Posts Tagged ‘Policy response from Human Rights NGOs to COVID’

Coalition of 187 global organisations issues joint statement re the impact of Covid-19 pandemic on LGBTI

June 11, 2020

Drafted by ILGA World, the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), COC, OutRight Action International, the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex Rights (RFSL), GATE and ARC International, the statement was submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council in advance of its 44th session on 22 June 2020.

The statement addresses several issues, including:

  • the right to health;
  • the rise of stigma and discrimination and scapegoating of LGBTI persons;
  • access to housing, water and sanitation;
  • the right to work and impacts on livelihood; and
  • civic space restrictions.

While acknowledging that actions to combat the COVID-19 pandemic are urgent and necessary, signatories of the statement urge UN Member States and stakeholders to ensure that international human rights obligations are complied with, and specific vulnerabilities of LGBTI persons are taken into account, during the implication of such emergency response measures.

Five key recommendations to States and stakeholders are included in the statement, including:

  • ensure accessibility of health care and services to every person, including sexual and reproductive health, without discrimination of any kind;
  • comply with international human rights laws and standards when implementing emergency measures, following requirements of legality, necessity, proportionality and non-discrimination, including on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and sex characteristics (SOGIESC);
  • guarantee that shelters are inclusive for all persons regardless of their SOGIESC and implement measures allowing LGBTI persons to report violence and discrimination suffered in a private context, including at homes and shelters;
  • ensure that emergency measures to address the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic, as well as recovery plans, are inclusive to LGBTI persons – especially to trans, older and homeless LGBTI persons; and
  • ensure access to national, regional and international systems of accountability. States and stakeholders should implement lines of action designed to sustain and ensure the continuity of the engagement of civil society and human rights defenders in UN bodies and mechanisms.

In its conclusion, the statement urges authorities ‘to ensure that this public health emergency will neither exacerbate existing misconceptions, prejudices, inequalities or structural barriers, nor lead to increased violence and discrimination against persons with diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and sex characteristics.’

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/18/17-may-was-international-day-against-homophobia-covid-19-makes-things-worse/

https://www.curvemag.com/us/ibahri-signs-joint-statement-on-the-impact-of-covid-19-on-lgbti-persons-human-rights/

4 June 2020 Webinar on business and human rights in the context of COVID-19

May 27, 2020

Having just posted a report on the prolifiration of intergovernmental responses to the Corona virus pandemic [https://wp.me/pQKto-4ob], it perhaps good to point to the webinar that Business & human rights is organising on 4 June 2020 on Risks and Protection of Human Rights Defenders.

This webinar will have a focus on the risks and protection of HRDs, particularly labour rights and land/environmental defenders and ensuring their participation in the post-pandemic recovery.

Date & Time: 4 June, 4.15 – 5.15 (ICT) / 10.15 – 11.15 (BST)

It will have two parts: a closed and an open session. The closed session – happening on Jitsi – will be a safe space for civil society organisations, human rights defenders, including labour rights and land and environmental defenders, labour unions, and journalists to jointly define practical recommendations on what governments and companies can do to address human rights situation, particularly of labour, land, environmental defenders and civic freedoms, in the context of COVID-19. This part of the webinar is invite-only.

The second part – happening on Zoom – will be an open session, will be an opportunity for civil society, defenders, and journalists to interact with government and business representatives and discuss how companies, governments and civil society can work together to ensure all stakeholders are able to shape recovery efforts, and make sure they are human rights compliant. Anyone is free to join us in the public session by RSVP-ing below.

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 »

Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in Africa issues press statement

May 13, 2020

African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

On 1 May 2020 the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and Focal Point on Reprisals in Africa, Rémy Ngoy Lumbu, expresses concern following reports of reprisals against human rights defenders and civil society in Africa and the adverse effects that national responses of States Parties to combat the COVID-19 pandemic have on their work. [please note that Africa has a regional rapporteur, not to be confused with the UN Secial Rapporteur on HRDs, Mary Lawlor (https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/07/mary-lawlor-takes-up-post-as-un-special-rapporteur-for-human-rights-defenders/)]:

In the context of this COVID-19 global pandemic, the role of human rights defenders has become ever more important to safeguard the fundamental human rights enshrined in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter). The Rapporteur notes, in particular, serious violations of the freedom of assembly and association, as enshrined in the African Charter and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

The Rapporteur deplores the fact that, notwithstanding the press releases of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights of 17 and 24 March 2020 encouraging States to ensure compliance with the provisions of the African Charter and advocating for effective and human rights-based responses to curb the spread of the COVID-19  pandemic in Africa, several human rights defenders continue to be detained in overcrowded or unsanitary prisons and other detention centres without being charged, and this makes them especially vulnerable to COVID-19 infection.

