Human rights “must be central” to virus response


Civicus said evidence is already emerging of states violating these rights. 

24th March 2020 by Gavin Stuart 0 Comments

Governments around the world must not use the coronavirus crisis as an excuse to clamp down on human rights, according to Civicus.

The international campaign group said evidence was already emerging of some states violating these rights as they tackle the outbreak.

These include China, where activists have been harassed for spreading information on the virus, and nations including Iran, Egypt, Vietnam and Cameroon who continue to keep human rights activists in prison despite the increased risk of infection.

Ethiopia, Myanmar and India were meanwhile criticised for imposing restrictions on the internet, which Civicus says risks thousands of lives by denying people access to essential information.

Civicus is now calling on all governments to collaborate with civil society and the media to ensure transparency and address misinformation throughout the crisis without resorting to censorship or criminal sanctions.

It also urges the release of all human rights campaigners and political prisoners and the immediate relaxing of viral control measures such as lockdowns once the Covid-19 threat passes.

Finally, Civicus says everyone should have “reliable and unfettered” internet access to allow information to be shared without fear of interference or penalty.

In a statement, the group said: “As observed with other emergencies, some governments have used crises to curtail civic freedoms and maintain restrictions - even after health threats that justified governments’ actions subsided. States responding to the spread of the Covid-19 virus must ensure that international human rights laws and standards are central to their responses.

“While the focus and attention of the global community over the coming months will be directed towards the virus, states may increase attacks on civil society and impose restrictions. States should take pro-active measures to ensure that civil society organisations and vulnerable groups are adequately protected.

“Declarations of states of emergency for health and security reasons must be done in conformity with the law: states should not impose emergency law as a pretext to restrict civic rights and target particular groups, minorities and individuals. Emergency laws should not be imposed to silence human rights defenders and they must be lifted as soon as threats posed by the virus diminish.”