Due to the alarming levels of spread and severity, the coronavirus outbreak has been labelled a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). The region of Europe has become the epicenter of the pandemic, with more reported cases and deaths than the rest of the world combined. The Countries around the world temporarily closed borders, restricted flights and introduced special regimes.
According to the international law, certain rights and freedoms may be limited during the emergency. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states: “In time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation…the States Parties to the present Covenant may take measures derogating from their obligations under the present Covenant “. In addition, the same Article prohibits restriction of certain rights e.g. right to life, torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and etc.
The European Convention on Human Rights also declares that state members may “take measures derogating from its obligations under this Convention to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation“. At the same time, member states, including Georgia are obliged to inform Secretary General of the Council of Europe of the measures which it has taken and the reasons therefore.
The main legal framework for declaring, approving and issuing state emergency in Georgia is the Constitution, the Law on State Emergency and Rules of Procedure of the Parliament. Following the Procedure, the President of Georgia, upon recommendation of Prime Minister, issues a decree on State Emergency. The Parliament meets right upon the declaration and votes for approval.
On March 21, 2020 with 115 votes in favour and zero against, the Parliament of Georgia has approved the declaration of a state of emergency until April 21 in order to counter the global coronavirus pandemic.
During a state of emergency the Government has a right to restrict different rights and freedoms such as human liberty, freedom of movement, right to privacy, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, right to fair administrative proceedings, access to public information, right to property, freedom of labour. The state of emergency restricts some of these rights in order to ensure public safety, reduce the possible threat of coronavirus and manage the situation amid the global pandemic.
The President Decree N1 allows the Georgian authorities to:
– forcibly transfer a person to a place for violations of the isolation or quarantine rules;
– establish rules of isolation and quarantine for which individuals and legal entities shall be held liable;
– suspend international passenger air, land and sea traffic;
– regulate the carriage and transportation of passengers in the territory of Georgia in a manner different from the current legislation;
– restrict property for quarantine, insulation and medical purposes and to use the property and tangible property of natural and legal persons;
– restrict any kind of assembly, manifestation and assembly of persons, except as otherwise provided by the decree of the Government of Georgia;
– establish rules other than those established by the laws of Georgia on education.
Failure to comply with the state of emergency will result in: Administrative liability – a fine of 3,000 GEL for individuals and 15,000 GEL for legal entities; repeat offences will result in criminal liability, namely, imprisonment for a term of up to three years.
By far, the state of emergency imposes only essential restrictions, not the extreme ones. Neither freedom of speech or media, nor political rights are restricted in the country. People use internet freely. Assembly and physical gatherings are strictly forbidden to ensure social distancing. In that regard, restriction of religious gatherings caused certain controversy. Some worshippers continue to go to Churches as normal regardless of government recommendation about limiting gatherings of more than 10 people. Schools, Universities and other educational institutions offer distance learning. Most of the CSOs are working online. There is no tangible data yet available on how the situation affects CSOs financial sustainability in the country.