Moving Beyond COVID-19 Restrictions in Southeast Asia
Pushing Back Against Authoritarian Pandemic Governance
PUBLISHED: MAY 2023
Southeast Asian governments use of powers during the COVID-19 pandemic are explored in this policy paper Moving Beyond COVID-19 Restrictions in Southeast Asia: Pushing Back Against Authoritarian Pandemic Governance from the Asia Centre.
The paper demonstrates that governments used COVID-laws to amass disproportionate power and over-restrict civic freedoms on four ends:
- Strict lockdowns were used to stifle freedom of assembly and protest.
- Anti-COVID measures were used by ruling political elites to limit campaigning activities and ensure that the status quo remained unchanged, partially disenfranchising voters from electoral processes.
- Fake-news laws were implemented to contain the spread of false information regarding the pandemic. Still, such laws were also used to silence political dissent.
- Online and physical surveillance increased to track the spread of the virus and, more generally, to track people’s actions beyond the essential to ensure public health.
This paper also includes a set of recommendations directed at governments, international organisations, and civil society organisations to improve governance in the post-pandemic era so that anti-COVID measures do not derogate people’s fundamental rights.
Learn more about the issue and explore ICNL’s analyses on Government Responses to COVID-19 in Asia and the Pacific here.
Governments in South Asia tended to adopt two approaches in their efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19. Nepal, India and Bangladesh instituted temporary health emergency laws while Sri Lanka and the Maldives declared state of emergencies. In both cases these measures restricted people’s civic freedoms.
Governments in East Asia sought to adopt two main approaches in managing COVID-19. Japan, South Korea and Taiwan adopted measure aligning with international human rights standards. People’s fundamental rights were threatened, however, with the more restrictive “Zero COVID” mechanisms adopted by China, North Korea and Hong Kong.
The Asia Centre has developed two policy briefers for these regions to accompany the report:
- Moving Beyond COVID-19 Restrictions in South Asia: Pushing Back Against Authoritarian Pandemic Governance which assesses the impact of these anti-COVID-19 legal measures on the fundamental rights of individuals in South Asia; and
- Moving Beyond COVID-19 Restrictions in East Asia: Pushing Back Against Authoritarian Pandemic Governance which assesses the impact of these anti-COVID-19 legal measures on the fundamental rights of individuals in East Asia.
Read more on Asia Centre or download the reports here.