Coronavirus & Civic Space

The coronavirus is a significant threat to public health; it does not need to be a significant threat to civic freedom.

Governments can use a crisis as a pretext to infringe rights. As UN Special Rapporteur Fionnuala Ní Aoláin explains, “states and security sector institutions will find emergency powers attractive because they offer shortcuts,” and that such powers will, therefore, tend to “persist and become permanent.”

In response to the pandemic, governments around the world have acted with significant implications for fundamental freedoms and civic space. During this time, we must remember that responses to public health threats are stronger and more effective when they respect human rights. This page presents key resources and information on how international law provides a framework to uphold human rights during crisis response.

COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker

The COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker monitors government responses to the pandemic that affects civic freedoms and human rights, focusing on emergency laws. The tracker is a collaborative effort by the ICNL, ECNL, and our global network of partners, with generous research support from the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin. Explore the tracker here.

Event: Civic Space after COVID

On May 24, 2021, The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency hosted a high-level virtual conversation on emergency measures, fundamental freedoms, and revitalizing civic space in the wake of COVID-19. The 2-hour interactive session brought together experts from civil society, governments, international organizations, and more to discuss practical ways these sectors and allies can work together to ensure emergency measures are extinguished as soon as possible. Simultaneous interpretation was provided in Arabic, French, Russian, and Spanish.

Other Notable COVID-19 Trackers

Global Monitor of COVID-19's Impact on Democracy and Human Rights

International IDEA’s tracker is a qualitative monitoring tool of the democracy and human rights implications of measures adopted by governments around the world.

Tracking the Global Response to COVID-19

This resource by Privacy International collects news updates related to privacy and surveillance measures that have been adopted in response to the pandemic.

Global overview of COVID-19: Impact on elections

This International IDEA tracker provides a list of election schedules and plans, as reported by governments, electoral management bodies, and news media.

#Tracker_19

This tracker by Reporters Without Borders aims to evaluate the pandemic’s impact on journalism.

RTI COVID-19 Tracker

RTI Rating’s tracker compiles legal measures that alter or suspend the right to information (RTI) obligations.

Reports & Analyses

Top Trends: COVID-19 and Civic Space

Many of the measures adopted in response to the pandemic restrict fundamental rights. This ICNL piece summarizes the top 9 trends affecting civic space, based on an analysis of the COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker data.

Positive Government Responses to COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic does not have to be a crisis for human rights. This ICNL briefer shares positive practices that governments should follow, along with selected examples of these practices.

Preserving Human Rights During a Pandemic

Published in Just Security, this article by ICNL provides guidance on how states can respond to the coronavirus pandemic in an effective, rights-respecting manner.

Migrants’ Civic Freedom and COVID-19

This article examines the likely impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the civic freedoms of migrants and groups that provide services to migrants, especially migrant-allied civil society organizations.

Keeping Civic Space Healthy: Saving Lives and Human Rights

This joint ECNL and ICNL briefer provides tips to help policymakers safeguard public health while upholding human rights and protecting human dignity.

Can civil society survive COVID-19?

This essay surveys trends from ICNL’s COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker and identifies ways that OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) members can respond to help civil society overcome COVID-inspired constraints on civic space.

RESPONSES TO COVID-19 AND STATES’ HUMAN RIGHTS OBLIGATIONS

Amnesty International’s preliminary observation report examines the human rights concerns and challenges that often emerge in epidemic responses.

Supporting the Civil Society Sector during the Coronavirus Crisis

Florian Irminger, Executive Director of Penal Reform International and an ICNL Advisory Council Member, writes that the coronavirus must trigger substantial, simple, and swift support to civil society in the face of growing challenges.

Coronavirus and Civic Space

This ICNL report discusses how governmental responses to COVID-19, especially emergency measures, affect civic space and provides recommendations for a rights-respecting rapid response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Human Rights Watch Review of Free Speech During COVID-19

This Human Rights Watch report determined unlawful interference with free speech as one of the most common forms of government overreach during the Covid-19 pandemic and makes recommendations to governments and international organizations on how to respond and decrease such practices.

Regional Resources

Asia and the Pacific

This page provides information on Asian and Pacific government responses to the coronavirus, using information from the ICNL-ECNL COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker.

Latin America and the Caribbean

ICNL convened regional virtual round tables in April and December of 2020 for civil society partners to discuss civic freedoms and the coronavirus. The meetings resulted in a write-up, available in both English and Spanish.

Middle East and North Africa

This page provides information on Middle Eastern and North African government responses to the coronavirus, using information from the ICNL-ECNL COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker.

Sub-Saharan Africa

This page provides information on African government responses to the coronavirus, using information from the ICNL-ECNL COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker.

