The COVID-19 pandemic has posed new and severe challenges for the defence of human rights, affecting especially the most vulnerable groups of people and revealing the profound inequality of the world in which we live.
Latin America is one of the most unequal areas on the planet, and, therefore, the impact of the pandemic has placed human rights severely at risk. For instance, millions of people are left with no daily sustenance to survive or healthcare, and children's access to the right to education now depends exclusively on their internet connection.
Much has happened in 2020, and the novel coronavirus pandemic was the main change that caused a major restructuring of social life. Social and political institutions and, of course, the judicial system were forced to swiftly adjust the ways in which they worked, and the life, health and safety of every person became the main criteria and values that guided them. During that whole period, the court system never halted its activities and continued administering justice at a high level while meeting the requirements of reasonable time of proceedings.
The rule of law is arguably the most basic requirement of any civilized society, and an independent judiciary, to which access is available to all citizens, is an essential ingredient of the rule of law. Freedom of expression is also fundamental in a democratic society, in which the courts and the media have vital and complementary institutional roles. Together, they hold power to account, enforce the rights of individuals and shed light on matters of public interest - and they also monitor each other. The media have been described as the watchdogs of democracy, highlighting democratic deficits and demanding accountability from elected officials. And judges have no more important role than to hold the Government to account when it does not adhere to the law and to uphold the rights of individuals. And there is no more vital right than freedom of expression.
The representation of women in the judiciary is significant for many reasons. Besides ensuring that the legal system is developed with all of society in mind and that in turn a representative perspective is brought to adjudication, the inspiration it provides to the next generation of female judges gives them continued motivation to achieve their goals. And while equality in the judiciary has been historically uneven, steps are being taken to remedy this, as evidenced by the acceptance of a new United Nations General Assembly Resolution marking 10 March as the International Day of Women Judges. This Resolution, drafted by the State of Qatar, is tangible proof of an evident positive shift underway in several geographic regions.
On 12 March 2020, the Norwegian Government implemented the strictest and most invasive measures ever introduced in Norway in peacetime in the hopes of stopping or slowing down the spread of COVID-19 infections. The courts quickly had to address how best to handle their role in society in a prudent manner. It was quickly realized that something had to be done to find alternatives to physical court sessions. For most court cases, alternative ways for processing the cases were considered: either in writing, as remote sessions or as a combination of both.