Posts Tagged ‘Corona virus’

Shalini Randeria’s lecture on Press Freedom in the time of Coronavirus

July 10, 2020

On 30 April 2020 at the occasion of World Press Freedom Day the Graduate Institute in Geneva organised a lecture by Shalini Randeria Professor, Anthropology and Sociology and Director of the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy, on “Defending Press Freedom in the Time of Coronavirus“. Even after 6 weeks it is still valid, here in full:

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/03/world-press-freedom-day-2020-a-small-selection-of-cases/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/04/world-press-freedom-day-2020-a-few-more-links/

The coronavirus crisis has provided a welcome pretext for soft authoritarian regimes the world over to strengthen their hold on power, with their declared states of exception potentially becoming the new normal. Curbing press freedom was among illiberal rule’s casualties even prior to the pandemic; attacks against independent newspapers and TV channels have not been limited to the Trump Presidency, which is notorious for its charge of “fake news” against critical reporters. But neutrality of the press can be a risky principle in the face of “alternative facts” such as Trump’s recent home remedies for the coronavirus.

The USA was ranked 45th out of 180 countries for its hostility towards news media in Reporters without Borders’ recently published World Press Freedom Index, with China (ranked 117th), Iraq and Iran among the countries mentioned for censoring coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Instead of suppressing the spread of COVID-19, placing limits on press freedom could backfire, not only by reducing public awareness about the grave risks of the virus, but also preventing public debate about steps needed to mitigate the risks.

Moreover, this gag on press freedom compounds an unprecedented lockdown in which parliaments – even in liberal democracies – are hardly functioning, courts are not in regular session, street protests are impossible due to restrictions on the right to assembly, elections have been cancelled (for the most part), and universities are closed.

Under these circumstances, a free press is the only institution of countervailing power that could hold a government to account.

A widespread anti-press sentiment along with the detention, intimidation and jailing of activists and journalists, has become the order of the day in Turkey and India, to name but a few of the countries witnessing systematic assaults on press freedom in recent years, assaults that have escalated under the conditions created by the curtailment of civil liberties due to the threat of coronavirus.

Hungary suspended its parliament and further curbed freedom of expression, giving Prime Minister Orban unfettered emergency powers to rule by decree. China expelled American journalists for reporting on the dangers of the virus, while Iraq temporarily withdrew Reuter’s license after it published a story on the government’s under-reporting of COVID-19 cases.

On 10 April 2020, The New York Times reported that 28,000 workers at news companies in the USA had lost their jobs since the start of the pandemic. It is unlikely that the news industry will receive the federal aid that it is pleading for to prevent further job losses and closures.

What Buzzfeed has called “media extinction” comes in the wake of decades of layoffs and the shutting down of small local and regional newspapers, but also of large, progressive news sites, such as ThinkProgress in 2019. Fox News, however, continues to gather strength, posting record ratings in the first quarter of this year.

The commercialisation of the public sphere, along with the enormous concentration of power in the hands of very few media companies, which are closely linked to politicians in many a liberal democracy, spells danger for press freedom, as does repression by authoritarian governments. Both trends result in a near monopoly over information.

The WHO’s Director-General alerted us recently that the pandemic is also an “infodemic”, one that has given a fillip to spurious conspiracy theories circulating widely in various social media: “fake news” spread not only by ill-informed private individuals or ill-intentioned groups but also by governments.

But it has drawn attention once again to the dangers of “dead” or “buried” news suppressed by those in authority along with the deployment of all kinds of strategies to control information and mute public debate.

The rhetoric of the pandemic as “war” against an invisible enemy employed in France, as much as in China and the US, serves the same function.

Liberal democracies need strong civil society organisations that can mobilise public opinion and foster public debate, monitor the functioning of institutions, and hold politicians and public officials responsible.