The Special Rapporteur stresses the obligation of States Parties to ensure that measures adopted within the framework of COVID-19 national responses are not used as an opportunity to discriminate against, stigmatize or target particular individuals or groups, including civil society organizations and human rights defenders.

The Special Rapporteur would like to remind that efforts deployed by States Parties to curb the spread of COVID-19 in their respective territories should not result in the silencing of human rights defenders and should comply with the provisions of the African Charter. The Special Rapporteur would also like to call on human rights defenders to continue, with determination, their activities to promote and protect human rights in compliance with the laws and regulations adopted in the context of this global threat.

The Special Rapporteur urges States Parties to:

  1. Ensure that national responses to the COVID-19 pandemic do not lead to the targeting or undue interference with the work of human rights defenders;
  2. Refrain from using COVID-19 related emergency declarations to justify the adoption of repressive measures against specific groups such as human rights defenders;
  3. Also refrain from adopting measures that restrict civic space and contribute to creating a hostile environment for human rights defenders;
  4. Ensure that human rights defenders can communicate freely without fear of reprisal;
  5. Take all necessary measures enabling human rights defenders to conduct their core activities, in particular, those providing support to the most vulnerable populations, while complying with the health measures necessary to combat COVID-19; and
  6. Promptly release human rights defenders detained without charge.

https://www.achpr.org/pressrelease/detail?id=496

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/

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:

——–

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/

Call for applications: COVID-19 funding for artists and human rights defenders working together

April 14, 2020

The CAHR recognises that collaborative endeavours between activists and artists have the potential to provide innovative responses to the current COVID-19 emergency, whether in a reactive, therapeutic or imaginative form. The centre seeks applications from artists and activists to address one or more of the following three objectives:

  • Document, monitor and analyse events in real time.
  • Reflect on well-being, both your own and that of your communities/organisations.
  • Go beyond a reactive response to imagine new, alternative futures. This future oriented work could assess how crises and disruption open up new possibilities for creativity and innovation, as well as for regressive and repressive measures, and/or build on positive responses to the virus itself (local and global forms of solidarity).

Expected outputs

Activists could write a diary, make a weekly podcast, write a blog, etc. Artists could work in their chosen media to respond to the activist’s contribution and/or to wider developments in their country/region. The CAHR is open to innovative suggestions on the nature of the collaboration between activists and artists.

Project proposals

Activists and artists should apply by presenting a single collaborative project proposal that does not exceed two pages in length and includes the following:

  • A brief profile/bio of the artist(s) and activist(s) involved.
  • A brief description of the project/programme of work, highlighting in particular how it responds to the COVID-19 emergency and its links to activism and civic/political space; which of the three objectives set out above it responds to; any safety, security and ethical concerns, and how these will be addressed; whether it builds on existing initiatives or is a new collaboration, and through which media/methodologies it will be carried out.
  • The main beneficiaries and audiences of the project/programme of work and why the methodology/medium is appropriate for the local context.
  • Details of additional sources of funding or contributions.
  • The envisioned output(s) of the project/programme of work, for both the activist(s) and artist(s).
  • The amount of funding you are applying for, and a brief justification for the specific amount requested in the form of a basic budget and justification of resources (subsistence/salary costs can be included). It is envisaged that most grants will be for between £1 000 and £2 000. Additional justification will be required for larger awards, up to £3 000, for example, that the application involves groups of activists and/or artists.
  • One appendix featuring examples of artistic work can be included in the application. The appendix can be additional to the two-page application.

While applications need to be in English, activist and artist outputs that are in part or completely in local languages are welcome.

