The coronavirus is a significant threat to public health; swift and effective government action is necessary. However, we must ensure the response does not also become a significant threat to civic freedoms. In this article, ICNL explores this tension and how governments can move quickly while upholding human rights in their response to a public health crisis.
Governments can use a crisis as a pretext to infringe rights. In recent weeks, governments around the world have taken action with significant implications for fundamental freedoms and civic space. The Iraqi government has banned all gatherings, including small groups in cafes and restaurants, or even in private homes. Chinese authorities have used surveillance technology to track citizens and limit their movements. These are just some of the examples of COVID-19 responses that violate fundamental rights.
During this time, we must remember that responses to public health threats are stronger and more effective when they respect human rights. This article discusses how international law provides a framework to uphold human rights during crisis response.