The Corona pandemic has since this week also directly started to have effects on international human rights mechanisms. The European Court of Human Rights has now announced it is taking a number of exceptional measures to respond. Just like in many other work places across the globe, staff has started to work from home, the premises of the Court are no longer open to the public and thus hearings have been cancelled. As far as possible, essential activities at the Court will be continued, in particular the handling of priority cases. Special procedures have been set up for examining requests for interim measures. For the time being, these are the two most important measures affecting proceedings:
- The six-month time-limit for the lodging of applications, under Article 35 of the European Convention on Human Rights, is exceptionally suspended for a one-month period running from Monday 16 March 2020.
- All time-limits allotted in proceedings that are currently pending will be suspended for one month, with effect from Monday 16 March 2020.
So there is basically a procedural freeze from 16 March to 16 April on these issues.
Meanwhile the fight against Corona and the measures taken in that context can themselves start to have human rights implications. Latvia was the first state, on 15 March, to formally notify the Council of Europe of a state of emergency and thus a derogation from the ECHR. The derogation relates to Article 8-11 ECHR and to the right to education (assumedly Article 2 of the first Protocol to the ECHR, as the formal letter from Latvia was written in such haste that it does not indicate which Protocol's Article 2 it refers to!) and the freedom of movement. This is not to say that other countries are not taking similarly far-reaching domestic measures - they may just not all be as diligent as Latvia.