Does the COVID-19 pandemic response measure up to our rights and liberties?

By Caitlin Davis*

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused increasing amounts of fear and anxiety amongst people and societies.

Whilst the virus has no doubt had an impact on the wellbeing of communities, it does not justify violations of human rights standards.

Difficult questions are starting to arise in respect of the human rights implications as a result of the pandemic.

  • Are border controls necessary and proportionate to control the spread of the virus?
  • Are quarantining and isolation measures unduly restricting our freedom of movement?
  • Are social distancing measures implemented without discrimination?

The balancing act of minimising harm may come at a cost to individual liberties and freedoms in a way that many individuals and communities have never experienced, and it reasonable to expect that individuals will start asking questions about their rights. In this article, I explore some of the human rights challenges faced by communities amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Maintaining health standards in correctional facilities

Detention centers are a hotspot for the spread of disease and pose additional risk to inmates with underlying health conditions and vulnerable populations. Correctional facilities across Australia are faced with the challenge of ensuring a safe environment for inmates who live in close proximity to one another.

Article 12(2)(c) of the Intentional Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) recognises the right of all persons to realise the highest attainable standard of health. This places obligations on States to take steps for the prevention, treatment and control of epidemic, endemic, occupational and other diseases.

Social distancing measures have been implemented by most States across the globe, however, inmates are not provided with such freedom, which comes at a cost to their ability to exercise health rights. Consistent with international obligations, it is essential that States act to prevent the spread of disease throughout our prison population.

In Australia, jurisdictions such as NSW have enacted emergency legislation providing additional powers for the release of some of the state’s low risk prisoners where it is “reasonably necessary” due to “the risk to public health or to the good order and security of correctional premises.” Measures such as these aim to free up prison space and enable remaining prisoners to be isolated, allowing the health needs of remaining inmates to be adequately addressed.

The right to education amidst potential school and university closures

Whether schools remain open or closed, there are various implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for ensuring the right to education.

Schools and universities provide students with a sense of stability and routine. Where this is suddenly taken away as a result of an emergency, many students will not be emotionally or intellectually supported to cope with such a situation. It is important that support for educational rights is accommodated in such situations.

UNESCO has recommended that such measures may include:

  • Supporting online learning to mitigate the immediate impact of lost normal school time;
  • Ensuring child rights and privacy are protected through online learning mechanisms;
  • Adopt measures to mitigate the disproportionate effects on children who already experience barriers to education, or who are marginalized; and
  • Working with teachers, and key personnel to assist recovery of teaching or contact hours lost, adjusting school calendars, and ensuring fair compensation for teachers and school personnel who are working additional hours.

Implications of quarantines and lockdowns

Quarantines and lockdowns impact freedom of movement and can be seen as a deprivation of liberty if they are implemented arbitrarily. Quarantine may also pose additional barriers for people to access basic necessities such as food, hygiene supplies and health care, which further impacts their human rights.

Whilst quarantines and lockdowns may be justifiable to prevent the spread of the virus, it is important to highlight the circumstances by which they are permissible under international human rights law. According to the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) restrictions may be imposed on the freedom of movement, if:

  • They are provided by law, and necessary to protect certain specified legitimate aims, one of which is public health and “are consistent with the other rights recognized in the ICCPR.”

In circumstances where restrictions such as mandatory quarantine or isolation of symptomatic people are enforced, they must:

  • be carried out in accordance with the law, be strictly necessary to achieve a legitimate objective, based on scientific evidence, proportionate to achieve that objective, neither arbitrary nor discriminatory in application, of limited duration, respectful of human dignity, and subject to review.

In addition, the UN reinforced on 25 March 2020 that the provisions of the OPCAT treaty relating to preventing cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment apply to individuals in Australian jails and detention centres, and to people held by the State in quarantine.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought various challenges for protecting human rights. In such a novel situation, it is understandable that individuals are questioning how they are supposed to know what to do.

What’s the priority: containing the virus, or protecting human rights? This is a difficult question, and both are important considerations in need of respecting.

It is also important to enhance public trust and cooperation, to respect all individuals’ right to dignity and to give individuals as much control as possible over the way they live their lives, even in a situation of crisis.

