property rights. 

“Then there are other measures, such as the closure of schools, which can affect particularly vulnerable groups…” she noted. 

Mestad believes that one of the most important things for safeguarding human rights during the pandemic is that the government involves the NGO sector, the Norwegian parliament, and other actors as much as possible along the way.

In this way, it is easier to map any problematic areas in advance.

“What one is always afraid of is that this type of crisis gives too large powers to the authorities,” she added.

Another problem is that people are gradually getting used to increasingly intrusive measures – and maybe forgetting how limiting these measures are.

© NTB Scanpix / #Norway Today

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