Criteria for assessment

  • Clear description of the link between COVID-19, and responses to the virus, on the one hand, and threats to activism and civic/political space on the other, affecting either the artists/activists making the application and/or their country.
  • Evidence of a strong working relationship between the artist(s) and activist(s).
  • Feasibility and relevance of the project in challenging and difficult circumstances (including consideration of safety, security and ethics).
  • Evidence of innovation and creativity.

Deliverables

Artists and activists are expected to provide a timeline for outputs in their application, between now and 31 December 2020. Artists and activists are also expected to submit a short joint report (two pages) detailing the activities undertaken as well as all expenses incurred, by 31 January 2021.

All inquiries and submissions should be directed to Piergiuseppe Parisiat at piergiuseppe.parisi@york.ac.uk (link sends e-mail)and Pippa Cooper at pippa.cooper@york.ac.uk(link sends e-mail).

Timeline

There is no fixed deadline for proposals – applications will be considered on a rolling basis over the coming months. The CAHR will endeavour to get back to applicants within two weeks. Successful proposals will be selected by a panel that will include CAHR staff and associates from a variety of backgrounds.

Copyright

Copyright for the outputs remains the sole and exclusive property of the artist and the activist. Terms of reference/contracts will provide the CAHR with the limited right to reproduce, publicly display, distribute and otherwise use the expected outputs in relation to the CAHR’s work, and as an example of work commissioned through the Open Society Foundations’ grant. Copyright will be addressed in terms of reference/contracts developed with successful applicants.

Confidentiality and ethics

The CAHR will discuss anonymity, confidentiality and other ethical issues with artists and activists as they arise in relation to specific projects.

Read the full call callforarctivists.pdf

Policy response by Human Rights NGOs to COVID-19: WOLA

April 14, 2020

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, many human rights organisations have been formulating a policy response. While I cannot be complete or undertake comparisons, I am giving some examples in the course of these weeks. Here the one by WOLA (the Washington Office on Latin America), as published in Reliefweb of 13 April 2020.

In the midst of the rapidly spreading COVID-19 pandemic in Latin America, saving lives and reducing community transmission of the disease should be the number one priority of governments, international organizations, the business community, and civil society groups. Addressing the virus will require decisive public health interventions grounded in the best available public health recommendations. At the same time, the pandemic is having serious consequences for democracy, equality, and human rights in Latin America. Actions that are taken by governments today will have long-term impact.

Over the years, WOLA has worked with civil society partners in the aftermath of disasters, both natural and man-made. Though this pandemic is unprecedented, the lessons we’ve drawn from those experiences are clear: we cannot wait until the pandemic passes to investigate challenges to human rights, raise questions, and hold governments accountable. Some public health interventions will include infringements on key rights, like restrictions on freedom of movement and assembly. Those should be time-limited and legally grounded restrictions. Other interventions will require significant investment in health care, social safety nets, and community support and action. These should be transparent, equitable, and accountable.

While acting promptly and decisively, governments across the Americas need to protect key values like democracy and human rights.Upholding these values is critical to establishing the public trust and the social cooperation that will be required to combat this public health emergency and to move forward in the future. Otherwise, the fight against COVID-19 will not only lead to ineffective public health responses, but could further fuel anti-democratic and authoritarian tendencies in the region.

Some challenges that WOLA will be monitoring in the Americas include:

Reinforcement of authoritarian tendencies

Many governments have appropriately invoked emergency powers to respond to the crisis—but their implementation has not been without concern. In El Salvador, over 1,200 people have been detained in “containment centers” for violating curfew orders, provoking debate among legal experts about the legality of such measures (the country’s Supreme Court ruled on April 8 that curfew violations do not justify arbitrary detentions by the police and military). In Honduras, the president issued a decree temporarily restricting freedom of speech rights as guaranteed in the nation’s constitution, asserting this was necessary to combat the spread of misinformation related to the pandemic; the move received strong criticism from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations. In Venezuela, the de facto Maduro government has sought to silence criticism of its response to the pandemic, harassing and detaining journalists who question official statistics.

Emergency powers need to be clearly limited; the role of legislatures and judiciaries in overseeing and reviewing the exercise of executive power should not be indefinitely suspended. These powers and roles are easy to ratchet up and hard to ratchet back down. It’s been a difficult struggle for governments and societies in the hemisphere to overcome the legacy of Cold War-era military dictatorships; backsliding needs to be avoided.