It is particularly important that, in a situation of crisis, authorities themselves must not act contrary to human rights, civil liberties and freedoms that are what create Australian society and make Australia what it is as the nation of the ‘fair go’.

ENDS

  • Caitlin Davis will graduate soon from the ANU with a Law degree, specialising in bioethics, before going on to undertake postgraduate study in the field of health, rights, liberties and law, particularly in relation to women and childbirth. She is a member of CLA.

 

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15 Comments

  1. I don’t know if I am the only person in the universe thinking ‘outside the box’ however, right now at this moment in time, if we don’t start questioning things regarding the Covird-19, we will automatically just accept what the media, politicians and experts are feeding to us, as Gospel.

    If there is such a thing as democracy, we would see the media present healthy debates and discussions, surrounding this Covird-19.
    I have not seen/heard anyone on the radio or on the television, say what they really think!
    Are people being censored?
    I find it quite odd that no one has debated this Covird-19 because I believe that many are being censored.
    Is there an elephant in the room surrounding all this Covird-19?

    The BIGGEST PANDEMIC that is never bought to the attention of people is also prescription meds.
    if I believe the statistics and data, at least 41 people per day, die of prescribed medications.
    In this data, I have no clarity or enlightenment, if this covers: overdose, flawed medicines or a combination of a cocktail of meds.
    In 2107, 70,000 people died (in US alone) as a result of prescribed medicines.
    How many go unreported?
    Which brings me back to the Covird-19 saga. Are we really being told all the truth regarding this Covird-19?

    https://ndarc.med.unsw.edu.au/sites/default/files/Drug%20Induced%20Deaths%20July%202019%20Drug%20Trends%20Bulletin_Final.pdf

    We certainly do not make a fuss about the deaths resulting from prescribed medicines. This pandemic, is very serious and costing so many innocent lives.

    There is just so much ambiguity/fraud relating to falsified data/clinical information pertaining to prescribed medicines (this includes, LA, GA and IV sedations) and too many physicians have too little good information to go on.
    I also must mention that there are some physicians that are mixing too many cocktails at once and there is no excuse for this kind of exploitative prescribing habits.
    If we ‘all want to be in this together’ and ensure that what we are prescribed and ingesting (‘are safe’), we have to demand that there is transparency and a drastic change in the medical culture, on all levels, starting with:
    – pharmaceutical companies disclosing all their data pertaining to each and every medicine
    – A change in physicians prescribing habits
    – No more incentives or enticements given to politicians, physicians, pharmacologists, pharmacists, pharma reps etc
    The only way we can slay the dragon is to get rid of the corruption that harms innocent people in the first place.
    This is a war that has been going on for some time and if we don’t make the necessary changes, we as a universe have no HOPE and we will all be impoverished as a result of standing back and doing nothing!

    Anon
  2. I am mortified to acknowledge how many more prescription violations will take place especially since the onset of Covird-19?
    Medical professionals have an obligation (duty of care), to inform their patients of all the risks when prescribing or performing a medical procedure.
    This, sadly is not being done by many professionals, in this day and age.
    They are putting so much unnecessary fear into patients.
    So, if the Covird-19 vaccines evolves, professionals also have moral obligations to inform their patients of all the implications of having one!
    Mandating one is a violation of basic civil liberties.
    Now, in Australia, the law is to have all children who go to school to be vaccinated or is this isolated only to those who receive benefits from Centrelink.
    I know a few parents who can ‘side step’ this Law as they have friends in the medical profession who can help them with this one!
    How many medical professions will have this mandatory vaccine?
    They will most likely document that they have been administered the Covird-19 vaccine, when in reality it will be flushed down the sink.
    If you have a loved one in a nursing home, you also have to be vaccinated so that you can visit them.
    These laws are becoming very uncompromising!
    Many people already have a compromised immune system , compliments to the prescribed medicines they once ingested or are currently ingesting.
    Now they are passing Laws which may be very deleterious to many who are already sick. ~Where is the compassion?
    We all need to find a good doctor who is going to protect us from mandatory vaccines and unscrupulous prescribing of unnecessary medicines.

