Pandemic and human rights – who will be monitoring monitors
Dragana Dardic, 14 avril 2020
This text was published by our partner from the Helsinški Parlament Gradjana Banja Luka (HPG/HCA Banja Luka,) in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the entity of the "Serb republic".
Only for days have passed since the emergency state was announced and Government and President of Republic of Srpska are reached the authorities enabled by the emergency state and introduced set of statutes with legal force. One of them is related to penalties by causing panic and disorder. ont saisi les autorités compétentes et instauré une série de décrets ayant statut légal. L’un est relatif aux sanctions pour « avoir causé la panique ou le désordre »
As a guest on ATV, President explained that Statutes should “enable smooth functioning of the institutions of Srpska and taking certain procedures”, adding that they were led by the interests of the citizens, “so that they do not be in difficult position”.
However, citizens are already “in difficult position”. Workers in markets have cracked capillaries in eyes form handing over hundreds of kilograms of flours to fill the shelves, have wounds on the hands form the disinfectants, medical workers have bruises form protection masks, some of them are not included by the economic measures of aid, some were fired, dynamic of family life is at the serious risk…However, this text will not discuss problems and consequences caused by the pandemic, we will only discuss one particular statute which in these days entered into force in RS and which directly impact the freedom of speech and thinking and media freedoms.
Implementation of the Statute on Penalties by Causing Panic and Disorder
Namely, it is not yet clear who and on what criteria will be implemented the Statute on Causing Panic and Disorder which aim, as explained Minister of the Interior Affairs of RS Dragan Lukač, is to prevent intentional or unintentional causing panic and fear during the state of emergency. What we know is that those who violate these legislations will pay high money penalties, from 1000 BAM for individuals and to 9000 BAM for legal entities and this is also related to those who cause panic and fear via social networks. In this crisis times information is needed more than ever. How virus impact our body? How is treated? When and where can I go out? What is the working time of the grocery stores? Who has the right to economic measures of support? Who is to complain to? To be informed in this situation is our basic need. And in what way will be decided whether some information or announcements are causing panic and disorder or is it only justified and argument critique of the institutions or pointing to the problem? And who are the people and what is their competence to execute such analysis and estimation? There are no clear answers to these questions and it is reasonable to suspect validity of such statute. It seems that Statute is already take a tribute and that people are thinking more before they write in fear they will be punished by saying or writing something. Thereby, they probably have in mind that some people are already in captivity due to so called spread of the panic. Draško Stanivuković was accused to spread panic and lies on the workers of factory “Bema” who are infected by the virus corona (which turned our as an accurate information) and afterwards he received the police call for interrogation due to “committed penalty of spreading panic by announcing video material with false content”, and the video material were on people talking on the bad conditions in quarantine in Sport Facility Obilićevo.
Arbitrary interpretation of the statute
We ask legitimate question. Can, let’s say, information on corruptive activities when purchasing medical equipment be understood as attempt to cause panic and disorder? Or can information on lack of protection equipment in hospitals be understand in the same way? This literally happened to journalist from Serbia Ana Lalić when she published on the portal Nova.rs text on the conditions in Clinical Center Vojvodina. She was detained in police department and cell phone and laptop were taken away from her. Clinical Center Vojvodina accused her to disturbed reputation of this institution and caused panic among citizens by text where certain medical workers talk on bad conditions in this medical facility. However, Ana was released from the custody and Serbia Government, after sharp critiques coming from international and local organizations, decided to withdraw its Statute on Informing Public during pandemic of corona virus. This statute implied that information on pandemic can only come from Emergency stem headed by Prime Minister Ana Barnabić, in order to protect citizens form unverified information. After releasing from the custody Lalić said she stand by everything she wrote, that hospital lack basic equipment and that they are working in the chaotic conditions in the time of epidemic and that “greater panic was caused by President Aleksandar Vučić when he said he will enter into force 24-hours quarantine and he does not care how people are going to buy groceries which caused massive and panic purchase of the supplies” .
It is important to question expediency of adopted measures and statutes
Even in the case of epidemic such as this caused by corona virus it is legitimate to ask such questions and question expediency of adopted measures and statutes, especially in the light of possible violations of human rights, in this case freedom of speech and right to access information. As this situation of isolation and emergency state expends new questions emerged on a daily basis and fears that emergency state can be misused.
Though at the moment, the physical and mental health is in the first place, we should not turn our back form questioning validity and efficiency of measures adopted at different levels in BiH.
Therefore, the Initiative for Monitoring of European Integrations with justification pointed to the fact that by announcing names and family names of people in isolation the Law on Protection of Personal Data BiH is violated, first and for most the privacy as one of the basic human rights and the entity laws on the rights of patients. They warned that in this way those who adheres the measures are targeted and stigmatized and that the supervision of these persons should be strictly in the hands of police officers and not in the hands of citizens, neighbors and friends. “We are especially worried by the fact that this repercussion could discourage citizens that have symptoms of corona virus to report to competent institutions and take tests in order to avoid public stigmatization and announcing their name”, it was stated, among other issues, in announcement of the Initiative. Transparency International BiH, on the other hand, warned that lists of the workers, who supposedly voluntarily gave up their personal incomes due to the Fund of Solidarity for Recovering of Republic of Srpska, are created without any legal framework and can be used as tool of pressures and discrimination of those who did not accept this recommendation. Therefore, TI BiH reported against Ministry of Education and Culture of RS to Agency for Protection of Personal Data BiH.
On illegality of the decision on overall prohibition of movement of persons younger than 18 in Federation of BiH, we pointed through petition of the citizens from Federation whereas is stated that children are not in the risk group impacted by the corona virus, that none state in the region and even Europe have not adopted this or similar measure and that decision on complete prohibition of movement of children is unjustified, non-proportional and discriminatory.
Petition of the citizens from Federation
This is only a partial inconstancy and questioned legality some tried to point to. There is no space in one text to describe what is happening these days. But the reason of writing this text is not that. I want to point to need of monitoring institutional response to COVID-19 in order to prevent possible violations of human rights. Adopted measures must be limited, justified and must have accurate expiry and we must “monitor” those who execute these measures so they would not be misused or led to discrimination. Even in the time of pandemic, we must obey the conventions and laws and must take care that adopted measures be perceived also from the humanistic, gender and the marginalized group perspective.
Text downloaded from: www.ba.boell.org