For human rights restrictions to be lawful they need to be necessary. This means first and foremost that human rights can only be restricted for important reasons. Such reasons are called legitimate aims. 

The reasons that justify interference with human rights are usually important public interests such as public safety and welfare, public health and morality, the protection of national security or democratic governance and the protection of the rights and interests or other people. 

In Latvia, Article 116 of the Constitution of Latvia (Satversme) states that human rights may be subject to restrictions in circumstances provided for by law in order to protect the rights of other people, the democratic structure of the State, and public safety, welfare and morals. 

International human rights treaties usually mention the public interests that can justify the restriction of some rights. 

example Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights guarantees freedom of expression. It also states that it may be subject to restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

If an article does not mention legitimate aims, that does not mean that certain aspects of a right cannot still be restricted. 

example The right to a fair trial in international human rights treaties usually does not mention the legitimate aims justifying its restrictions. However certain measures such as time-limits on access to court or limits on the publicity of hearings can still be adopted to ensure the effectiveness of court proceedings or to protect the rights of victims.

Absolute rights can never be restricted even if there are public interests to protect. No reasons, even emergencies can justify violations of absolute rights.

Read more about absolute rights.

Burden of proof

The burden of justifying and stating the legitimate aims for any human rights restrictions rests with the State. Where human rights are included in law through general measures, the law maker has an obligation to assess the need for the restrictions, including the legitimate aims. Where an individual decision is taken, the reasons for the restrictions must be properly reflected in the decision. 

Read more about general measures and individual restrictions.

Human Rights Guide

A European platform for human rights education