In the absence of the freedom of the press, neither protest nor dissent can be voiced. The COVID-19 crisis may have accelerated the speed of the movement towards the slippery slope of dismantling democracy and human rights in many parts of the world.

https://graduateinstitute.ch/communications/news/defending-press-freedom-time-coronavirus

Proliferation of Human Rights Bodies’ Guidance on COVID-19

May 27, 2020

On 22 May 2020 in “Just Security” [see: https://www.justsecurity.org/about-us/) published a post ” Mapping the Proliferation of Human Rights Bodies’ Guidance on COVID-19 Mitigation “. It is in some ways rather critical of the response by intergovernmental bodies in the human rights area when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic. It starts by pointing out that they have collectively put out more than 150 statements on respecting human rights during the pandemic since late February. ..To help those interested in keeping track of the many statements, the International Justice Resource Center (IJRC) has published a webpage – COVID-19 Guidance from Supranational Human Rights Bodies – listing and linking to all relevant press releases and other guidance. This article serves to provide an overview of – and initial response to – the nature, scope, and sources of human rights advice available to States in the context of the pandemic. Having myself contributed with my blog to the proliferation of policy repsonse by NGOs and IGOs, I feel that this piece deserves full citation:

Read the rest of this entry »

Corona pandemic leads to “tsunami of hate and xenophobia” says Guterres

May 8, 2020

Coronavirus Has Sparked 'Tsunami Of Hate And Xenophobia': UN Chief
UN chief Antonio Guterres appealed for “an all-out effort to end hate speech globally. (File photo)

Additionally, “journalists, whistleblowers, health professionals, aid workers and human rights defenders are being targeted simply for doing their jobs,” Guterres said. The UN chief … singled out educational institutions to help teach “digital literacy” to young people — whom he called “captive and potentially despairing audiences.” Guterres also called on “the media, especially social media companies, to do much more to flag and… remove racist, misogynist and other harmful content.”

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/06/19/un-strategy-and-plan-of-action-on-hate-speech-launched/

https://www.ndtv.com/world-news/un-chief-antonio-guterres-says-coronavirus-covid-19-has-sparked-tsunami-of-hate-and-xenophobia-2225238

European Union on human rights in times of the coronavirus pandemic

May 6, 2020

I did several posts on the policy response of NGOs and the UN on human rights in the times of the corona virus pandemic [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/covid-19/]. Other intergovernmental bodies have of course also staked out their position. Here the EU through its High Representative, Josep Borrell:

… Respect for all human rights must remain at the heart of fighting the pandemic and supporting the global recovery.

The pandemic and its socio-economic consequences are having a disproportionate impact on the rights of women, children and elderly persons, and on all persons in vulnerable situations, including refugees, migrants, internally displaced persons, and are deepening pre-existing inequalities. Response measures should take account of the needs of those that are most at risk of marginalisation, stigmatisation, xenophobia and racism and other forms of discrimination. Prevention of, and protection from, all forms of sexual and gender-based violence, including through appropriate redress mechanism, and continued access to all essential health services, are particularly important in a time of confinement. All measures and actions taken in response should be inclusive and gender-responsive and ensure the women’s full and effective participation in decision-making processes and in all stages of response and recovery. The heavy impact of the crisis on economic and social rights also needs to be addressed.

The European Union reaffirms the need to pay special attention to the growing impact of the pandemic on all human rights, democracy and the rule of law. In emergency circumstances, international human rights law allows states to limit certain human rights provided that the measures are necessary, proportionate, temporary in nature, and non-discriminatory. The coronavirus pandemic should not be used as a pretext to limit democratic and civic space, the respect of the rule of law and of international commitments, nor to curtail freedom of expression, freedom of the press and access to information online and offline. The measures should not be used to restrict the work of human rights defenders, journalists, media workers and civil society organisations. Digital technologies that have the potential to help contain the pandemic should be used in full respect of human rights including the right to privacy.

Protecting the right of everyone to the highest attainable standard of health requires access to reliable information. People must be empowered to protect their own health and those of others. Misleading or false information can put lives in danger. It is therefore crucial to resolutely counter disinformation with transparent, timely and fact-based communication and thus reinforce the resilience of societies.

The European Union recognises that the role of civil society and human rights defenders is more important than ever to encourage solidarity, support those who are most in need, and defend human rights, fundamental freedoms and democratic space, and to promote accountability.