Military engagement in civilian governance

In some countries, militaries will necessarily play an important role in responding to public health emergencies given their resources, surge capacity, off-the-shelf plans, logistical capabilities, and medical facilities…….In a region still struggling to overcome a history of military dictatorships, any deployment in the current crisis must have a clear end date so that the military’s presence on the street does not become “normalized.”Whatever supporting role the armed forces may play in responding to the pandemic, the military should remain under firm civilian control.

….public health responses that need military involvement must not result in a retreat of democratic progress made over the last few decades in the region.Corruption

……The fight against corruption is a key part of restoring—or establishing—functioning democracies. In Latin America, we’ve seen a major attack on entrenched corruption in the last few years, from Peru to Mexico, and in reaction we’ve seen corrupt actors fighting to preserve their privileges and impunity in countries like Guatemala and Honduras.The need for transparency

Both to provide effective guidance to the public and to assure accountability, governments need to provide clear, consistent, and accurate information based on the best available science from health professionals about the virus and its spread. Authorities also need to be transparent about how public funds are being spent to address the crisis. Additionally, once states impose restrictions on the freedom of movement and assembly, leaders should be clear about what criteria they are using to justify implementing—and eventually lifting—these restrictions. As was highlighted in the IACHR’s resolutionon the pandemic and human rights in the Americas, governments must also refrain from restricting the work and movement of journalists and human rights defenders to provide information and document abuses that may occur in the governments’ response to COVID-19.

The spread of disinformation related to the pandemic is a particularly serious concern. Contrary to other presidents in the region, the presidents of Brazil and Nicaragua have sought to downplay the crisis and even encourage social interaction, while Mexico’s president was slow to act to promote social distancing. The situation in Brazil is particularly worrisome, with President Jair Bolsonaro disregarding all expert medical advice and defying measures taken by governors across the country, as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise at an alarming rate. These actions, which contradict public health experts’ advice, present the population with damaging mixed messages about how they should respond as concerned citizens, which will worsen and prolong the severity of the pandemic….

Restrictive measures will disproportionately affect low-income workers and those in the ****informal sectors **of the economy,** which accounts for over 50 percent of employment in Latin America. Many of these measures will especially impact women, who make up a large share of the informal sector in Latin America. Governments will need to implement income supplements, food security, and strong social safety net measures to protect this population. These measures must take into account gender disparities, and the particular risks that women face; there are already reports from across the region of increases in domestic and gender based violence.

Without increased support, poverty and inequality will increase, along with political discontent and instability. Communities in Colombia, Honduras, and Bolivia have all protested in recent weeks—“the government locks us up, hunger is going to kill us,” read one protest sign in Bolivia, reported El País. In Colombia, where some 40 percent of the workforce consists of informal workers, communities across the country have taken to hanging red flags outside their homes to indicate that they are hungry.

Protecting those in the most vulnerable situations

Governments will need to prioritize protections for historically underserved populations, who traditionally have poor access to health services and live in overcrowded and unhygienic conditions. Specifically, governments will need to ensure protections for:

Migrants and asylum seekers

Many countries have closed their borders and are limiting entries to their own citizens and legal residents. Others are taking more extreme measures and closing their borders completely. These measures will limit movement and the ability of individuals fleeing violence and persecution to seek protection abroad. The United States, for instance, has used public health as a pretext for ending the right to asylum at the border. In the last two weeks, U.S. border agents have expelled more than 6,000 migrants, including asylum seekers, without giving them a chance to seek protection.

Similarly, countries like Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador have imposed new restrictions making it difficult for Venezuelan migrants, who are fleeing dire circumstances, to gain entry and access services. Many are choosing to return home despite the humanitarian emergency in Venezuela; some of these migrants are now being confined in overcrowded “quarantine zones” with reportedly poor sanitary conditions near the border.

As governments in the region limit public services, asylum seekers waiting for a resolution of their cases will confront an even longer **period of uncertainty.** For undocumented migrants who are apprehended and detained in countries such as Mexico, they may be held in detention centers with a history of overcrowding and poor hygiene. Anti-immigrant sentiment is likely to increase in this context.

