Fundamental rights during and after the COVID-19 pandemic


In an online presentation on 22 April, Başak Çalı, Professor of International Law at the Hertie School and Director of its Centre for Fundamental Rights discussed how a fundamental rights-based analysis can provide a legal and ethical basis for evaluating countries’ responses to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The webinar, “Fundamental rights during and after the COVID-19 pandemic“, was part of the Fundamental Rights Research Colloquium, the centre’s regular series of informal talks, in which Hertie School scholars and external speakers present their works.

In her talk, Çalı said the pandemic crisis introduced states to an unusual notion of fundamental rights competition. The obligation of the state to protect the right to life has to be balanced against other fundamental rights such as the right for freedom of movement, to privacy, and to freedom of speech, among others. The question of whether states have established the right balance between these rights must be continuously evaluated, she said.

Çalı emphasized, however that a fundamental rights-based analysis allows us to hold states accountable not only for balancing fundamental rights against one another but also for fulfilling their positive obligations to protect fundamental rights. It allows us to examine whether a state has acted adequately and in a timely manner to protect the most vulnerable members of society and whether it has implemented adequate measures to protect other groups, such as frontline workers. Fundamental rights based analysis also pushes us to ask what positive measures are taken to protect the rights of vulnerable groups – people in migration facilities, detention facilities, care homes, prisons or psychiatric hospitals.

Restrictions in response to Covid-19 affect different population groups differently, Çalı argued. Groups that are already facing discrimination because of gender or socio-economic opportunities, for example, are disproportionately affected by the current restrictions. Fundamental rights-based analysis sheds light on the question of the effect of indirect discrimination, i.e. the effect of what seem to be neutral measures to fight the pandemic on different population groups.

Listen to the podcast of the presentation here:

View the slides presented at the webinar here.

The discussion was moderated by Alexandre Skander Galand, postdoctoral researcher at the Hertie School's Centre for Fundamental Rights.