This is a time for solidarity and global cooperation through multilateral efforts.  The European Union reaffirms its commitment to contribute to the global response to the pandemics. The European Union will promote coordination in all relevant multilateral fora, including working with the UN, WHO, the Council of Europe, the OSCE and other regional organisations. Measures taken at the national level are also of particular importance. The European Union supports the important role of the UN system in mobilising and coordinating the global response to the pandemic with human rights at the forefront. We strongly support the UN Secretary General’s call for an immediate global ceasefire, as well as the call to end gender-based violence, and the work of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and her Office……..

https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2020/05/05/declaration-by-the-high-representative-josep-borrell-on-behalf-of-eu-on-human-rights-in-the-times-of-the-coronavirus-pandemic/

World Press Freedom Day 2020 – a few more links

May 4, 2020

Yesterday’s post [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/03/world-press-freedom-day-2020-a-small-selection-of-cases/ ] is already in need of updating. Here a few more examples of what happened on World Press Freedom Day:

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Reporters Without Borders (RSF) published exclusive interviews by Philippine journalist Maria Ressa with Washington Post columnist Rana Ayyub, whistleblower Edward Snowden, Nobel economy laureate Joseph Stiglitz and RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire on the subject of “Journalism in crisis: a decisive decade.”
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Deutsche Welle’s Freedom of Speech Award honors journalists persecuted for coronavirus reporting

Deutsche Welle is presenting journalists from four continents with this year’s Freedom of Speech Award for their coverage of the coronavirus crisis. The recipients are being honored on behalf of all media professionals around the world who are publishing independent information about the coronavirus pandemic while working under difficult conditions. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/06/10/dw-freedom-of-speech-award-goes-to-turkish-%e2%80%b2hurriyet%e2%80%b2-journalist-sedat-ergin/#more-8152]

At a moment of a global health emergency, journalism serves a crucial function, and each journalist bears great responsibility,” DW Director General Peter Limbourg said while announcing the award winners in Berlin. “Citizens of any country have the right of access to fact-based information and critical findings,” he said. “Any form of censorship may result in casualties and any attempts to criminalize coverage of the current situation clearly violate the freedom of expression.” For a list of this year’s laureates, see: https://www.dw.com/en/deutsche-welle-freedom-of-speech-award-17-laureates-from-14-countries/a-53306033

Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said in a video message to the journalists honored that the general public needs “full and accurate information about the pandemic, and to be involved in the decisions that are being made on our behalf.” The International Press Institute documented more than 150 violations of press freedom worldwide through the end of April. The IPI has tracked cases of censorship and restrictions on access to information — but the greatest number of violations of press freedom have been arrests of journalists and verbal or physical attacks on them. (https://www.dw.com/en/un-commissioner-michelle-bachelet-honors-journalists/av-53297637)

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SNHROn the occasion of World Press Day, the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) issued a report demanding the release of 422 citizen journalists in Syria, most of whom are detained by the Syrian regime, and are now threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic. The report notes that 707 citizen journalists have been killed since March 2011 to date, 78% of them by Syrian Regime forces. The 20-page report shows how the Syrian regime has been well aware of the danger posed by press freedom to its tyrannical rule for decades, abolishing all independent newspapers, and allowing only three official newspapers to be published, which are simply Syrian regime mouthpieces, dedicated to promoting, defending and justifying the regime’s actions. As the report further notes, it’s no exaggeration but simply a statement of fact to say that there is no such thing as a free press under the Syrian regime…..The report distributes the total death toll according to the main parties to the conflict, with the Syrian regime being responsible for the deaths of 551 citizen journalists, including five children, one woman, five foreign journalists, and 47 other citizen journalists due to torture in detention centers, while Russian forces were responsible for the deaths of 22 citizen journalists, and ISIS killed 64, including one child, two women, three foreign journalists, and three under torture. Hay’at Tahrir al Sham also killed eight, including two who died due to torture. Factions of the Armed Opposition were responsible for the deaths of 25 citizen journalists, including one child and three women.

View full Report

 

Coronavirus and human rights: New guidance highlights support for persons with disabilities

May 2, 2020

UNDP Bangladesh/Fahad Kaizer – In Bangladesh, the UN Development Programme and partners have rolled out emergency support to vulnerable communities.

