‘Keep rights at centre during emergency measures’

Kathmandu, April 7

The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development along with 21 of its member organisations have called upon countries in South Asia to ensure that human rights are at the centre of their emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The group is concerned with the absence of human rights safeguards in measures currently being employed in one of the poorest and most densely populated regions of the world.

“South Asian governments must ensure that measures to mitigate COVID-19 are proportionate, temporary, and address the needs of the poorest and marginalised groups such as women and girls, the Dalit community, migrant workers, LGBTI community, and other religious and ethnic minorities. For democratic institutions to function, those measures should not be used to entrench impunity nor as excuses to slide into authoritarianism,” read a joint statement of the group.

Community Self Reliance Centre, Informal Sector Service Center, National Alliance for Human Rights and Social Justice, Women’s Rehabilitation Centre and Yuth Action are organisations from Nepal endorsing the joint statement.

Despite the fact that cases of COVID-19 are increasing at an alarming rate, South Asian countries have yet to take effective measures aligned with human rights standards to safeguard their people, particularly the vulnerable and the marginalised, it said.

UN human rights experts have also urged the countries to refrain from abusing emergency measures introduced to combat the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic to suppress human rights and stifle dissent. The restriction of access to information is further exacerbated when authorities fail to provide accurate and reliable information on COV- ID-19.

“To minimise the risk of human-to-human transmission, most governments in South Asia and across the globe have implemented measures to restrict freedom of movement to contain the spread of virus. Though such restrictions are essential in the context of a pandemic, they should aim to address rights and wellbeing of people most affected.

In India and Nepal, the lockdowns have left migrant workers stranded at the border or on the way back to their native towns.

The use of heavy-handed force to enforce these movement restrictions and lockdowns across the region constitute a blatant disregard for fundamental rights,” said the statement.

The right to health cannot be fulfilled if other fundamental human rights are neglected. To combat the COVID-19 pandemic by placing human rights at the centre of emergency responses, FORUM-ASIA and its member organisations have called on South Asian countries to respect human rights, fundamental freedoms and human dignity in line with international standards of human rights in measures taken to combat the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure full access to regular and accurate information on COVID-19, provide access to adequate healthcare services and facilities to all members of society, ensure that emergency funds from South Asian countries reach individuals who need it most, address the vulnerability and needs of women and girls, provide equal access to safe shelter, suitable sanctuary, food, water, healthcare services, and caregiving support during periods of obligatory quarantine.

A version of this article appears in e-paper on April 08, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.