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Violations of Human Rights during Lockdown

A human crisis that is fast becoming a human rights crisis these are the words of United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres describing the responses of governments around the globe to the pandemic of COVID-19[i].

The remarks of the World Health Organization Director General's statement on COVID-19 gave much importance to the issues of protecting health, social disruption, minimizing economic and respecting human rights. As per him, this lockdown has created a situation where the protection of society is least especially for refugees and the disabled. The framing of human rights acted as a strong pillar that could strengthen the effectiveness of global attempts to address the pandemic of COVID-19.

The current COVID-19 outbreak has been described as a pandemic.[ii] The responses from all over the globe have presented that COVID-19 have been emerged distinctly. Along with this, some challenges are unpredictable and safeguarding the health as well as human rights of every person around the globe have proved to be a challenging task.

States identify ways to handle and address COVID-19, comprising of safeguarding human rights and ensuring people into responses as it is important to address such issues during this pandemic around the globe. World Health Organisation declared a novel coronavirus, Covid-19, a subject of Public Health Emergency of Worldwide Concern on 30th January, 2020.[iii] After seeing the rapid growth of infection among people and deaths, worldwide governments were quick to implement a variety of measures to fight the battle with this problem on an attacking scale.

Our reality is interconnected and COVID-19 has brought that all. Together we are experiencing the most serious and health emergency in the living memory. The COVID -19 pandemic is the test to every one of us, of governments, of communities and individual including to our social orders and framework.

Right to Health

Better health leads to a better life and is key to human happiness and well-being. A healthy person can contribute to a county's economic, social, political, religious, and many more aspects which an unhealthy cannot afford to do so. Thus, there are many factors which contribute to a country's ability to provide quality health service for its people.

The right to health is the basic right of every human being provided to them from the very beginning of their life. And now, in the most crucial time during this pandemic, health services are considered to be the most necessary and are inclined to be given the utmost priority.

India is a member of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).[iv] It specifically deals with a person's right to enjoy the highest achievable mental and physical health. Hence, the government should take a proper initiative for providing adequate health services of superior quality and satisfactory medical care should be given to people to prevent threats to public health.

However, there are still some scenarios where health inequalities can be spotted where the affluent people are provided with better health care than the people who cannot afford it. According to India's largest national survey of June 2018; only about 10% of the poorest one-fifth Indians in rural and urban India (9.8%) had any form of health insurance, which concludes how lack of money impacts health.

This type of discrimination should be stopped and all people should be treated equally right to health is a fundamental right. Not only this but there are many more scenarios which need our concern and hence the government should pay significant attention to things like non-discrimination, transparency, and, respect for human dignity & some other rights which authority of the state needs to protect as they are core & integral parts assigned in the right to health during this dreadful time of the pandemic.

Access to information

The Right to seek proper information is given to people by Article 19 of ICCPR.[v] Access to the information on the issue of health problems in the country and around the globe including the preventive and controlling methods are also mentioned over there.

India managed to convey information about the nature of this virus through various platforms and the level of danger it possesses and preventive measures. The right allows citizens to be informed by the authorities regarding their possible measures and foresight regarding consequences and proper information about the efforts done by the government.

The intention behind it would be people thinking and taking decisions wisely about another move. The information was provided by the Prime Minister of the country before a few hours of implementing the lockdown.[vi] which goes against the norms and values of this right as people were not prepared and clueless for these coming days. Later the authorities saw its impact and came forward to apologise for their move.

There must be accuracy in reporting the exact number of COVID-19 cases in front of the public which is not seen over here. Citizens need to be updated about the proper figure of the data of cases and most important media houses need to be free from any fear of government and try to show truth free from any censorship or any political gains as it hampers the right to access of free information across the country.

Right to free movement

People over 1.3 billion are locked inside their homes in India. The authorities adopted this plan to win this battle against pandemic COVID-19. But due to this decision taken by the Indian government, a huge portion of people of this country are left in shock mostly being concerned for their well-being. In the run of winning this battle and lower the curve, the Government of India forgot the basic human rights of people as a cost of saving the people from this virus.

