COVID-19 & Human Rights

This week our Social Impact Briefing continues to focus on the COVID-19 pandemic and how it is affecting human rights globally (thanks to research by Human Rights Watch): protecting people in custody, health workers, the right to education. We end on a positive note with news from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Authors: Camilla Göth
  • Reading time: 5 min.
  • Posted on: March 30, 2020

Protecting people in custody

Under international law, countries are obliged to ensure the health of prisoners. But to be following guidelines of social distancing, practicing self-isolation, and taking measures to follow hygiene guidelines are just not possible for most people in custody. Human Rights Watch has reported several cases of where prisoners rights are not acknowledged in light of COVID-19. 

  • Cameroon, which reported its first death last week, are taking measures against the COVID-19 pandemic such as closing schools and borders and banning gatherings. However, in the central prison Yaoundé which hosts 5,000 prisoners (5 times over its capacity and many in pretrial detention), no measures have been taken. The prison has one health clinic and one doctor. Similar patterns have been recognised also in other prisons in the country.
  • We have witnessed a better practice in Italy, where the government initially banned family visits as a measure to tackle the pandemic which was followed by protests against bans on the visits. For the first time ever in Italy, Skype and email have been approved as a form of communication between prisoners and their families as well for educational processes. Italy has also announced a plan to release and place prisoners with less than 18 months on their sentence under house arrest.

 Protecting health workers

According to the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, governments are obliged to ensure health workers have information and equipment. The past weeks we have witnessed several cases where authorities have gone against this covenant.

  • 350 Egyptian families were evacuated from Wuhan, China, and put in quarantine in Marsa Matrouh In Egypt. In response to this, the Health Ministry in Egypt sent medical teams to the quarantine facility without informing them that the transfer was part of the COVID-19 response or of the risks. Medical staff have reported they were tricked into the assignment.
  • Corruption is hindering medical staff to do their job in Thailand and the public health capacity has shrunk due to corruption as supplies have been diverted and shipped to China and other markets. A minister has been accused of hoarding and selling 200 million face masks to China resulting in shortage in Thailand. Furthermore, over the weekend, it was also reported that the Thai king has self-isolated in a luxury hotel with an entourage including 20 concubines. Under Thai law, anyone who criticises the king risks 15 years of imprisonment, but a hashtag translating “Why do we need a king?” was shared 1.2 million times within 24 hours Twitter.

Protecting the right to education

UNESCO has reported that 290 million students are out of school due to COVID-19 and there is an urgent need to ensure children continue to have their right to education fulfilled. Online learning is adopted in many countries to complement the physical education hours and many students have access to internet and technological equipment at home.

However, not all countries, communities, families, and social groups have the required internet access and many children live in places with government-led internet shutdowns.

Positive news – last Ebola patient discharged from clinic in DRC!

There is an overwhelming amount of negative news at the moment and it is now especially important to also recognise positive developments around the world. A positive virus related news story that had missed our radar is that the last ebola patient in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been discharged from the health clinic where she was treated. The mortality rate of Ebola can be as high as 80 % if not treated. On 12 April (6 weeks after the patient was discharged – and double the time of the 3 weeks incubation period) the epidemic can be declared as over. 

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