GILBERT ARHINFUL AIDOO
DEPARTMENT OF POLITICAL SCIENCE EDUCATION
UNIVERSITY OF EDUCATION WINNEBA, WINNEBA
CENTRAL REGION - GHANA
COVID-19 AND HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUES: A BRIEF COMMENTARY
Human right1 issues have assumed universal relevance(Deng, 2004), and constitutes a crucial measure of good governance world over(Gutto, 1991). But it must be said that efforts to revolutionize human wants and values into legalized human right systems were slow and involved demands by subjugated groups against their contemporary and future rulers(Donnelly, 2007). These involved both social and political revolutions (Ibid). Key examples include, the Magna Carta (1215), the American Independence Declaration (1776) and the French Revolution (1789). However, the United Nations (UN) Universal Declarations of Human Rights so made in 1948, adoption of both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in 1966 represents conscious efforts by the international community to develop, protect and promote basic rights of all humanity (Donnelly, 2007; Oyowe, 2014). Although human rights principles serve as valuable framework for measuring government actions and create important safeguards against abuses, respect for same is chiefly tenuous at best in times of crisis such as the COVID 19 pandemic (Human Rights Watch, 2020).
The COVID 19 (Novel Corona Virus Disease) is a respiratory infectious disease. It was first discovered in December 2019 in Wuhan, China(Sander & Rudall, 2020). On January 30, 2020 the WHO (World Health Organization) declared COVID 19 a pandemic by citing concerns about rising levels of spread and severity; and charged all governments to treat it with urgency and take aggressive measures to stop its spread. Currently, there are 211,647,658 confirmed cases with 4,429,455 deaths recorded globally(Worldometer, 2021). Ghana’s confirmed cases has reached 112,928, and 945deaths recorded; with only 1,271,393vaccine doses administered as of August 20, 2021(WHO, 2021). However, as efforts are still underway to vaccinate as many people as possibly, people are cautioned to observe all the necessary protocols in order to stem the spread of COVID 19 (Bachelet, 2020).
Arguably, crisis management mostly requires adoption of exceptional measures that may limit the fundamental human rights of individuals. Again, history teaches that measures adopted in emergency situations are typically fast-tracked by governments without recourse to proper scrutiny and usually outlive emergencies they are designed to address. Thus, as governments grapple with ending the spread of COVID 19 world over, many have expressed fears about possibilities of hiding behind emergency powers to restrict people’s freedom of movement and significantly curtail their major basic rights, including right to privacy(Amnesty International, 2020). For example, on March 16, 2020, a group of UN human rights experts cautioned against using COVID 19 emergency declarations as basis to target particular groups, minorities or individuals as a cover for repressive actions under the guise of promoting public health. They also urged states to avoid using COVID 19 restrictions to quash dissent(Amnesty International, 2020)(Human Rights Watch, 2020).
However, it must be noted that, under international law (as promulgated by various universal or international and regional declarations, charters, treaties and conventions, as well as national constitutions, and other laws), states are allowed some level of derogatory powers to restrict exercise of certain basic human rights (Amnesty International, 2020; Human Rights Watch, 2020). For example, under ICCPR (Article 12), states are permitted, subject to conditions such as necessity and proportionality, to restrict freedom of movement on basis of promoting public health (Human Rights Watch, 2020). On their part, Sunder and Rudall (2020) also observe that States may adopt measures derogating from some rights, to some extent necessary, in order to meet threats to national security pursuant to a declared public emergency (including public health emergencies). However, they cautioned that such measures may unnecessarily be targeted at certain groups such as political opponents of governments(Sander & Rudall, 2020). Some human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have also drawn states’ attention to the Siracusa Principles, which affirm the fact that such limitations of rights for the purposes of public emergencies should be strictly necessary and proportionate, and should be carried out in accordance with law and scientific evidence, must last for a limited duration, and must be subject to continuous review (Amnesty International, 2020; Human Rights Watch, 2020; Sander & Rudall, 2020).
More importantly, in the context health, the Siracusa Principles stipulates that any restrictions on basis of any public health emergency must necessarily aim at preventing disease or injury or providing care for the sick and injured (Sander & Rudall, 2020). Given the human rights obligations relating to right to health as outlined above, it is necessary to insist that the ‘public health’ objectives that emergency measures and restrictions are taken to cure must be specifically aimed at realizing the right to health. Also, such limitations and emergency derogation clauses pertinent to some rights under the ICCPR and regional human rights treaties do not apply to economic, social and cultural rights. The core duties in ESCR doctrine, are absolutely not subject to limitation or restrictions, and are subject to immediate, not progressive realization(Human Rights Watch, 2020). Some of these duties include, access to health facilities, goods and services for everyone; access to necessary and essential food that is nutritionally adequate and safe; access to shelter, housing and sanitation, and an adequate supply of safe and potable water. They also include, equitable distribution of all health facilities, goods and services (public or private). Moreover, CESCR affirms several other duties necessary to COVID 19 comparable priorities, which should not be subject to emergency-based limitations, including provision of immunization against major infectious diseases as well as measures to prevent, treat and control epidemic, endemic or pandemic diseases (Sander & Rudall, 2020; Amnesty International, 2020; Human Rights Watch, 2020).
