Winner's Essay: Pandemic and issues related to Human Rights

Adhikar Premier,

G.J.Advani law college, Mumbai University


The very concept of Human rights consists of Civil, Political, Economic and socio-religious rights. These are recognized globally through International Convention, Bilateral, Multilateral and Summits.

These Human rights are not absolute but qualified. The State in charged to protect rights can impose a reasonable restriction in time necessary. As one practices their right there lays a duty to respect and provide space to practice rights of other Individual, Individuals and Community. Failure to practice such leads to an offence. Currently the World health organization has declared Covid-19 as a pandemic .With Wuhan region in China being its epic-centre. It then spread to various other region and now it’s a global phenomenal. Drastic situation called for a method of lockdown which wasn’t seen on such a large scale since decades. Countries around globe have called for a complete lockdown, with locking as many as 1.2 billion of citizens. Thus daily affairs of more than 180+ nations are at a halt with an aim to constrain the spread of virus. Sovereigns are conducting matters with half or less employee and Private entities are strictly ordered to carry on with fours falls of their residents; such calls were gradually taken by the State governments. But shops of tourism, Crossing of International Borders (operational on recue bases), ground base functions of private entity etc have their shutter down. In ensuring health and public order, the ability of state for protecting of human rights is under duress. Also the on-going pandemic has displayed the concept of Utilitarian; it is that the right thing to do is add up for collective good. That is what the global order is in, Individuals rights are subject to limitation as individuals are ordered to be confined (conditional) within their place of stay for maintaining public health at large. Well, the pillar of inalienability of human rights received a blow, but it still stands tall.

By adding a filter in assessing the situation, lets through a pragmatic lens analysis the human rights mention in Universal declaration of human rights (UDHR), 1948, which are now partially constrained by the covid-19 pandemic. Article 3 of UDHR states; “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security”. According to Indian jurisprudence the interpretation of Right to life is that; a human being can’t be deprived from basic essential commodities required for their survival and or enforce acts upon which destroys ones dignity and respect. Daily meal being a must for ones survival has constantly been a luxury for marginalised across the globe but specifically the African region(it accounts for the majority of the almost 212 million people in the world who are chronically food insecure and the 95 million who live amidst acute food insecurity), where the United Nation Food and Agricultural Organisation (UN.FAO) has a significant role in combating hunger, malnourishment, stunt growth and ensuring a satisfactory access of food grains. With a lockdown, it been a challenge to ensure a supply as the global breadbasket is the worst hit region; challenges of blockages along supply routes and labour shortages has caused a disruption in production and processing of UN.FAO initiative in providing survival ingredient.

Article 8 of UDHR, 1948: “Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.”

This article seeks temple of justice to function, the western developed nations who bear the torch of human rights been the pioneer ones in establishing and evolving the human right concept, they are suffering the worst due to Pandemic in comparison to the epic-centre, Wuhan( which is now in process of restoration). European courts, both the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and the General Court have partially closed. From 15th March, The European Court of Justice suspended all hearings at its top court for the next two weeks and at its lower court for three weeks. Both courts will hear only urgent matters until further notice. Currently the whole of a continent’s justice granting system has received a blow. The International Court of Arbitration had officially rescheduled all hearings until end of June and urgent matters were on virtual platform, high numbers are been cancelled. In the US Supreme Court, oral arguments were postponed for the 23rd -25th March and 30th March-1st April sessions. On 12th March, the court closed to new matters until further notice. Courts in several states, including New York, Washington State, Texas, Connecticut, Missouri, Florida, Arizona, Ohio and Virginia, have suspended jury trials. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has announced that it will close all state courts from 19th March until at least 3rd April 2020.

The very notional point of approach to justice mechanism is denied on mass scale, and there lies a counter of connecting virtually but it has its own sets of challenges. To conclude precisely, Prof. Lawrence Susskind stated on the International Online Courts Forum, 2018, “only 43% of the global population has access to the protection of the law”. Well now the pandemic has only made it worst.

Article 20. of UDHR , 1948. ;(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. With the aim to contain the spread of virus this has become a distant dream, nations battling Cornavirus have immediate or gradual effect has strict measures ensured prohibition of assembly. With social distancing as must America has banned gathering of 10 or more, India has done for 4 or more. But truly despite such ethos the Israeli’s have won attention, when they there organised a mass protest, and they did that by maintaining a social distance. The event was attended by thousands. Truly humans and human rights can’t be separated.

World health organization has stated that the worst of pandemic is yet to come. What more is expected when the life’s of millions are shattered. We already have a sum of refugees and migrants due to political crises, environment impact etc. Their Right to life for them as stood in grey and now the Covid -19 has caused employment disruption, major of them dependent on daily wage and were part of the un-organized sector. Reduced household income will force poor families to cut back on essential health and food expenditures also with little-no saving and channel to gain resources been limited, pauperizing will increase. Similar conditions are of the marginalized community across globe, which constitute half of human race.