Incarcerated individuals

There are an estimated 1.6 million people behind bars in Latin America, many of whom are in pretrial detention. With prisons and detention facilities already overloaded and ill-equipped to control contagion or address COVID-19 illness, governments should urgently take measures to **ease prison congestion,** such as releasing those who are older and have underlying health issues, mothers and pregnant women, those in pretrial detention, LGTBQ+ individuals, and those who have completed much of their sentence. Moreover, governments must and refrain from measures that would result in even more people being confined in such facilities, including those detained for violating stay-at-home orders.

Afro-descendants, Indigenous, and other groups

Progress on public health requires understanding that we are all in this together. Placing blame on specific groups or excluding them from access to health care and other necessities can be a dangerous temptation for leaders seeking scapegoats or those who seek to deflect blame from their own failures. Limiting access to health care or other protections to certain categories of people is a violation of fundamental rights and will only serve to exacerbate the current crisis….

Restrictive measures as a pretext for political repression

Governments may be tempted to use restrictive measures imposed for public health reasons as a tool to repress political opponents. Even where restrictions are initially conceived in good faith, certain sectors of the population may be targeted for more aggressive controls, policing, and disproportionate punishments….Increasingly empowered nationalist leaders may face the temptation to undermine or defund international systems and conventions, processes of conflict resolution, and human rights. But now more than ever, there is a need for international cooperation during a pandemic. This is a time to strengthen institutions that promote peaceful, negotiated solutions—not only to deal with the health crisis but also to other arenas of political conflict.

…..

We will be investigating and analyzing trends. We will be making recommendations to policy makers. We will be working with partners and civil society activists throughout the region who are facing new challenges to basic freedoms. As we recognize the absolute centrality of taking strong and decisive measures to protect the health of the public, we will redouble our efforts to stand for human rights and democracy during this crisis and beyond.

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https://reliefweb.int/report/world/monitoring-anti-democratic-trends-and-human-rights-abuses-age-covid-19

Policy response from Human Rights NGOs to COVID-19: Front Line (tips for human rights defenders working from home)

April 10, 2020

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, many human rights organisations have been formulating a policy response. While I cannot be complete or undertake comparisons, I will try and give some examples in the course of these weeks. Here one by Front Line Defenders on the “Physical, emotional and digital protection while using home as office in times of COVID-19

Ideas & tips for human rights defenders

….. Front Line Defenders has experience advising HRDs working remotely and part of its own team has been working remotely – and securely – for years. Below is some of our thinking and learning around the challenges of this modality of work. It is hard to put down one size fits all solutions, especially for physical and emotional protection. This is offered as inspiration to evaluate and improve protection of your particular situation. And if you are a HRD or HRO at risk in your country, you may always reach out to Front Line Defenders for help – the organisation is at work and fully operational during this time.

We encourage you to communicate clearly and promptly with your donors and partners regarding your particular situation. Donors in the human rights space are highly sensitive to the difficulties this crisis is posing to its partners and grantees, even as they face a variety of unprecedented challenges. We believe it makes situation much more manageable if they know what is possible and impossible at this moment for you and your organisation regarding your work or cooperation with them. They also may be able to help you with your specific needs right now, things like portable equipment to work from home or additional at-home security measures.

Physical protection

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Consider which place or room is best to be working on sensitive issues. Is, for example, a basement a best option? How easy is it to get to your work space from entry doors to your apartment or house? Can people see your computer screen or desk/papers from the outside? Do you want/can you avoid house-mates see you working? Or overhear sensitive conversations on the phone or over the internet. You can try to talk quietly if neighbours can overhear conversations, use a headset, close windows when you talk, or use veiled/coded language.

Try not to leave your work around the house (leaving USBs & documents around). Stay organised and protect sensitive information. Think about getting locks on drawers, or lockable cabinets etc. Consider locating some good hiding places (or some kind of safety box) for your valuable information if you need to quickly hide them. Be creative eg. taking out a brick or tile in the floor or wall, in the rooftop, under a floorboard, taped inside a shower drain, etc. At the end of each day, put everything away in a safe space including documents, computers and phones. Keep a clean desk policy. Turn off computers, don’t just put them to sleep or leave them on. Have a system for destroying sensitive information and files. This could be shredding it, tearing into small pieces, burning it, etc.