Certainly, COVID 19 pandemic is a global public health crisis, comparable to such upheavals as world wars, terrorism, and other global security crisis. Thus, the declaration of states of emergency and restriction of certain rights in Ghana and other parts of the world are in the right direction, but they must meticulously ensure that those obligations mentioned above are fully discharged in the right context of COVID 19(Amnesty International, 2020). It has been assumed that, the current global pandemic highlights important rule of law and human rights concerns. As States formulate their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, they must keep at the fore, the original purpose of protecting public health and ensuring that everyone receives the rights to the highest attainable standard of health(Human Rights Watch, 2020).
Notwithstanding these provisions and plethora of cautions from various national and international human rights groups and civil society organizations, several infractions are found all over the world, including Ghana, under the pretence of safeguarding the public against the COVID 19 pandemic.2 For example, in Ghana, like any other country, majority of the populace especially in rural and peri-urban communities are faced with acute shortage of potable water supply, many also live in an unsanitary conditions, among others thus making it extremely difficult to observe the health protocols related to the pandemic. Also, many are threatened by hanger as they may have lost their sources of living especially those urban dwellers whose livelihoods depend on daily sales, etc. they make when they hawk across major markets and streets in the country. There is also a lack of or limited access to relevant information to certain sections of the public making it difficult to access the right information, amidst the spread of fake news online, to take right decisions regarding health and economic survival (Sander & Rudall, 2020; Bachelet, 2020). Moreover, as governments and health officials try to provide accurate information to help reduce the spread of the disease, many have expressed fear about possibility of breaches of privacy and using data gathered through the various COVID 19 Tracker Apps developed across the globe, to repress targeted groups in society (Amnesty International, 2020; Human Rights Watch, 2020; Sander & Rudall, 2020). Of particular concern is the possibility of cybercrime as information may fall in wrong hands to intimidate, or stigmatize people unfairly(ILGA, 2020). Last but not least, the travel bans and related racial discriminations, for example, alleged maltreatment of people of African descent in China and USA, stigmatization of Chinese nationals as carriers of the virus are among some of the major concerns raised (Amnesty International, 2020; Human Rights Watch, 2020).
The above notwithstanding, many have also paid little attention to content of the various emergency Laws or Acts aimed at addressing the pandemic and their potential to infringe on individuals ‘non- derogable’ rights. Further, nature of such laws and how fit within provisions of international laws on human rights protection and promotion even under these emergencies have not been systematically examine. For instance, Ghana’s restrictive measures and partial lockdown, though was meant to promote public health, many felt there were a lot of infractions that were visited on nationals, including alleged police and military brutalities. Further, Ghana’s Imposition of Restrictions Act (IRA), Act 2020; though was scrutinized to some intellectual analysis, it has not been subjected to any systematic assessment in order to ascertain how it meets international human rights standards and obligations as enshrined in various international laws. These gaps found calls for a rigorous systematic research, which I take up later as a personal project to address the Ghanaian context.
Summarily, the various restrictions and emergency declarations following novel COVID19’s outbreak has exposed several human rights issues - both on national and international levels. Some people suggest that as states adopts broad measures to address this public health crisis, they tend to violate major basic rights of individuals. The argument is that, while both national and international laws may permit some limited restrictions and state of emergency under specified circumstances, there are excesses found in current approach to the COVID 19 pandemic. To many, these represent global human right crises. My attitude towards this is that, while there may be excesses in states measures, we are not yet in a crisis situation. I recommend that a systematic study is conducted to examine the actual situation and find remedies to the potential human rights violations found across the globe.
1 Human rights refers to those entitlements owed to every individual by virtue of his or her humanity. They are inalienable, indivisible and should be enjoyed by all regardless of one’s social or economic status, creed, nationality or gender (Acheampong, 2000).
2 See www.myjoyonline.com/news03/30/20/ [Retrieved: 07/26/2020].
- Arbeit zitieren
- Gilbert Aidoo Arhinful (Autor:in), 2021, COVID-19 and its Impact on Human Right Issues. A Brief Commentary, München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1129502