European Committee of Social Rights delivers decision on rights of persons with disabilities in COVID-19 response in spring 2020
In a decision published on 25 August 2023, the European Committee of Social Rights concluded that the right of persons with disabilities to protection of health, social integration and participation in the life of the community as laid down in the revised European Social Charter, as well as the prohibition of discrimination, were not violated in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020.
In December 2020, a non-governmental organisation filed a complaint with the Committee that argued, among other things, that the Finnish Government had failed to adopt appropriate measures to protect the life and health of persons with disabilities during the pandemic. According to the complaint, the authorities also did not provide persons with disabilities with accessible information or guidance in accessible formats. In addition, the complaint considered that the prohibitions on visits and on leaving the housing service units for persons with disabilities prevented persons with disabilities from accessing appropriate health and social services or personal assistance.
In its decision, the Committee considered that the measures put in place in spring 2020 to contain the spread of COVID-19 were justified, as it was a new, generally hazardous communicable disease, the behaviour of which was not fully known. In the Committee’s view, there were reasonable grounds to apply the precautionary principle in order to protect human health in the situation at hand at the time. The Committee’s assessment was also influenced by the fact that the restrictive measures were only in place for a limited period of time and were relaxed as information increased.
The Committee also noted that the COVID-19 response measures in place in spring 2020, such as the recommendation to avoid social contact, were aimed at the entire population, so persons with disabilities were not placed in an unequal position. The Committee also considered that, despite the preventive measures put in place, all persons were guaranteed the right to essential health and social services. In the Committee’s view, up-to-date information on COVID-19 was also available in formats accessible to persons with disabilities, such as sign language and easy-to-read language.
Safeguarding and enforcing social rights in Europe
The Revised European Social Charter is an international agreement safeguarding social rights in Europe. States Parties are bound to guarantee respect of the Charter rights to all persons within their jurisdiction without discrimination. Compliance with the Charter is monitored through national reports drawn up periodically by the States Parties. In addition, social partners and other non-governmental organisations can lodge collective complaints to the European Committee of Social Rights for rulings on possible non-implementation of the Charter. Finland is the only party to recognise the right of national non-governmental organisations to submit complaints under the Charter.
Jenna Uusitalo, Legal Adviser, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, tel. +358 295 163 152,
Krista Oinonen, Director of Unit, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, tel. +358 295 351 172 (Revised European Social Charter)