The impact on livelihood will generated a domino effect, children will be most vulnerable and so will be their Rights, as they are dependent on their guardian/parents. But cloud of poverty and inability to access essential has lead to a street teenager named- Timothy from Mombasa, who was accepting prison time because of an assurance of getting free food, shelter and medical services”.

This Pandemic’s impact is discriminating in nature, As Ted Chiban, UNICEF regional director for North Africa and Middle East highlighted that the region under his area of work, has the highest unemployment rates among youth while nearly half of all children in the region live in multidimensional of poverty; deprived of basic services including education, housing, nutrition, health care, safe water, sanitation and access to information. Such conditions have deprived them from access to human rights and in words of Muhammad Yunus “Poverty abstains one from human rights”.

The Domino effect goes on, and crumbles the inalienable Right to health. The right which everyone has irrespective on any ground, completely equal to all. Prioritising covid-19 patients has led to diversion of health resources in countering such. Thus leading to minimal-zero health resources in sterilizing other disease and it has far reached to the point; where there is cancellation of on-going health campaigns and lack of health resources for patients of other disease. The health infrastructure received a blow, and with spike in covid-19 cases in Italy which stand as 2nd best nation with medical facilities. However despite such standard, the doctors faced dilemma of either to take covid-19 cases or not, as they didn’t had sufficient bed facility and an ambulance will reach post 8-10 hours after a call made. The virus affecting a particular population is denying right to other patients as States are failing to provide better access to medical facilities. This depiction is not just in Italy, but on a minor note faced by other countries too. Well, in Venezuela an oil rich country has collapse its health system. In addition, measles immunization campaigns have been suspended in at least 23 countries that had cumulatively targeted more than 78 million children up to the age of 9-16. Meanwhile, children and adolescents with chronic illnesses, including those living with HIV, are at risk of reduced access to medicines and care. Such task is difficult to resolve until there is freedom from Covid-19. With 21st century in motion, there are reports from Human rights watch on health care discrimination based on gender identity, especially in countries like US, Tanzania, Japan, Russia and Lebanon. The LGBTQ community are among the most deprived global community in access to health facilities. Attempts are made to mitigate and solve such challenges, but the results aren’t satisfactory.

Well, it is to be understood that the lockdown has neutralized private entities thus making citizens more dependent on State, there lies a chance which opportunistic governments can fill by summoning the charge of an authority above law. This possibly can be done under the banner of general good and maintenance of public health. Such form of government is potential crusaders of human rights, especially political right. Governments taking arbitrary decision will sub-standardize the creditability of Law and in words of John Locke, “When law fades tyranny shines”. Phil Robertson, Deputy-Director of Human rights watch has acknowledged that more and more governments are asserting draconian power. Is seen in Philippine and Thailand. Such speculations are also made with respect to India. In India, the lockdown situation has empowered governmental mechanism and their branches to ensure a strict follow of order. The use of force over its own citizens has been normalized by the government, as policing is conduct with arms in hand, Is this democratic?. The vigilant Kerala High Court ordered State government to minimize the use of force and only to utilize when it’s necessary.

The on-going pandemic is going to be like a portal. It carries the ability to transfer us to a new a region a new order and could shape an evolution. The global order is redefining with dissent occurring on social platform. Right to Internet is now a matter of importance. Calling for such right will widen the scope of Human right. Human rights have always been a herculean task to practically set it in motion. Not just that they are denied but there are significant population who aren’t on level to access it. The pandemic is just not about Cornavirus but the real issue is the domino effect it will create. With the daily rise in positive cases, not just the health care but in-attached to it other various mechanism will fail. With International monetary fund, stating the economic loss and warning nations to prepare for a wave of recession. Such will strip individuals from livelihood and make them more vulnerable and separate them from their rights. Also to note is the pandemic’s reaction over human rights is unequivocal in nature. European and African regions are most suffered and the livelihood condition would be devastated. Sovereigns are dispatching welfare policy and aid to ensure minimal loss of rights. Given their own set of limitation, how much can they really counter?

Public health emergency has suppressed rights. And the American citizens protested against such, with a tag to free America. Is it what really aiding in constraining virus? Is Public health less important than individual and individuals’ rights? These are debatable.

But given the condition, this shouldn’t go unnoticed that there is a significant rise in compassion. Non-governmental body, NGO’s and Social community are attempting to compensate the loss incurring due to lockdown, it is to be cherished that the global community in form of net-citizens are combating the virus. Technological is aiding a hand in mitigating challenges caused by pandemic. New Zealand and Taiwan has won its battle against Novel Cornavirus thus transferring hope to nations who are fighting in procuring normalcy.

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