Governments in countries going into crisis mode over the spread of the deadly new coronavirus must not use the emergency measures to suppress human rights, a group of independent U.N. experts insisted Monday.
The rights experts, who are appointed by the United Nations but who do not speak on behalf of the world body, said they recognized “the severity of the current health crisis and acknowledge that the use of emergency powers is allowed by international law in response to significant threats.”
But they went on to “urgently remind states that any emergency responses to the coronavirus must be proportionate, necessary and non-discriminatory.”
The statement was signed by more than a dozen U.N. experts on issues including on the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, health, education, and religious belief, along with the U.N. working group on arbitrary detention.
It came as global infections from the novel coronavirus swelled to more than 168,000 people, including 6,500 deaths, according to a tally compiled by AFP from official sources.
In their comments, which echoed a recent call by the U.N. rights chief Michelle Bachelet to ensure rights were respected throughout the COVID-19 response, the experts stressed that the use of emergency powers should be declared publicly.
They also said U.N. treaty bodies should be notified if fundamental rights, including movement, family life, and assembly were being significantly limited.
“Moreover, emergency declarations based on the COVID-19 outbreak should not be used as a basis to target particular groups, minorities, or individuals,” they insisted.
The emergency, the experts said, “should not function as a cover for repressive action under the guise of protecting health nor should it be used to silence the work of human rights defenders.”
“Restrictions taken to respond to the virus must be motivated by legitimate public health goals and should not be used simply to quash dissent.”
They warned that some states might find the use of emergency powers “attractive because it offers shortcuts.”
“To prevent such excessive powers to become hardwired into legal and political systems, restrictions should be narrowly tailored and should be the least intrusive means to protect public health,” they said.