Consider using a simple surveillance system of the space at times when you are not there. This could be simple traps to detect if someone has entered has the house or room, or opened a drawer. Alternatively, there are digital solutions such as mobile phone applications such as Haven app which you could use with an old Android phone to monitor your work space.

Make sure you have a good ergonomic set up of your work station so that you are sitting comfortably without straining your back, neck or other parts of your body – and take regular breaks.  Reduce tripping hazards. Have first aid kits and sufficient medications. Have enough water for 4 days, and some hibernation kits.

If you share accommodation with others (family, friends, room-mates), have a meeting to make sure everyone is aware of the security rules you want to apply ( i.e. don’t open the door without first checking who it is, don’t touch the laptop, etc.) It is good to have a security check-in meeting with them everyday to see how situation is changing and if they notice anything new or out of place.

Prepare emergency numbers and have them handy such as written/printed and stuck up on the wall, saved in your phone, and kept in your wallet. Consider having a household communication planin case you need support. This means calling one or two people, and then they themselves know who to call and what to do to give you support.

Have an evacuation plan prepared, with different exits and an outside meeting point. It is recommended that you practice it. Sometimes simply placing a ladder near a fence can make a big security improvement in your home. Some people also have a pre-packed bag that they keep next to the exits, that contains copies of sensitive documents, some cash, phone charger, torch/flashlight, medication and other items you would want to have with you.

If you consider the risks are increasing as an HRD and you might need to relocate, review your relocation plan. Are the travel arrangements and end destination still feasible? How can you adapt your plan to reduce your visibility and physical presence?

If you are considering having sensitive in-person meetings in your home, be aware of the restrictions in place and comply with health advisories. Prepare a cover story with your visitors, including who are they and why are they visiting you, in case your neighbours or somebody else asks. Also, it can be a good idea for visitors not to tell taxis (including ride-hailing apps) your exact address, but somewhere close like a well-known place of worship, park, shop, etc. If they come in their own vehicle, it is better that they not park out the front of your house – they can park further down the street so they are not immediately connected with you. Make sure you give very clear instructions so visitors do not have to ask anybody how to find you.

Always consider safety risks like fire in homes. You might be cooking more indoors, using more electricity outlets, smoking indoors, children might be more housebound, and your neighbours will also be home, increasing the risk of them starting a fire. Have a fire plan. Consider things like woollen blankets as fire blankets, smoke detectors if possible, manage your electricity usage and try to use surge protectors, reduce fuel load, etc.

Consider having a personal alarm with you in the home and when you leave to attract attention if you need, this could be something like a whistle.

Keep your doors locked, with the key in the lock on the inside of the door – unless someone on the outside can reach through to open it. In this case, keep the key in a set location, away from the door (and out of sight) ready in case it is needed in an emergency. Consider what is a pattern of criminal attacks in your area. Rates of home burglaries generally fall when more people are at home, but other crime (against offices or shops) may increase. Protect (or take with you) the valuable information from your office before leaving. Consider how your adversaries will try to benefit from you working from home and then mitigate that.

Avoid regular routines especially in leaving and travelling around. When leaving your home to go shopping, consider the risks of leaving your devices in the home vs taking the devices with you. If you leave home, switch off devices and hide them. When leaving, ensure that someone knows where you are going, how you will get there (the route), what time you are expected to return, how to contact you if there is any reason, etc. You may also use things like live location sharing, check-in procedures (“I’ve arrived”, “I’m leaving now”, “should be there in 20 minutes”, etc.)

Be discreet and avoid being targeted by police or security forces by violating any legal local rules.

It is easier said than done but try to plan for economic security or sustainability, this situation could go on for longer than currently envisaged. If possible discuss this with donors or supporters. Try to identify an emergency fund you can establish or have access to – perhaps in cooperation with others. Connect online with your local communities to see what are possible self-organizing strategies for mutual support.

Let Front Line know of your protection ideas or suggestions based on your experience that may benefit other HRDs or HROs at risk, it will develop this guide further.

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