Even during the lockdowns, the Indian government is directed to ensure safeguarding people under international human rights and rectify their mistake done in the period of this lockdown. Article 12.1 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which India also follows as the member. It states the right to liberty of movement within the territory of the country. As per 12.3, only exceptional circumstances can lead to restriction of this right, including protection of public health. [vii]

Since the lockdown has come into effect many incidents of migrant wage labours walking hundreds of kilometres back to their native places and villages as no other option is left out with them as with the closing down of small and non-essential business and closing down of transportation of all public owned basis and therefore having lost all the means of income.
The people are stressing more on their existence in lockdown rather than the disease itself.

People are dying due and facing some serious mental health issues such as anxiety Such harsh conditions imposed on people by the administration in the lockdown in addition to the closing of the business, which was the only source of livelihood, has proved to be challenging for the common man. The government is trying to reach people by providing this daily wage labours food and shelter home and making necessary arrangements for their transportation to their home safely.

The scenario of such strict restrictions on mobility has created an excuse for the brutality caused by the police on common people. Police are using excessive force on the citizens by assaulting them even if they move out for some essential work or purchasing some groceries.[viii]
 

Right to Privacy

Right to privacy is guaranteed under ICCPR in the form of Article 17.[ix] The main concern regarding this is an application called Aarogya Setu launched by the government of India.[x]It works on the principle tracking of Covid-19 which lets people know if they were near any infected person or not. Even though it is said to be encrypted, but its location tracking feature is not supposed to be sent to the third-party apps. It has a feature of sending reports of individuals to government.

Furthermore, it has the threat of surveillance of citizens and it has come to notice of people that it can be misused if it falls in the wrong hands. Even though it is not compulsory for people to download this application, but the government is strongly encouraging people to do so by the methods of an advertisement on various platforms. It can also be said that after sometime this application can be used as a gate pass for people to come out of their houses in the form of electronic pass.[xi]

The lack of confidentiality of reports of people who were only suspected to be infected positive was uploaded on the social media sites creating such a sensitive issue into a nuisance. These resulted in threats and danger to those people and their families by others. This was a clear violation of Article 17 stating the Right to Privacy as it was direct interference from the state into their privacy.

Conclusion
It was a significant  duty of the authorities to properly communicate with the citizens and build trust in the government, by implementing measures to promote transparency. Some of the countries are using coronavirus as an excuse to violate human rights by exploiting people to gain more power. They are targeting citizen's privacy and infringing their rights by aggressive surveillance.

Human rights are not something called luxury that needs to be safeguarded; they are the basic rights of citizens that are given to them. Upholding these rights could ensure enforcement and implements better than any other conditions by violating their human rights. Furthermore, issues regarding gender-based domestic violence have also increased. We have to tackle the situation by opting for a more improved kind of strategy.

Although providing proper safety and care to one-sixth of the global population is a very big task in itself. This is not a time to neglect human rights, rather it's a time where we need to safeguard Human rights the most, to make peace with the ongoing situation.

References:
  1. https://www.theweek.in/news/world/2020/04/23/un-chief-pandemic-is-fast-becoming-human-rights-crisis.html
  2. WHO. Press briefing 11 March, 2020. Available at: https://www.who.int/dg/speeches/detail/who-directorgeneral-s-opening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing-on-covid19---11-march-2020
  3. https://www.who.int/bulletin/online_first/COVID-19/en/
  4. https://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cescr/docs/AdvanceVersions/E.C.12.MUS-4.doc
  5. https://www.humanrightsinitiative.org/programs/ai/rti/international/intl_standards.htm
  6. https://covid19-evidence.paho.org/handle/20.500.12663/1190
  7. https://voelkerrechtsblog.org/indias-battle-against-covid-19/
  8. https://snsah.blogspot.com/2013/03/by-adv_23.html
  9. https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/ccpr.aspx
  10. https://www.nbc11news.com/content/news/568940811.html
  11. https://www.amnestyusa.org/press-releases/responses-to-covid-19-and-states-human-rights-obligations-preliminary-observations/
Written By:
  1. Preema Safi of LJSL and
  2. Bhadresh Damor of RGNUL

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