From Nezavisimaya gazeta, Nov. 3, 2021, p. 2. Complete text:
In the midst of the lockdown, Russian Federation Constitutional Court Chairman Valery Zorkin and Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev published policy papers with differing takes on whether human rights can be restricted to combat the coronavirus. Considering the failure of the vaccine campaign, which is being openly acknowledged with increasing frequency, these papers allow us to evaluate the authorities’ thoughts on changing the situation and associated concerns.
Zorkin noted that one of a state’s main constitutional problems is resolving the contradiction between its obligation to secure civil rights and freedoms, and its obligation to ensure national security and face down threats. He worries that “the danger of legislators arbitrarily encroaching on constitutionally guaranteed human rights increases sharply in cases of increased terrorist activity, socioeconomic or environmental crises, and pandemics.”
Zorkin stressed that during a crisis, “there is a huge temptation” to take the path of limiting civil rights for the greater good, but that is not always the correct path. “In any case, if we do take that path, we have to tread very carefully and not go too far down it,” he urged. “Measures introduced by federal law to combat various threats, whether current or potential, must be justified as protecting constitutional values and proportional to the degree of danger posed to those values; these measures should not infringe on constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms.”
Medvedev’s priorities were the exact opposite. “In certain situations, public safety and the entire population’s social welfare become more important than respecting an individual’s civil rights and freedoms. Protecting the majority is a fundamental principle of democracy, whether someone likes it or not,” he wrote, as if responding to Zorkin’s comments.
Medvedev admitted that forcing people to get vaccinated is not effective, which is why Russia took the path of voluntary vaccination, making it mandatory only for specific categories of individuals. However, he clarified that significantly limiting the rights of the unvaccinated (relegating them to remote work, preventing them from working with people, reducing their [benefit] payments) is a possibility. “Of course, this creates a kind of segregation by vaccination status. Yet such measures are quite effective, and most people understand and support them. Improving the laws around this issue is a challenge our government has yet to solve. And let’s be frank: That solution will have to depend on how much the pandemic threatens public safety,” he warned transparently.
The acute situation with infections caused by low vaccination rates is forcing the authorities to seek ways to combat the virus’s spread. [Russian] President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly stressed that there is a hard limit: Vaccines cannot be made mandatory for everyone. There has been a lot of talk lately about revising and intensifying the information campaign supporting vaccines. But it seems there is not much of an expectation that such decisions will have a significant effect. Further legal discrimination against the unvaccinated, which effectively forces them to get the shot while formally preserving their right to choose, is a way of getting around the president’s limit by following it to the letter. People talked about this even before Medvedev, but he was probably the first to lay out and justify this idea so unequivocally. Nonetheless, Zorkin’s clarifications, which are clearly closer to the president’s position in spirit, may attest to certain disagreements on this issue.