EaP CSF COVID-19 Briefing Paper: fundamental rights and freedoms during the COVID-19 crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic has become a litmus test for even the most advanced democracies, prompting societies to discuss their fundamental rights concerns. Civil society in all 6 Eastern Partnership countries has been vocal on a series of concerns related to the respect of fundamental rights during the current crisis, touching on freedom of expression, access to information, personal privacy, and the rule of law. The briefing paper proposes a series of conclusions, among which are the following:

  • The European Union should be more steadfast in calling out and sanctioning abuses when they occur, as part of a wider effort to adopt a more human-rights based approach to its COVID response strategy and its relations with the EaP countries overall.
  • The European Union should actively remind partner governments of the necessity of ensuring respect for fundamental rights and freedoms.
  • Moreover, EU financial assistance in the post-crisis era should be incrementally re-routed from governments which fail to meet their human rights obligations and practice a lack of transparency, to bona fide CSOs whose activities seek to mitigate the longer-term economic and social impact of the COVID-19 crisis.
  • The European Union should also take active steps to continue supporting civil society in its role as a watchdog for the respect for fundamental rights and freedoms.
  • Additional funding should be made available to support human rights watchdogs and other organisations working on fundamental rights and freedoms in order to prevent the current restrictions from becoming the ‘new normal’, and to ensure the longer-term viability of such organisations in the post-crisis era.

This paper has been elaborated in the framework of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum #PrepareEaP4Health campaign and aims to illustrate the context in which civil society is addressing the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 public health crisis. It is based on the author’s desk research, and collective input from EaP CSF member organisations, provided through an online consultation conducted between 25 March and 3 April 2020. A total of 84 responses from all six EaP countries and EU member states took part in the survey: 25 from Armenia, 13 from Azerbaijan, 5 from Belarus, 10 from Georgia, 6 from Moldova, 17 from Ukraine, and 8 from EU member states. The survey was designed to identify the major needs and concerns of civil society.