Human rights in light of the Pandemic: The importance of human rights in relation to combatting Covid-19
08/05/2020                                                               Leena Osman

 

The Coronavirus is a global pandemic unlike any other before. Since its outbreak in December of 2019, it has infected millions individuals around the globe. Faced with a global health crisis of this severity, countries all around the world are rapidly planning and effectuating response measures. 

 

However with restriction response strategies to contain the virus, such as restricting the freedom of movement, it is quite easy to overlook certain human rights thus allowing the possibility of human rights abuses. That being said, human rights should be prioritised and considered in ALL response measures. Most importantly, governments must be reminded of the rights that should be protected and their obligations to their citizens during this difficult time. 

 

→ Human rights abuses and concerns during the Covid-19 pandemic: 

Although restricting the freedom of movement by imposing a lockdown could be necessary to contain the spread of Covid-19, these restrictions should not be imposed in a discriminatory or arbitrary manner. In addition, authorities should offer support for those who are stuck in a threatening or abusive situation. 

 

Governments should not abuse emergency measures to suppress human rights. All responses should be proportionate, necessary and non-discriminatory. 

 

→ Freedom of expression threatened amid Covid-19: 

It is crucial that governments respect the rights to freedom of expression and access to information. Governments should guarantee that all have access to information during the coronavirus pandemic and that internet and phone services are not severed. Every individual has the right to access timely and factual information about the global pandemic. 

 

However, due to the viral load and severity of Covid-19 states can, with the aim of protecting public health, restrict free expression. For instance, with the wide spreading of misinformation since the outbreak, governments have been urged to address disinformation to avoid serious health consequences on societies across the globe. Nevertheless, concerns over serious abuses  of freedom of expression, under the guise of dispelling misinformation, by governments have been raised. 

 

Hence, It is essential to highlight that certain conditions must be met.

 

  1. Any response measure should be proportionate and necessary.That implies that governments should refrain from imposing measures that limit or completely prevent access to information or the dissemination of information online. 

  2. ALL response measures should be limited in time. That signifies that any measure taken should be implemented for the sole purpose of protecting public health. Thus, governments should ensure that these measures do not remain in effect after the public health crisis comes to an end. 


 

→ Ensuring an inclusive response encompassing vulnerable communities: 

There can be a disproportionate effect on at risk individuals such as refugees, displaced persons, homeless individuals or persons with disabilities. 

  • Measures such as social distancing may have a disadvantage on persons with disabilities, as they depend on others for care. Many services that they rely on have been suspended due to the pandemic and many do not have the financial capacity to pay for at home delivery services. 

  • Migrants and refugees could become subject to xenophobia or discrimination on the basis of the origin of the virus. Similarly, their legal status and/or lack financial resources may limit their access to crucial health services 


 

The Coronavirus does not discriminate, therefore our response measures shouldn't either. 

 

Governments need to ensure that these individuals are especially supported right now and that their needs are taken into consideration during the planning and implementation of response measures to ensure an effective and inclusive public health response. 



It is essential that all states maintain a human-rights approach while combating Covid-19 to ensure the protection of the public health and the emergence of stable societies with a strong rule of law.

Geneva Institute
for Human Rights

GIHR is a non-governmental, non-profit organisation based in Geneva.

Email: info@gihr.org

Tel: 0041 22 788 50 15

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1219 Châtelaine 

Geneva - Switzerland

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