The World Health Organisation along with the United Nations stressed the importance that national leaders adopt a cooperative, global and human rights-based approach in overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic (1). The COVID-19 pandemic has not only shown society the importance of welfare systems, but more so the impact and repercussions that good or bad governance has on society at large.
The European Students’ Union, ESU, above all, commends governing bodies working to support healthcare staff on the national frontlines of defense and ensure that health services are accessible to all who need it. On the other hand, ESU is disturbed by governments that propagate denial, distrust in science and unnecessary fear during the pandemic (2, 3), as this risks setting society on a much longer and more painful path to normality.
Under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which most countries have adopted, governments are obligated to take effective steps for the “prevention, treatment and control of epidemic [..] diseases” and authorities must ensure that everyone has access to the same rights and protection. National constitutions and international human rights treaties contain strict clauses that allow governments to invoke special powers in times of crisis. However, emergency measures breaching human rights must be invoked under legal and scientific basis with the scope of combatting the pandemic. They must be subject to a pre-fixed time limit and must not subvert or escape the work of oversight and scrutiny carried out by Parliaments and independent authorities. Everyone should be fully informed about emergency measures and no person or social group should be discriminated against by the arbitrary application of such measures (4).
Many states are under “lockdown” as governments assumed added legislative powers to close non-essential businesses, enforce quarantine and isolation measures, restrict public gatherings, limit freedom of movement and association, and subject people to increased surveillance through street police patrols or mobile applications (5, 6). In the following statement, ESU reviews the reprehensible damage being done to European democratic values and fundamental human rights and freedoms amidst the economic and social consequences of the global pandemic that is, in certain circumstances further aggravated by European leaders adopting emergency measures that only favour the ruling classes and that deepen social inequality.