Ten Point Plan: Government Best Practice for Protecting Civic Space and Civil Liberties during the COVID Pandemic
AFSC asks all governments to commit to these following best practices during the pandemic;
- Governments must recognise the right to internet access and should be responsible for maintaining internet access during pandemics. All people must be enabled to access information when isolated.
- The rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association apply online just as they do offline. Digital spaces indispensable for individuals to exercise their rights to freedom of assembly and of association during Covid-19. Ensuring an open, free and accessible internet free should be a priority, including refraining from restrictions such as internet shutdowns or online censorship. (FAssociation, 5)
Protect freedom of expression and ensure access to critical information. ('Human Rights Dimensions of COVID-19 response', hrw.org, 2020)
Internet access is essential to ensuring that information reaches those affected by the virus. Governments should end any internet shutdowns, ensure the broadest possible access to internet service, and take steps to bridge digital divides, including the gender gap. (OHCHR COVID-19 guidance)
- Governments must ensure a free and independent media and not arrest, charge or penalize for dissent. State censorship of information is not compatible with democracy.
- The public health emergency underscores the need for full respect for the right of access to information; the need to protect and ensure the vital work of journalists; the necessity of ensuring that any deployments of surveillance technology comply with State’s human rights obligations. There is no justification to restrict freedom of expression in times of a public health emergency. (FAssociation, 7).
- "The pandemic has also demonstrated the value of free, independent and plural journalism, and freedom of expression, in times of crisis. Access to evidence-based information provides the population with the resources they need to understand, participate and follow the guidelines of health authorities. And journalistic investigation enables accurate, real-time feedback to the authorities about the implementation of their decisions– on the ground.” (Michelle Bachelet, 2020 – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights)
Right to private life, freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, freedom of association [3.3]. (Council of Europe - 'A toolkit for member states', 2020)
Relevant information on the COVID-19 pandemic and response should reach all people, without exception. This requires making information available in readily understandable formats and languages, and adapting information for people with specific needs, including the visually- and hearing-impaired, and reaching those with limited or no ability to read. (OHCHR COVID-19 guidance)
Governments must ensure all legal measures respect human rights (FAssociation,1)
With regard to COVID-19, emergency powers must be used for legitimate public health goals, not used as basis to quash dissent or silence the work of human rights defenders or journalists. Some rights are non-derogable, including the principle of non-refoulement, the prohibition of collective expulsion, the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment, the use of arbitrary detention, and others (OHCHR COVID-19 guidance).
- If governments call a state of emergency they should inform the population what the state of emergency means, where it applies, what the criteria is for keeping it in effect, and for how long it is intended to remain in effect.
States must examine all alternatives to ensure continued citizen’s participation in the conduct of public life throughout the crisis (FAssociation, 3)
“Emergency powers should not be a weapon wielded by Governments to quash dissent, control the population, or perpetuate their time in power. Such measures do not advance effective pandemic responses – they deepen the crisis.” (Michelle Bachelet, 2020 – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights)
Limited duration of the regime of the state of emergency and of the emergency measures [2.2] (Council of Europe - 'A toolkit for member states', 2020)
‘Ensure quarantines, lockdowns, and travel bans comply with rights norms’. ('Human Rights Dimensions of COVID-19 response', hrw.org, 2020)
With regard to COVID-19, emergency powers must be used for legitimate public health goals, not used as basis to quash dissent or silence the work of human rights defenders or journalists. Some rights are non-derogable, including the principle of non-refoulement, the prohibition of collective expulsion, the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment, the use of arbitrary detention, and others. (OHCHR COVID-19 guidance)
Governments have to take difficult decisions in response to COVID-19. International law allows emergency measures in response to significant threats – but measures should be proportionate to the evaluated risk, necessary and applied in a non-discriminatory way. This means having a specific focus and duration, and taking the least intrusive approach possible to protect public health. (OHCHR COVID-19 guidance)
As the crisis passes, it will be important for Governments to return life to normal and not use emergency powers to indefinitely regulate day-to-day life, recognizing that the response must match the needs of different phases of this crisis. (OHCHR COVID-19 guidance)
- Information obtained via digital surveillance must be reviewed and handled by a non-governmental body, with continued transparency and justification of data use, storage, and access.
