Following up on a suggestion from the Constitutional Court, President Lenín Moreno has sent a draft of the Health Emergency Management Law to the National Assembly. The legislation would allow the government to impose restrictions on personal liberties in the case of pandemics or other health crises.
Three times in the last year, the Constitutional Court has ruled the president’s state of emergency declarations unconstitutional for restricting the right of movement without proper justification. Following two of its rulings, the judges suggested that a law be enacted to deal specifically with health-related emergencies.
Earlier this week, the court agreed to allow the current 28-day emergency declaration to remain in force but only after government officials consulted with judges and presented the justification prior to restricting personal rights.
On Thursday, the proposed legislation received unanimous approval from the Legislature Management Board which sent it to the Assembly’s Health Commission for final review before it goes to the full Assembly. “The law provides clear definitions of how the executive will apply future emergency orders that restrict personal freedoms, especially restrictions on personal movement and on business operations,” says Assembly President Cesar Litardo. “In the past, the court has considered the restrictions to be overly broad without proper justification. The intent of the law is to provide a framework that will restrict personal liberties based on defined parameters in the case of a health emergency.”
According to Litardo, the law must limit future states of emergency to specific geographical areas where health crises are most extreme. “Except in extraordinary circumstances, it will not allow a nationwide lockdown that previous orders have attempted to impose.”
Constitutional attorney Jorge Benavides says the new law, which he believes will easily pass the Assembly, still faces significant hurdles. “Although members of the court suggested the legislation, they made clear that it must be carefully crafted so it does not violate the constitution,” he said. “They said that the constitutional language did not anticipate a pandemic but say their top priority is protecting rights. The wording of the law must be very precise to warrant limitations on freedom.”