    Anon
  3. I am mortified to acknowledge how many more prescription violations will take place especially since the onset of Covird-19?
    Medical professionals have an obligation (duty of care), to inform their patients of all the risks when prescribing or performing a medical procedure.
    This, sadly is not being done by many professionals, in this day and age.
    They are putting so much unnecessary fear into patients.
    So, if the Covird-19 vaccines evolves, professionals also have moral obligations to inform their patients of all the implications of having one!
    Mandating one is a violation of basic civil liberties.
    Now, in Australia, the law is to have all children who go to school to be vaccinated or is this isolated only to those who receive benefits from Centrelink.
    I know a few parents who can ‘side step’ this Law as they have friends in the medical profession who can help them with this one!
    How many medical professions will have this mandatory vaccine?
    They will most likely document that they have been administered the Covird-19 vaccine, when in reality it will be flushed down the sink.
    If you have a loved one in a nursing home, you also have to be vaccinated so that you can visit them.
    These laws are becoming very uncompromising!
    Many people already have a compromised immune system , compliments to the prescribed medicines they once ingested or are currently ingesting.
    Now they are passing Laws which may be very deleterious to many who are already sick. ~Where is the compassion?
    We all need to find a good doctor who is going to protect us from mandatory vaccines and unscrupulous prescribing of unnecessary medicines.

    Anon
  4. Is there a hidden agenda behind this Covird-19?
    The percentage change in prescriptions filled per week for mental health conditions has risen from 5% to 35%, since February 16, 2020.
    What are we going to do now to undo the damage?
    If the mandatory Covird-19 vaccine comes into the equation, the health industry are ‘double dipping’ especially in regards to creating unnecessary health maladies.
    My concern is how many deaths are being recorded as Covird-19 when it may be another health issue or disease.
    I am very worried about where all this is going?
    Humanity is killing itself with modern technology, iatrogenic medicine and misinformation.
    The virus is not going to kill humanity.
    Freedom of speech and lack of civil liberties are eroding our basic human rights.
    The policies are worse than the disease.

    Anon
  5. Dr Justin Smith wrote:

    We must rely on evidence to validate such loss of liberties for which our ancestors sacrificed their lives ~ Hear! Hear!
    The chain of asepsis will always be broken, unless we are all living in a sterile environment.

    With the onset of the Covid-19, now is the ideal time to also focus on the safety of our medicines.
    We are told that this disease spreads like the speed of light and yet if it is so serious, the weak can never escape it.
    We should all be living in a plastic bubble, where there is no touch, hugging or intimacy of any nature or else the chain of asepsis is broken.
    Despite all the effort, measures and guidelines put in place , the chain of asepsis will always be broken.

    If common sense prevails we should all inform the medically compromised to stay isolated~ this includes not going to supermarkets, medical/dental clinics, shops etc……. They could get infected from the virus in these places also. There is no such thing as an environment being virus free!
    People caring for the sick should also be isolated from the medically compromised because they could cross infect the sick.

    Leaders be careful where you are going with all this. Isolating, testing and droning.
    Where are you going with all this?
    The policies may be deadlier than the virus.
    If the experts are serious about how deadly it is the reality is the weak cannot escape it!
    The rules that are put in place will only create disharmony and chaos to the human race.

    This is chemical warfare impacting the weak and vulnerable.
    You are muscling excessive control over the masses.
    The damage to the economy will take a long time to recover.
    Destroyed lives will never be the same again.
    There is not one person who will not be touched by the pandemic.
    Armageddon is coming!

    Anon
  6. Ed: Not sure where the ‘selected few’ idea comes from. We monitor the comments, and reject abuse, defamation trolling and the like, but nearly all comments are from ‘not-selected’ people who are not known to CLA.

