International human rights law guarantees everyone the right to the highest attainable standard of health and obligates governments to take steps to prevent threats to public health and to provide medical care to those who need it. Human rights law also recognizes that in the context of serious public health threats and public emergencies threatening the life of the nation, restrictions on some rights can be justified when they have a legal basis, are strictly necessary, based on scientific evidence and neither arbitrary nor discriminatory in application, of limited duration, respectful of human dignity, subject to review, and proportionate to achieve the objective.
The scale and severity of the COVID-19 pandemic clearly rises to the level of a public health threat that could justify restrictions on certain rights, such as those that result from the imposition of quarantine or isolation limiting freedom of movement. At the same time, careful attention to human rights such as non-discrimination and human rights principles such as transparency and respect for human dignity can foster an effective response amidst the turmoil and disruption that inevitably results in times of crisis and limit the harms that can come from the imposition of overly broad measures that do not meet the above criteria.
This document provides an overview of human rights concerns posed by the coronavirus outbreak, drawing on examples of government responses to date, and recommends ways governments and other actors can respect human rights in their response.
Under international human rights law, governments have an obligation to protect the right to freedom of expression, including the right to seek, receive, and impart information of all kinds, regardless of frontiers. Permissible restrictions on freedom of expression for reasons of public health, noted above, may not put in jeopardy the right itself.
Governments should ensure that the information they provide to the public regarding COVID-19 is accurate, timely, and consistent with human rights principles. This is important for addressing false and misleading information.
International human rights law, notably the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), requires that restrictions on rights for reasons of public health or national emergency be lawful, necessary, and proportionate. Restrictions such as mandatory quarantine or isolation of symptomatic people must, at a minimum, be carried out in accordance with the law. They must be strictly necessary to achieve a legitimate objective, based on scientific evidence, proportionate to achieve that objective, neither arbitrary nor discriminatory in application, of limited duration, respectful of human dignity, and subject to review.
Freedom of movement under international human rights law protects, in principle, the right of everyone to leave any country, to enter their own country of nationality, and the right of everyone lawfully in a country to move freely in the whole territory of the country. Restrictions on these rights can only be imposed when lawful, for a legitimate purpose, and when the restrictions are proportionate, including in considering their impact. Travel bans and restrictions on freedom of movement may not be discriminatory nor have the effect of denying people the right to seek asylum or of violating the absolute ban on being returned to where they face persecution or torture.
Prisoners in Iran have reportedly tested positive for the coronavirus, including in Evin prison in Tehran and in the cities of Euromieh and Rasht. In an open letter in February, families of 25 prisoners detained for peaceful activism sought their at least temporary release amid the outbreak and lack of sufficient prison medical care. In March, the Iranian judiciary reportedly temporarily released about 85,000 prisoners for the Persian New Year (Nowruz), a substantially greater number than normal for the holiday, apparently because of health concerns surrounding the coronavirus outbreak. However, dozens of human rights defenders and others held on vaguely defined national security crimes remained in prison.
Governments should work to combat stigma and discrimination by training health workers on COVID-19, using mass media and school networks to expand public awareness of human rights, and recognizing that the virus knows no boundaries and recognizes no distinctions of race, ethnicity, religion, or nationality.
All governments have an obligation to ensure that a serious public health crisis does not also become a human rights crisis because people are unable to access adequate medical care. Governments need to take steps to ensure everyone has affordable and accessible medical care and treatment options.
Billions of people around the world do not have access to safe drinking water. Yet, as the WHO has noted the provision of safe water, sanitation, and hygienic conditions is essential to protecting human health during the COVID-19 outbreak. Prevention of human-to-human transmission of the COVID-19 virus may be supported by promotion of the rights to water and sanitation, and supporting water and wastewater infrastructure and technicians to ensure good and consistently applied water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) and waste management practices in communities, homes, schools, marketplaces, and healthcare facilities. More research is needed to understand the risk of contaminated drinking water, environmental transmission, and how to ensure wastewater operators are trained and supported throughout the crisis.
Governments should immediately suspend any water shutoffs for failure to pay. Discontinuing water services for failure to pay in any context is incompatible with human rights and can be particularly harmful in the context of public health crises like the COVID-19 pandemic.
Human rightsHuman rights are protected by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. These cover the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation, the right to the protection of your personal data, and the right to get access to justice.
Human rights are moral principles or norms for certain standards of human behaviour and are regularly protected in municipal and international law.[citation not found] They are commonly understood as inalienable, fundamental rights "to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being" and which are "inherent in all human beings", regardless of their age, ethnic origin, location, language, religion, ethnicity, or any other status. They are applicable everywhere and at every time in the sense of being universal, and they are egalitarian in the sense of being the same for everyone. They are regarded as requiring empathy and the rule of law and imposing an obligation on persons to respect the human rights of others, and it is generally considered that they should not be taken away except as a result of due process based on specific circumstances.
The doctrine of human rights has been highly influential within international law and global and regional institutions. Actions by states and non-governmental organisations form a basis of public policy worldwide. The idea of human rights suggests that "if the public discourse of peacetime global society can be said to have a common moral language, it is that of human rights".[citation not found] The strong claims made by the doctrine of human rights continue to provoke considerable scepticism and debates about the content, nature and justifications of human rights to this day. The precise meaning of the term right is controversial and is the subject of continued philosophical debate;[citation not found] while there is consensus that human rights encompasses a wide variety of rights such as the right to a fair trial, protection against enslavement, prohibition of genocide, free speech or a right to education, there is disagreement about which of these particular rights should be included within the general framework of human rights; some thinkers suggest that human rights should be a minimum requirement to avoid the worst-case abuses, while others see it as a higher standard. It has also been argued that human rights are "God-given", although this notion has been criticized.
Many of the basic ideas that animated the human rights movement developed in the aftermath of the Second World War and the events of the Holocaust, culminating in the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Paris by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. Ancient peoples did not have the same modern-day conception of universal human rights.[citation not found] The true forerunner of human rights discourse was the concept of natural rights which appeared as part of the medieval natural law tradition that became prominent during the European Enlightenment with such philosophers as John Locke, Francis Hutcheson and Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui and which featured prominently in the political discourse of the American Revolution and the French Revolution. From this foundation, the modern human rights arguments emerged over the latter half of the 20th century,[citation not found] possibly as a reaction to slavery, torture, genocide and war crimes, as a realisation of inherent human vulnerability and as being a precondition for the possibility of a just society. Human rights advocacy has continued into the early 21st century, centred around achieving greater economic and political freedom.
The concept of human rights existed in the Ancient and pre-modern eras, although Ancient peoples did not think of universal human rights in the same way humans do today.[citation not found]
The true forerunner of human rights discourse was the concept of natural rights which appeared as part of the medieval natural law tradition. This tradition was heavily influenced by the writings of St Paul's early Christian thinkers such as St Hilary of Poitiers, St Ambrose, and St Augustine. Augustine was among the earliest to examine the legitimacy of the laws of man, and attempt to define the boundaries of what laws and rights occur naturally based on wisdom and conscience, instead of being arbitrarily imposed by mortals, and if people are obligated to obey laws that are unjust. 2b1af7f3a8