Advancing Rights in Southern Africa (ARISA), Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN), Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) and Amnesty International have once again reminded the South Africa government to adhere to its open letter recommendation that ensures human rights are protected as it fights Covid 19.
A few months ago, the four human rights advocacy organizations shared their concerns about what is referred to as ‘restrictive COVID-19 regulations ramifications for the enjoyment of human rights, including livelihoods.’
In the open letter recommendation, ARISA, SAHRDN) and SALC said, while the challenges presented by COVID-19 are enormous and compel the South Africa government to employ unprecedented measures to protect populations from this global pandemic, it is important all measures comply with applicable international human rights standards.
According to the aforementioned organizations, human rights must be at the centre of all prevention, preparedness, containment and treatment efforts, in order to best protect public health and support the groups and people who are most at risk.
‘’While the South Africa government can derogate from certain freedoms and rights during a state of emergency, it cannot derogate from certain rights including the right to life; the prohibition from torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment medical or scientific experimentation without free consent; freedom from slavery or involuntary servitude; imprisonment for failing to fulfil a contractual obligation; equal recognition before the law; and freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
The South Africa government to of emergency and the measures taken under then must not become a “new normal.”
The human rights defenders said while noting the enormous social, economic and other challenges presented by COVID-19, respect for human rights is key in ensuring that responses are humane and do not negatively impact people’s lives and livelihoods. We, therefore, call on the South Africa government to:
Human Rights Recommendations
- Ensure that declarations of emergency respect international human rights law, particularly to the provisions of article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including (i) notifying the Secretary-General of the United Nations of the rights derogated: (ii) ensuring institutional oversight to curb abuse of emergency powers; (iii) undertake regular reviews to assess if emergency powers are no longer required in the circumstances;
- Ensure that only permissible limitations under international human rights law are imposed if they decide to restrict the rights and freedoms of individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic;
- Take appropriate measures to prevent the excessive use of force by security and other personnel in the enforcement of COVID-19 measures including by ensuring that regulations establish clearly circumscribed responsibilities and tasks for law enforcement officials, avoiding overly broad discretion that may lead to arbitrary or otherwise excessive use of police powers
- South African government must ensure that any surveillance regulations adopted to curb the spread of COVID-19 contain appropriate legal safeguards to protect citizens’ rights to privacy and other rights
- Measures implemented are provided for by law and are necessary, proportionate, non-discriminatory, time-bound and that they are implemented with transparency and adequate oversight
- Take urgent steps to de-congest places of deprivation of liberty to protect prison populations and communities from COVID-19 by taking urgent action to protect people in detention from COVID-19, including guaranteeing access to healthcare and sanitation products in all facilities and releasing prisoners of conscience and others in arbitrary detention:
- South Africa government must ensure that women survivors continue to have access to police protection and justice as well as to shelters, helplines, community-support services, including by designating these as essential services and ensuring they receive the necessary support and resources to continue operating during the pandemic.
This Covid 19 awareness article was produced with the Journalists for Human Rights support.