United States

This page provides resources on coronavirus and civic space in the United States.

Digital Technology

Policy Snapshot: Democratic Responses to the Pandemic & Digital Rights

This analysis, from Stanford’s Global Digital Policy Incubator, uses a human rights lens to examine democratic responses to COVID-19 and their impact on digital rights.

COVID-19: The Surveillance Pandemic

Some governments have incorporated surveillance technology into their efforts to halt the spread of COVID-19. While the use of all the tools at hand is understandable, emergencies do not obviate states’ obligations to consider the broader societal and human rights effects of these measures.

Why We Need to Protect the Human Right to Assemble and Act Online

This ECNL blog, by Senior Legal Advisor Marta Achler, discusses why the internet and the online spaces are a ‘lifeline’ for expression and assembly during the coronavirus pandemic.

Recommendations on privacy and data protection in the fight against COVID-19

Access Now’s recommendations focus on three categories of measures seen around the world: collection and use of health data, tracking and geolocation, and public-private partnerships.

Misinformation and the Coronavirus

This ARTICLE 19 briefing discusses how states, media, and social media companies can help to combat the coronavirus by committing to transparency, tackling misinformation, and promoting authoritative health advice. It is available in English, Arabic, Farsi, and French.

COVID-19, Information Problems, and Digital Surveillance

In this piece for the Center for Global Development, ICNL Advisory Council Member Michael Pisa discusses how to limit the risk that digital tools to monitor the spread of coronavirus could be used for other surveillance purposes after the health crisis subsides.

Protecting Civil Liberties During a Public Health Crisis

This Electronic Frontier Foundation piece outlines basic principles that should be taken into consideration while conducting any data collection and digital monitoring of potential carriers of COVID-19.

COVID-19: Use of Digital Surveillance Technologies must be Human Rights Compliant

This International Commission of Jurists joint statement urges states to ensure that any use of digital technologies to track and monitor individuals and populations as part of measures to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic is fully human rights compliant.

UN & Multilateral Resources

Multilateral Statements on COVID-19

Resolution 449: Human and Peoples’ Rights as central pillar of successful response to COVID-19 and recovery from its socio-political impacts, African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (2020)

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Resolution (April 10, 2020, Spanish Only)

COVID-19 and Measures to Combat Illicit Financing, Statement by the FATF President (April 1, 2020)

Human Rights Based Effective Response to the Novel COVID-19 Virus in Africa, African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (March 24, 2020)

Advisory Opinion on COVID-19 and Elections in Africa, African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights (2020)

UNSR Report: Disease Pandemics and the Freedom of Opinion and Expression

In this report, the UNSR on Freedom of Expression discusses how some efforts to combat the pandemic may be failing to meet international standards. The report also explains access to information, independent media, and other free expression rights are critical to meeting the challenges of the pandemic.

Safeguarding Freedom of Assembly and Association during a Public Health Crisis

UNSR Clément Voule issued ten key principles to guide states’ response to a public health crisis. A checklist and survey accompany these principles to assess the implementation by government authorities and other key actors.

Open Response, Open Recovery

The Open Government Partnership (OGP) has put together COVID-19 resource hub and open forum for partners to share the resources they are creating and curating.

Toolkit for Respecting Democracy during COVID-19

This toolkit by the Council of Europe provides information on respecting democracy, rule of law, and human rights during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fighting Coronavirus Disinformation

This European Commission overview provides a summary of actions the Commission is taking to combat disinformation related to the coronavirus.

All Coronavirus Response Related Resources

COVID-19: The Surveillance Pandemic

Group of outdoor security cameras (Photo credit: Nathaniel Dahan)
Driven by a desire to protect the health and wellbeing of their citizens and residents, ... Read More

Safeguarding Freedom of Assembly and Association during a Public Health Crisis

Safeguarding Freedom of Assembly and Association during a Public Health Crisis
UNSR Clément Voule issued ten key principles to guide states' response to a public health ... Read More

U.S. Current Trend: Anti-Mask Laws, COVID-19, and the First Amendment

Woman wearing a medical mask outside during the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: EVG Photos/Pexels)
Face masks are in the news. The CDC now recommends that Americans wear face masks ... Read More

Global Health & Human Rights Database

Global Health & Human Rights Database
This database tracks case law, constitutions, and international instruments from around the world that deal ... Read More

African Government Responses to COVID-19

protest Nigeria (credit: unsplash.com)
This page provides information on African government responses to the coronavirus, using information from the ... Read More

Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance: COVID-19 and Elections

Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance: COVID-19 and Elections
The Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) is maintaining a list of the current ... Read More
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Explore our full resource collection, which includes reports, legal analysis, and curated collections of materials covering an array of issues impacting civic space around the world.