New guidance issued on 30 April 2020 sets out key actions, to counter what the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called the “double risk” faced by persons with disabilities in the COVID-19 pandemic. As Michelle Bachelet explained, not only are people with disabilities at higher risk because of the crisis, they also are disproportionately affected by response measures such as lockdowns. “People with disabilities are in danger in their own homes, where access to day-to-day support and services may be limited due to lockdowns, and some may suffer greatly from being isolated or confined”, she said. “Persons with disabilities face even greater threats in institutions, as care facilities have recorded high fatality rates from COVID-19 and horrific reports have emerged of neglect during the pandemic.”

The UN rights chief added that making information about the virus available in accessible formats is vital. She also expressed concern over discrimination and stigma at this unprecedented time. “I have been deeply disturbed by reports that the lives of persons with disabilities may somehow be given different weight than others during this pandemic”, she said. “Medical decisions need to be based on individualized clinical assessments and medical need, and not on age or other characteristics such as disability.”

The guidance note published by the UN human rights office outlines steps governments and stakeholders can take during the pandemic. They range from discharging persons with disabilities from institutions, to increasing existing disability benefits, and removing barriers to COVID-19 treatment. Prioritizing testing and promoting preventive measures within institutions to reduce infection risk are other recommendations. Additionally, the guidance spotlights promising practices already in place in some countries. For example, in Switzerland and Spain, some persons with disabilities living in institutions were moved out to be at home with their families, while authorities in Canada have issued priority COVID-19 testing guidelines with specific measures for these settings.

https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/04/1062912

COVID and Human Rights: Shifting Priorities also for Companies

April 29, 2020

Foley Hoag LLP - Corporate Social Responsibility

Isa Mirza for Foley Hoag LLP wrote an interesting overview piece with focus on how Corporate Social Responsibility fits in:

The COVID-19 pandemic is one of the most significant global public health crises since the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-20. The spread of the Coronavirus through every continent and major metropolis has led to unprecedented policy responses from governments both large and small. As a result, the human rights community is more closely scrutinizing the impact of these responses, while many company operations are more likely to overlap with the pandemic and evolving government policy in some way. The corollary of this dynamic could be considerable, not just in the near term, but for how rights are to be protected and respected in the future.

Governments Around the World Threaten Rights under Cover of COVID-19

………

Corporate Responses to COVID-19

Companies have also made changes to their operations and policies in response to the pandemic. Many businesses have waived fees and made it easier to obtain a refund, instituted emergency relief and exemptions for borrowers, revised their rules to make them more transparent and flexible, made multi-million dollar donations to support public health efforts, and redirected or repurposed some of their products to help boost the supply of medical equipment.

NGOs and watchdog groups, however, are increasingly concerned about possible situations where companies could be knowingly or inadvertently violating rights as they attempt to sharply attune their operations to COVID-19 and attendant government policies.

Some companies that provide teleconferencing services – a lifeline for families and business during the crisis – have been accused of instituting weak privacy protections and misleading users regarding the quality of their encryption technologies. Concern has also been raised that some social media platforms have been slow in removing hate speech and discriminatory content against groups stereotyped as vectors of the Coronavirus. Under certain conditions, the latter could lead to physical violence against members of populations most vulnerable during the crisis, such as ethnic and religious minorities, healthcare workers in close contact with COVID-19 patients, and individuals under quarantine order.

Corporate Responsibility and How Companies Can Respect Rights During COVID-19

Although companies cannot directly change government policies or be expected to contravene national laws, the current crisis does compel businesses to consider if their operations may be contributing to harmful impacts caused by states and how then they could be meaningfully addressed.

There are well-established international instruments, principles, and best practices that companies can follow when considering how best to respect human rights in the context of COVID-19.

The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (“UNGPs”) set global human rights expectations for companies in the 21st Century. The UNGPs are designed to encompass the full ecosystem in which business enterprises conduct commercial transactions and maintain supply chains. The UNGPs are premised upon three pillars. The first pillar is that governments have a duty to protect human rights. The second pillar is that companies have a responsibility to respect human rights. The third pillar is that both governments and companies must provide a remedy when human rights are violated.

