By Fatmata Jengbe
The Campaign For Human Rights and Development International, (CHRDI) says it has been following the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on citizen’s lives with keen interest. According to them, country to country, large public gatherings and major events have been cancelled. Employees have been told to work from home, universities have moved all classes online and elementary schools have closed for sanitizing. Declarations of emergency are also being proclaimed.
In order to effectively contain the spread of the virus; provide medical care for those who need it; and avoid harmful misdirection of resources; trust is essential, but for the public to have that trust, the use of emergency powers must be publicly declared and should be notified to the relevant treaty and statutory bodies when fundamental rights including movement, family life and assembly are being significantly limited.
CHRDI therefore is encouraging the Government to recognise the human rights of citizens in maintaining a human rights-based approach to regulating this pandemic, in order to facilitate the emergence of healthy societies with respect for the rule of law and human rights.
Furthermore, while the organization recognizes the severity of the current health crisis and acknowledges that the use of emergency powers is allowed by international law in response to significant threats, its officials are urgently reminding the Government of Sierra Leone that any emergency response to the corona virus must be proportionate, necessary or non-discriminatory. The organization is calling on authorities to put the human rights of the citizens and residents in the country at the centre of the COVID-19 outbreak response.
CHRDI is aware that the Government has already regulated free movement and assembly of people without any state of emergency law in force, but they want to bring to the attention of the Government the fact that declarations of state of emergency, whether for health or security reasons, have clear guidance in international law.
CHRDI believes that when addressing the human right concerns at stake, States impose preventive measures to protect public health, such as quarantines and travel bans, which are inextricably linked to the State’s obligations to ensure transparency, accessible and affordable preventive care, guarantee social security and workers’ rights, and also credible ad reliable public healthcare information to prevent stigma and discrimination; and also to protect health workers.
The organization is of the conviction that some law enforcement agencies may find the use of emergency powers attractive because it offers shortcuts to use such excessive powers that can be hardwired into legal and political systems. We therefore recommend that restrictions should be narrowly tailored and should be the least intrusive means to protect public health.
In conclusion, CHRDI states it wants to acknowledge that we are facing exceptional circumstances in terms of a public health emergency and the State might need to exercise its emergency powers. They also believe that if the situation places a threat to the life of the nation (for example if the disease is significantly communicable and of sufficient seriousness – especially high morbidity – or there is risk of further expansion), then the State might be empowered to declare a state of emergency in accordance with international law and standards.