On 12 March 2020, due to the global pandemic spread of COVID-19 and the increasing spread of COVID-19 within Estonia, the Government of the Republic of Estonia declared an emergency situation, which remains in force until 1 May 2020. Under the emergency situation, restrictions have been introduced in Estonia on domestic and cross-border movement, changes have been made to the provision of education and the administration of justice, various cultural and other institutions have been closed, and restrictions on socialising have been introduced, including with people in hospitals and detention facilities.
As the restrictions imposed may include a derogation from certain obligations concerning fundamental rights and freedoms under international conventions vis-à-vis normal circumstances, it is necessary to notify various international courts and international organisations of the emergency situation measures and resulting restrictions in force in Estonia. The measures implemented in the emergency situation directly affect how Estonia is meeting its international obligations vis-à-vis normal circumstances.
The decisions made and measures taken in an emergency situation must be lawful, targeted, necessary and proportionate, and they must also be limited in time. Any restrictive measure introduced now must be justified – it must be introduced to protect the lives and health of individuals in a pandemic. The international notification of adopted measures reflect, at international level, the domestic legal order and restrictions on fundamental rights and freedoms.
- The emergency situation does not change the foreign policy priorities of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including in the domain of human rights. In international organisations, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has given full attention to protecting Estonia’s rights and will continue to do so in both the Council of Europe as well as the UN, including, in particular, the Security Council and the Human Rights Council, while the emergency situation is in force.
- The freedom of speech and media, as well as the protection of the rights of media staff and human rights defenders are among the priorities of Estonia’s foreign and human rights policy. Under the current emergency, no measures limiting the freedom of speech have been introduced.
Several international agreements include provisions stating that the parties may notify the depositary of an emergency situation that allows the states to derogate from certain obligations under the agreement in circumstances deviating from normal social life. These articles are included in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Article 15) as well as in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 4). These agreements lay out the conditions these restrictions must meet and the notification procedure.
Both agreements provide for notifying the depositary of the agreement of an emergency and measures, the depositary will then notify other parties of these notifications and their contents, and a similar notification procedure will be followed when the emergency ends.
All notifications submitted to the depositary of the agreement are public documents, which are published on the websites of the Council of Europe as well as the UN.
Estonia is obligated to submit a notification under international agreements. It is an issue of implementation of an international agreement, whereby information is provided about declaring an emergency situation and introducing measures, and it does not constitute an independent derogation from obligations under the agreement.
The notification explains that some of these measures may involve a derogation from certain obligations and freedoms under international agreements, however, whether this has occurred in any specific cases can be determined according to procedures set out in the international agreement by the body responsible for supervising the implementation of the agreement, which is either the European Court of Human Rights or the Human Rights Committee.
Under clause 2 of subsection 2 of § 9 of the Foreign Relations Act, relations with international organisations are within the competence of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Notification regarding the emergency situation and resulting measures is conducted via diplomatic channels, which is why notification has been given in the form of notes by ambassadors accredited to the Council of Europe and the UN.
Council of Europe
The Council of Europe aims to advance democracy and uphold human rights and the rule of law (the supremacy of law) in Europe. The Council of Europe is not an institution of the European Union and it should not be confused with the Council of the European Union. One of the most important achievements of the Council of Europe is the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, drafted in 1950. This was the basis for establishing the European Court of Human Rights. Pursuant to Article 15 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the Estonian ambassador to the Council of Europe sent a letter of notification on 20 March 2020 about restrictions introduced in Estonia under the emergency situation, which was declared in response to the pandemic spread of COVID-19. Additional information
- Press release by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on notifying the Council of Europe of emergency measures implemented in Estonia
- Permanent Representation of Estonia to the Council of Europe – NOTE VERBALE (PDF) (641.19 KB, PDF)
- NOTE VERBALE (in French) (PDF) (350.74 KB, PDF)
- NOTE VERBALE (in English) (PDF) (340.55 KB, PDF)
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1966 and entered into force internationally in 1976. It is one of the most important and broadest international agreements on human rights of the UN with 173 parties. Estonia acceded to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on 26 September 1991 and they entered into force for Estonia on 21 January 1992.
The Covenant elaborated on civil and political rights set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and presented them in the form of an international agreement. The UN Human Rights Committee is responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Covenant. Parties of the Covenant submit regular reports to the committee on how the rights set out in the Covenant are protected in their country. The Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights gives the committee the competence to review complaints from individuals who claim that a Party has violated a right covered by the Covenant. Article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights allows that in time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation, the States Parties to the Covenant may take measures derogating from their obligations under the present Covenant, and sets out the conditions for such a derogation and the notification procedure for such measures.
On 20 March 2020, the Estonian ambassador to the UN sent a note to the Secretary-General of the UN, informing him of the declaration of emergency situation in the entire territory of Estonia and of the subsequent measures. The UN Secretary-General was informed according to Article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that 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, and sets out the conditions for such a derogation and the notification procedure for such measures. Additional information
- Declaration by the Estonia’s Permanent Mission to the UN (PDF) (141.94 KB, PDF)
- Recommendations of the Council for Administration of Courts for organising the administration of justice during emergency situation (Adopted at the session of the Council for Administration of Court on 16 March 2020) (PDF) (276.41 KB, PDF)
- Order No 29 of the emergency situation (PDF) (281.82 KB, PDF)
- Order No 30 of the emergency situation (PDF) (290.53 KB, PDF)
- Order No 32 of the emergency situation (PDF) (117.13 KB, PDF)
- Order No 34 of the emergency situation (PDF) (203.27 KB, PDF)
- Order No 35 of the emergency situation (PDF) (188.83 KB, PDF)
- Order of the person in charge of the emergency situation (PDF) (75.79 KB, PDF)
- Order on the temporary restriction of crossing state borders (PDF) (116.34 KB, PDF)
- Regulation on the temporary reintroduction of border control and border surveillance at the internal border (PDF) (308.57 KB, PDF)
- Order on the declaration of an emergency situation on the administrative territory of the Republic of Estonia (PDF) (40.02 KB, PDF)
- Order on the implementation of emergency situation measures (PDF) (77.02 KB, PDF)