The corporate responsibility to respect human rights is primarily a responsibility to do no harm. This responsibility can be met in two ways. First, a company should avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through its own commercial activities, and should address such impacts when they occur. Second, a company should seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts to which it is directly linked. A business is deemed to be directly linked to a human rights impact when it has ties through its value chain to an entity that has caused an adverse human rights impact.

Companies can largely meet their responsibility to do no harm by reviewing their operations and supply chains to identify human rights risks; conducting human rights due diligence to prevent adverse human rights impacts arising from commercial activities; and mitigating, remedying, or otherwise addressing adverse human rights impacts that nonetheless occur.

Social media platforms, internet providers, teleconference service companies, and other ICT-based enterprises should also consider the standards set forth in the Principles on Freedom of Expression and Privacy of the Global Network Initiative (“GNI Principles”). Premised on international human rights norms, the GNI Principles provide member companies with non-binding standards and guidance for implementing them. Importantly, the GNI Principles state that member companies bear an express responsibility to respect and promote the freedom of expression and privacy rights of their users. In addition, GNI member companies should be able to demonstrate their efforts in this regard. ICT companies that are not GNI members would be best served by seeking to emulate these standards.

Companies can further fulfill their human rights responsibilities by publicly disclosing the steps they are taking to address challenges identified in their due diligence.

In addition to being integral aspects of the UNGPs, due diligence and public disclosure are salient precepts in other human rights standards. For example, The Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights – the only set of standards providing detailed guidance to natural resource companies regarding how to respect human rights in the provision of security at their operations – call on extractives companies to carry out regular due diligence on the potential human rights risks associated with the protection of natural resource assets. In addition, companies that implement the Voluntary Principles are encouraged, where possible, to publically disclose their efforts to address human rights issues that have been found through the due diligence process. Many governments are now also expecting companies to conduct some form of due diligence and commit to public transparency in order to enter into government contracts and partnerships.

In countries and regions where pandemic prevention policies have contributed to credible reports of human rights abuses, companies should be circumspect to ensure their local operations and supply chains are not contributing to those harms. When operational risks related to COVID-19 are determined to be likely, a company should be prepared to conduct targeted due diligence and a review of relevant policies. This could be complemented by public reporting on specific actions the company has taken to acknowledge and remediate COVID-related human rights challenges.

In addition, companies should consider taking the further step of discussing their due diligence efforts and findings with governments, human rights organizations, representatives of workers and vulnerable groups, and – where beneficial to public health planning – with the medical community.

The Coronavirus pandemic has stretched the resources of every institution across the globe. Governments bear primary responsibility for protecting human rights during the crisis, but their responses have also led to abuses. Although it may seem daunting for companies to factor their potential role in such abuses into their existing operations and policies, doing so will place them at the cutting-edge of best practice. It will also strengthen their capacity to adapt and respect rights in the face of future global crises.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/09/policy-response-from-human-rights-ngos-to-covid-19-the-business-and-human-rights-resource-centre/

https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/covid-19-and-global-human-rights-93783/

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Bachelet calls for restraint in governments’ COVID emergency powers

April 29, 2020

UN rights chief calls for restraint in governments’ COVID-19 emergency powers

photo credit: UN

During the ongoing pandemic, the exercise of emergency powers has been used as an excuse for unlawful detention, restriction of movement and suppression of press freedoms, according to Bachelet. The International Press Institute (IPI), a press freedoms watchdog, reports that many nations have silenced journalists under the pretext of stifling “fake news.” The IPI maintains a list of international media freedom violations occurring as a result of emergency powers abuses.

In Cambodia the application of emergency powers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in the unlawful detention of those who disobey the emergency measures for up to 10 years in a move Amnesty International called “a naked power grab which seeks to manipulate the COVID-19 crisis in order to severely undercut human rights.” Further human rights abuses are reported from El Salvador, where grocery shoppers were unlawfully detained when President Nayib Bukele defied a Supreme Court order in their defense. In Central Asia, Amnesty International reports massive expansion of police powers through emergency powers granted during the pandemic.

To guide responsible enacting of emergency powers, the UN has released a new set of policy guidelines that advise states to follow principles such as legality, proportionality and non-discrimination during “humane application of emergency powers,” pursuant to the International Covenant on Human Rights. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/14/un-guidelines-for-use-of-emergency-powers-in-time-of-covid-19-pandemic/.