Any deployments of surveillance technology mucy comply with the State’s human rights obligations. (FAssociation, 7)
Right to private life, freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, freedom of association – privacy and data protection [3.3]. (Council of Europe - 'A toolkit for member states', 2020)
Health monitoring includes a range of tools that track and monitor the behaviour and movements of individuals. Such surveillance and monitoring should be specifically related to and used for public health-specific aims and should be limited in both duration and scope as required in the particular situation. (OHCHR COVID-19 guidance)
- Governments must do their utmost to ensure no one is evicted during the pandemic and take urgent measures to help people with inadequate housing and without access to water and sanitation. They should be cognisant that for those living in overcrowded conditions, compliance with social distancing is not possible. Authorities should take particular care to prevent homelessness. When people cannot pay mortgages and rents, suspend evictions and defer payments.
- As people are being called upon to stay at home, it is vital that Governments take urgent measures to help people without adequate housing. Authorities should take particular care to prevent additional people from becoming homeless – for example as people face eviction when loss of income makes it impossible to pay mortgages and rents. Good practices such as moratoriums on evictions, deferrals of mortgage payments should be broadly replicated. (OHCHR COVID-19 guidance)
- Governments must prevent or mitigate the closing or destruction of markets and other places where people earn their daily wage.
Good practices by governments, the public and private sector, international and national organisations to alleviate both the negative socio-economic effects of this crisis should be shared. (OHCHR COVID-19 guidance)
- Governments must enable CSOs and NGOs to carry out their work, recognizing that it is in their interest to work with these groups to address the needs of populations.
- Civil society must be regarded as an essential partner of governments in responding to the present crisis. (FAssociation, 4)
- ‘Protect community and civil society organisations' ('Human Rights Dimensions of COVID-19 response', hrw.org, 2020)
- States in the international community recognize the key role many civil society organizations play in addressing covid-19 challenges and commit to defend civic space in the context covid-19 emergency. (FAssociation, 9)
- Governments must support groups such as prisoners, persons with disabilities, those in refugee camps and other migrant areas who are more vulnerable to the virus.
- It is vital that everyone, including all migrants and refugees, are ensured equal access to health services and are effectively included in national responses to COVID-19, including prevention, testing and treatment. Inclusion will help not only to protect the rights of refugees and migrants, but will also serve to protect public health and stem the global spread of COVID-19. ('The rights and health of refugees, migrants and stateless must be protected in COVID-19 response' OHCR.org, 2020)
- Covid-19: Council of Europe anti-torture Committee issues “Statement of principles relating to the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty” (Council of Europe, 2020)
- ‘Protect people in custody and in institutions’ ('Human Rights Dimensions of COVID-19 response', hrw.org, 2020)
- Covid-19 recovery and prevention measures are designed, developed and implemented with the participation of civil society, including youth groups and women-led civil society organizations, women’s rights movements, minority and indigenous communities. (FAssociation, 10)
- Migrants often face obstacles in accessing health care, including language and cultural barriers, costs, lack of access to information, discrimination and xenophobia. Migrants in an irregular situation can be unable or unwilling to access health care or provide information on their health status because they fear or risk detention, deportation or penalties as a result of their immigration status. (OHCHR COVID19 guidelines)
- People deprived of their liberty, including in prisons, pre-trial detention, immigration detention, institutions, and other places of detention are at heightened risk of infection in the case of an outbreak. There is a high risk of contamination and social distancing difficult to achieve. Their situation should be specifically addressed in crisis planning and response. (OHCHR COVID-19 guidance)
- Governments should take care to ensure state authorities such as the police force, particularly in relation to enforcing restrictions, follow best practice. Use of gratuitous force and violence is unacceptable. Communities should be engaged to develop effective means to reduce virus transmission.
- As governments step up to respond to the public health emergency, they must ensure that measures adopted aim to protect public health without targeting other rights, and ensure that they are not geared at cementing control and cracking down on oppositional figures and human rights defenders. (FAssociation, 2),(FAssociation, 9)
- "..democratic systems have time and again demonstrated their resilience and effectiveness in dealing with exceptional challenges. Solid public participation, official transparency and accountability through oversight institutions – and a free press – are tremendous advantages to devising policies that navigate crises most effectively." (Michelle Bachelet, 2020 – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights)
- Political leaders and other influential figures should speak out forcefully against the stigma and racism pandemics generate. States should ensure their responses do not make certain populations or sectors of society more vulnerable to violence and discrimination.
- Political leaders and other influential figures should speak out forcefully against the stigma and racism this crisis has generated and must at all costs avoid fuelling the fire of such discrimination. States should act quickly to counter rhetoric that stokes fear, and ensure their responses to COVID-19 do not make certain populations more vulnerable to violence and discrimination. (OHCHR COVID-19 guidance)
- The COVID-19 pandemic is generating a wave of stigma, discrimination, racism and xenophobia against certain national and ethnic groups. We need to work together to push back against this trend, including by referring to this disease as COVID-19, rather than using a geographic reference. (OHCHR COVID-19 guidance)