When COVID-19 hit the world, policy-makers and governments introduced a wide range of measures in the name of the pandemic. Their necessity might have been easily argued from a public health perspective justifying restrictions on some rights, such as those resulting from the imposition of quarantine or isolation limiting the freedom of movement and/or freedom of assembly. Additionally, as it was an unprecedented crisis, states authorities had to deploy maximum resources to combat the spread of the disease and had to take decisions at speed, which, while being well intended, might inadvertently have had a negative human rights impact. As the pandemic has now been going on for over a year in which the knowledge about the disease has considerably increased and vaccines have turned out to be an effective means to combat it, now seems to be the right moment to reflect on the impacts COVID-19 had on human rights and to assess the proportionality and necessity of state responses to the pandemic in light of human rights. COVID-19 measures disproportionally impacted certain groups of people, marginalised communities and certain individuals in society, exacerbating existing shortcoming in the protection of human rights and raising profound challenges with respect to non-discrimination laws, prevailing structural inequalities and the fragility of the rule of law. In order to ensure a resilient human rights system, there is a need to assess all these issues in order to ensure that in the future, responses to crisis not only pay respect to human rights but are rooted in them.
The European Yearbook on Human Rights has always been a platform for young and renowned scholars to raise, address and discuss important and topical human rights issues. It does not come as a big surprise, thus, that the 2021 EYHR is a special edition dedicated to ‘Human Rights in Times of a Pandemic’. When selecting the final contributions, we, the editorial team, endeavored to cover a wide variety of topics, and we are proud to provide our readers with such a rich and intensive corpus of materials which clearly draws attention to important human rights aspects of the pandemic and contributes to the wider debate on state discretion in times of emergencies.