Given the exceptional nature of the crisis, it is clear States need additional powers to cope,” Bachelet’s statement concluded. “However, if the rule of law is not upheld, then the public health emergency risks becoming a human rights disaster, with negative effects that will long outlast the pandemic itself.”

 

CIVICUS and 600 NGOs: “don’t violate human rights while responding to COVID-19”

April 23, 2020

Six hundred NGOs signed a statement saying “We are in this together, don’t violate human rights while responding to COVID-19“:

As governments are undertaking extraordinary measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, we recognise and commend the efforts states are making to manage the well-being of their populations and protect human rights, such as the rights to life and health. However, we urge states to implement these measures in the context of the rule of law: all responses to COVID-19 must be evidence-based, legal, necessary to protect public health, non-discriminatory, time-bound and proportionate.

All responses to COVID-19 must be deeply rooted in these cross-cutting principles: respect of human dignity, independence and autonomy of the person, non-discrimination and equality, and respect of diversities and inclusion. Any response must comply with international standards on emergency legislation and respect human rights and the rule of law. Extraordinary measures are legitimate only under exceptional circumstances, such as when there is an immediate threat to public health. These measures should be used in a necessary and proportionate manner and should be aligned to international human rights law.

To date, there are over two million confirmed cases of COVID-19 around the world. The next few weeks are crucial as measures put in place by states will determine the course of the pandemic. Resources will come under severe strain and there may be more shortages of personnel and protective equipment which will put countries under immense pressure. More cases may be reported which will lead to stricter measures being implemented by some states. Despite the challenges faced by governments across the globe, responses to the pandemic should not be used as a pretext to restrict civic space.

We are particularly concerned by states that are abusing emergency powers to place restrictions on fundamental rights, including freedom of expression and the right to access information. Across the globe, journalists, human rights defenders and other independent voices are threatened and punished for speaking out about the extent of the pandemic in their countries, or the measures adopted in response to COVID-19. These countries include Tajikistan, Niger, Egypt, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, El Salvador, Bangladesh and China. Other governments are adopting legislative measures to curtail fundamental freedoms, such as in Hungary, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the Philippines. Some states are abusing their powers to suppress peaceful assemblies, including in Hong Kong.

Governments including India, Myanmar, and Bangladesh, have enforced internet restrictions and shutdowns which prevent many people from accessing vital information about how to protect themselves against the virus. These restrictions also negatively affect the growing number of people who are working remotely so that they can practice physical separation.

Access to information is critical in efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19. Governments must proactively share key information about the pandemic as soon as it is available, such as important decisions, the number of cases, availability of equipment and supplies, and clear advice. Information should be widely available to everyone, not just selected government officials or other intermediaries, as is the case in Uzbekistan. This ensures that individuals, communities and health workers can react quickly and responsibly to new information.

Migrants in detention centers, for example in Mexico and Greece, are living in dire conditions without access to adequate hygiene facilities. It is also impossible for them to practice physical distancing due to overcrowding. All asylum seekers who arrived in Greece since 1 March 2020 have been denied access to asylum. We commend states such as Portugal which have temporarily lifted restrictions on asylum seekers with pending applications. This ensures they have access to healthcare and social security in line with the rest of the population.

Women and children who experience or are at risk of domestic violence may be forced to remain in dangerous situations with an abusive partner or relative. At the same time, access to places of safety and support services may be reduced as shelters are impacted by public health measures and criminal justice resources are diverted.

We are concerned by governments confining persons with disabilities within institutions in several countries including France. This contravenes the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and it places persons with disabilities at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19.

We are concerned by governments that have imposed restrictions leading to human rights violations against LGBT+ persons, including in Peru, Uganda, and Colombia. Governments need to ensure that their policies are inclusive and that all public officials are trained on LGBT+ rights.

Several countries have released prisoners as part of their response to curb the spread of the pandemic. These actions are commendable as congested detention facilities and prisons are high risk areas. We urge countries including Egypt, Bahrain, Kuwait, Iran, Israel, Libya, Morocco, Syria, Turkey, India, and the UAE to include human rights defenders, peaceful protesters and prisoners of conscience among those being released.