    Secretary
  7. this new police State is a bigger worry than any virus; it was once only Russia and communist countries who had armed police stopping you and asking why and where you are going.
    WE have emotional pollies doing knee jerk reactions passing laws overnight which are then policed by a polyglot of variable personalities who then have ” discretion ” as to how they charge people.
    the lack of evidence base and consistency in these laws will soon cause massive social push back and disobedience.
    People will ask why is it ok to play golf but not visit grandchildren How can you have 1 hr hairdressing but not get fresh air in a park distanced from people .How are people confined to apartments supposed to get out for relief and fresh air unless they are jogging
    these laws may be in force over years
    as a working Dr I am very aware of the risk of pandemics but we must rely on evidence to validate such loss of liberties for which our ancestors sacrificed their lives

    Dr Justin Smith
  8. Are we given all the facts surrounding the Covid-19?
    I delve deeper, regarding the Covid -19 because what we hear, see and read may not contain all the facts of what is really going behind the scenes with this virus.
    This is the same pandemic every year for those who are medically compromised and if the facts are correct, we are told that this virus is stronger and spreads quickly.
    Do you want me to put my faith and trust in the very rules which are causing human anxiety, stress, loss of jobs/homes and high rates of suicide, which do not make the front headlines.
    Aggression, violence, civil unrest and many unfavourable scenarios are also part of poor policy making.
    Do you believe that by putting these policies in place that the superpowers are really saving the world!
    People already face hardships as it is and with the Covid-19 thrown into the mix,
    it seems that our whole universe has taken an uncertain turn in the blink of an eyelid.

    The more I hear about how many people die from other diseases a day, the more I wonder if we have simply panicked!
    If I believe the data the statistics are informing me the following:
    650,000 people die of the seasonal flu every year. Does the make the front headlines?
    15,000 people die every hour of hunger. Does this make the front headline?
    I believe we may be suffering from media epidemic and the media is sensational with so many things.
    The Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918-19 claimed over 30 million lives in less than six months.
    The fear we have to face is the Fear itself surrounding this conundrum.
    There is a hidden agenda behind everything the Governments do and they are using this virus as a way of most likely mandating vaccines.
    The only way to fight the plague is honesty Albert Camus 1947

    Anon
  9. I lived through bloody communism in the early 80s locked up inside and here we go again.
    Mr Andrews how is it that we work together trying to follow social distancing and still all touching same tools and materials all week but on the weekend can’t even go surf fishing on empty beach Or similar activities as long as social distancing is followed.
    Use some reasonable thinking here.
    First of all The State Government allowed F1 to go ahead with the virus spreading.
    Either do a total lockdown 2 weeks no work at all except police and medical staff with increased testing testing ! ! ! or allow people to move around out of work as per current go to work social distancing rules.
    USE COMMON SENSE here mate, people are dying.
    Can’t go out but there are no aprons or masks for community nurses.

    Is anybody even thinking about this trade agreement with China.
    We are paying for it now.

    Artur
  10. I am getting increasingly nervous as this situation unfolds. The conduct of the Police here in NSW has been getting out of hand for days. Apparently they have been spoken too but my concerns are the loss of our basic civil liberties on a hourly, daily basis. I have noticed Mr Morrison telling us we are not like any other country but everything playing out in these Levels Of social distancing, quarantining etc. are word for word what has been used oversees, right up until people have been put into complete lockdown. The lockdown in the UK has been told it will last for 6 months. How is this remotely healthy-if that’s what the government’s are so called worried about, going to be good for anyone. Can you please tell me where I can find out about the laws and my rights as far as my civil liberties go.
    Regards R.Hemmings

    Roslyn Hemmings
  11. NB: “the NSW order does not appear to ban those gatherings in people’s residences.” Probably the only issue is that during off-peak someone is stopped on a train or bus by the Police and asked where and why there are travelling. I am not sure if they will stop cars.

    You also can visit people on compassionate grounds, including those outside of Sydney and visa versa. And there are no restrictions where you can exercise – so one can drive to a park or promenade to do so. But it is so vague and there is unlimited Police powers that people are frightened. This is beginning to take on sinister proportions.

    Refer to https://preview.nsw.gov.au/covid-19/public-health-orders

    On the radio there have already been cases of police bullying and unnecessary behaviours. Eg one man was on the way to see his wife in ICU and stopped from doing so by the Police as it was ‘unreasonable travel’! With little to do, some bored Police may go to extremes … it seems that there are going to be a lot of court cases for abuse and even Constitutional challenges in the High Court.

    For those who want a complete lock-down – be careful what you wish for.

    Should you have any other information or need to correct anything herein, do send to me.

    – Herman

    Herman
  12. They are locking up healthy young ladies in hotel rooms and taking the keys. Outside their rooms are male guards. This is a very very disturbing situation.

    Sonja

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