Protection of Human Rights during the Outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19)
The Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has affected human life in various ways. The outbreak of the disease was first reported in Wuhan, China before it subsequently spread over a large part of the world. The outbreak has sparked a crisis as scientists have yet to find a cure. The global community, through various international organizations, led by the World Health Organization (WHO) have been at the forefront providing information and guidance on how to curtail the risk of this global pandemic.
The Government of the United Republic of Tanzania has taken decisive actions to address the pandemic. Steps such as closing schools and colleges, dealing with unnecessary congestion, stopping overseas trips, designating special places for quarantine and ensuring citizens receive timely and accurate information on the spread of the outbreak. Currently, a total of 32 cases of coronavirus have been reported in Tanzania, claiming the lives of three people. However, five people have been reportedly recovered from Coronavirus. LHRC commends the Government for the steps taken so far in combating the outbreak, regardless of the various challenges we face as a country.
As a human rights organization, it is our responsibility to promote and ensure the protection of human rights at all times, even during this time of crisis. Human rights dimensions must be taken into consideration if we are to successfully combat this outbreak. There are indications both within and outside Tanzania that human rights violations are under attack during this period of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Human Rights Concerns Posed by Coronavirus Outbreak in Tanzania
Human Rights are interdependent, which means the violation of one human right may impact the enjoyment of other human rights. There is a serious threat to protection and realization of fundamental human rights such as the right to food, right to shelter, right to freedom of speech and movement, right to health, rights to life and other rights. Currently, the disease threatens food security, access to health service, and other socio-economic rights. In various parts of the world, there have been reports of human rights violations resulting from the efforts to fight Coronavirus, including the proclamation of administrative statements which infringe or disregard human rights, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and brutal killings of people who alleged to disobey orders by governments. The curfews and lockdowns ordered in different parts of the world have resulted in an increase of domestic violence against women, children and people with disabilities. The United Nations has released several statements calling for the governments to adhere to protection of human rights in fighting the coronavirus.
LHRC has identified legal and policy measures which need to be taken to enhance the rights of various groups in the country in fighting COVID-19. We emphasize these important aspects of Government intervention in addressing the impact of COVID-19. It is quite important to stress the intervention in helping citizen to access information on the transmission and prevention of COVID 19, considering needs of women, people with disabilities, access to health care based on the needs of women and people with disabilities, protection of vulnerable children, especially children living in streets and the rights of inmates and detainees during this period.
COVID-19 and disability rights
LHRC is alarmed by the lack of availability of sufficiently accurate and timely information, for persons with disabilities.
It is important to increase access to information on COVID-19 infections, considering the needs of persons with disabilities, in line with Article 18 of the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania, which guarantees the right of access to information. Also, the State should release early warnings and take necessary measures to ensure sustainable living conditions and provide information on how people can support themselves during this time of emergency. This will help to safeguard the group’s right to an adequate standard of living.
The government should guarantee PWDs access to health services by providing the group with sanitation medical and take necessary responsive action in response to the emergency.
COVID-19 and Women’s Rights
Coronavirus is a threat to all of us but women are always disproportionately affected by crises because of existing gender inequalities in the society. Reports show that women face domestic violence which includes sexual and physical violence mainly from their male partners. One example of the growing form of domestic violence in Tanzania is femicide where women are killed by their male partners because of jealous. This and many other forms of violence against women necessitates the need for the government to take affirmative action to protect women during this time of crisis.
Also, during this period when social distancing and staying at home is encouraged to most women this can be suffering because of economic hardship and the burden of taking care of the family. We call for the Government of the United Republic of Tanzania to strengthen police gender desk to be able to respond to all forms of violence against women.
COVID-19 and people living in rural areas
LHRC is concerned with the living conditions of people in rural areas, where access to information and health services are limited compare to urban areas. This narrows access to credible educative information on the spread of COVID-19 and access to quality healthcare which may lead to a larger impact of disease to the rural population if the spread of the virus continues. In response, we call on the Government to widen means of dissemination of information taking into consideration geographical and technological barriers in remote areas. Similarly, the government should make sure healthcare services are available and accessible in the rural areas especially in this period of the pandemic.
COVID-19 and the Rights of Prisoners and Detainees
Considering the magnitude of the outbreak in many countries under the condition of limited testing prisoners are at the greater risk of being infected by the virus as they live in congested facilities. The safety of inmates should be protected by improving health care services and providing them with accurate information on the spread and precaution measures against the disease.
Also, the Government is urged to make deliberate efforts to reduce the concentration of people in prisons by reducing the inmates, particularly detainees who can continue their cases while on bail considering the context. Also, by granting amnesty to prisoners, and others could serve their sentence outside bonds or be subjected to alternative sentences. It should be noted that the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights recently released a statement calling for the release of prisoners.
COVID-19 and Workers' rights
In trying times some of businesses and corporations infringe on the rights of their employees regardless of the legal obligation to protect and respect human rights. During this outbreak, there are concerns over violations of workers’ rights, especially those working in the private sector. The Government is urged to intervene over the situation by calling all business companies to ensure the protection of workers’ rights against unlawful termination, right to remuneration and discrimination based on gender. Companies and other businesses in Tanzania are obliged to protect and promote workers’ rights in the situation of emergencies.
COVID-19 and Children's rights
Children are vulnerable to abuse and prone to crises, they deserve extra care and protection in times of crisis. In Tanzania, schools have been closed amid the outbreak which means children are expected to be safe at their homes but this is not true to many children especially those who live in societies practising cultural practices like female genital mutilation and child marriage. Reports of child abuse in Tanzania are terrifying and most of the violence against children are perpetrated by close relatives to children.
In the worst-case scenario are the children living in the streets with no one to take care of their basic needs. Their surrounding is as threatening as the pandemic itself. The Government needs to take steps to protect street children from contracting the disease, including placing them in specialized centres and providing them with healthcare services and other social services including education. The government should play its part to make sure children are protected from any form of violence while community members should do their part in making a family and community at large a safer space for children.
Community members should report all incidences of violence against children to nearby police stations and make sure perpetrators are held accountable.
Our call to the government
We call on the government to double up efforts in the protection of human rights amid the fight against Coronavirus. The best practices can be learnt through guidelines and statement issued by the United Nations, Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance (CHRGG) and International Human Rights Organization which provides for guideline and practical scenarios in promoting and protecting human rights in the period of the pandemic.
Together we will win the tragedy.
Issued on April 11, 2020, by;