We are further concerned by the growing practice of monitoring and closely controlling people’s movements, even at the cost of their privacy. Efforts to contain the virus must not be used to expand systems of invasive digital surveillance. Israel and Taiwan are notable examples of how technological surveillance is being used in this context, and how disproportionate the impact of such measures may be when they are not strictly defined and limited.

The unprecedented challenges presented by COVID-19 present an opportunity for states and civil society organisations to work together to defeat the virus.

We urge states to be transparent and accountable: this will ensure that any measures adopted to prevent the spread of COVID-19 will be effective. Specifically, we urge states to:

    1. Ensure all measures adopted in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic fully comply with states’ international human rights obligations, and that any associated restrictions on human rights are necessary, proportionate, inclusive and time-limited. Also maintain regular contact with civil society to ensure that new measures are in line with international standards.
    2. Ensure that COVID-19 is not used as a pretext for imposing unjustified restrictions on civil society; it must not be used to target human rights defenders and journalists, and to facilitate authoritarian power grabs.
    3. Ensure the pandemic is not used as an excuse to impose forced returns or refoulement in violation of international human rights law; or as a pretext to suspend or derogate from the fundamental right to seek asylum.
    4. Ensure that the independent judiciary, and not other branches of government, decides on any measures limiting the access and operation of courts. Allow independent courts to evaluate any unlawful imposition or unjustified extension of emergency measures, or the unlawful curtailment of the rule of law.
    5. Ensure that judiciaries and other relevant state authorities give particular consideration to urgent cases, where delay is most likely to cause irreparable harm, or where protective measures are required. This refers to: migrants (including asylum-seekers and refugees as well as internal migrants), women and children, LGBT+ communities, older persons, persons with disabilities, religious minorities and other vulnerable groups.
    6. Release detainees; immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience. This will ease pressure on the prison system and reduce the chance of the prison population, and the population more broadly, of contracting COVID-19.
    7. Pay special attention to traditionally marginalised or vulnerable groups and ensure access to appropriate support, resources and protection mechanisms. Be aware of any issues relating to stigmatisation, exclusion, violence, hatred, labelling and the targeting of victims of COVID-19.
    8. Ensure that no one is left behind in the national policies and strategies to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Make sure policies are inclusive and effectively protect against discrimination on any ground. Consider persons with a disability and make sure all information is delivered in accessible formats.
    9. Apply a gender perspective in all policies relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.
    10. Maintain reliable and unfettered access to the internet so that all have the right to access and share information. End all unjustified interference with internet connectivity.
    11. Protect the role of independent media outlets and public interest journalism. Ensure that measures to contain the virus, as well as the fight against disinformation, are not used as a pretext to muzzle the media or regulate media freedoms.
    12. Ensure any use of surveillance to track the spread of coronavirus is limited in purpose and time and abides by human rights safeguards. States should adhere to the rights of free expression, privacy, non-discrimination, confidentiality and protection of journalist sources.

To see the NGOs that have endorsed, follow the link below:

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See also:  https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/10/policy-response-from-human-rights-ngos-to-covid-19-civicus-protocol/

https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/news/4379-civil-society-s-call-to-states-we-are-in-this-together-don-t-violate-human-rights-while-responding-to-covid-19

https://www.newsweek.com/governments-accused-using-pandemic-threaten-human-rights-1499469

Joint NGO statement on civil and political rights at First Virtual Informal Dialogue with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on COVID-19

April 15, 2020

In the context of policy response by Human Rights NGOs to COVID-19 this joint statement should not be missing: On 9 April 2020 Reliefweb published the Joint NGO statement on civil and political rights at First Virtual Informal Dialogue with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on COVID-19

This joint statement on the protection of civil and political rights in the context of the COVID-19 crisis was delivered on behalf of 33 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) during the first virtual informal briefing with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on 9 April 2020. It was delivered in conjunction with a separate joint statement on economic, social and cultural rights (IOR 40/2124/2020).

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/14/un-guidelines-for-use-of-emergency-powers-in-time-of-covid-19-pandemic/