To limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, the Nigerian government took restrictive containment measures, with the effect of curtailing fundamental rights. These included lockdowns of various states and a cessation of social and economic activity, except those activities relating to essential services. While these measures followed existing public health advisories, they have raised significant legal, constitutional, human rights, and legitimacy issues.
Between enabling and suffocating legal measures
Tensions between welfarisms that enable and those that suffocate are evident in Ireland’s move to restrict the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in the reaction to it.
Two pieces of emergency legislation passed through Oireachtas Eireann (the Irish Parliament) by March 26th. The Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020 and the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2020 address a range of social, civil and economic issues. Read More
By Eduardo Dargent and Camila Gianella
Peru was among the first Latin American countries to implement legal measures that restrict civil rights in order to stem the spread of COVID-19.
On March 15, with 28 confirmed cases and no deaths, the government issued the Supreme Decree N° 044-2020-PCM declaring a state of emergency for 15 days. Measures in the decree included closing the borders, ordering a general lockdown, forbidding domestic travel, and closing schools, universities, churches, and all non-essential businesses, among others.
Read an update to this post published April 13, 2021: “One Year Later: COVID-19, Human Rights, and the Rule of Law in South Africa”
By Mark Heywood
South Africa’s first case of COVID-19 was confirmed on March 5th, 2020. Ten days later, on March 15th, 2020, the government utilized the Disaster Management Act (2002) to declare a State of National Disaster. Under this Act, the government set up a National Command Council (NCC) made up of Cabinet Ministers and restricted certain rights necessary to prevent SARS-Cov-2 transmission and “flatten the curve.”
A national lockdown started on March 27th. It was relaxed slightly (to level 4) on May 1st, and was further relaxed (to level 3) on June 1st. The lockdown severely restricted freedom of movement, closed all but essential companies and schools, banned the sale of alcohol and tobacco, and introduced a night-time curfew between 8pm and 5am. By May 22nd, the Minister of Police reported that 230,000 people had been arrested for violating lock-down regulations.
The most affected constitutionally recognized rights are freedom of movement, assembly, and trade. However, on paper at least, care has been taken to ensure that political rights and rights to freedom of expression and association are not limited, and the President has couched the country’s response in terms of the Constitution, particularly the rights to life, dignity and access to health care services. He has also frequently referred to the right to equality and promised that in the post COVID-19 period South Africa will do much more to tackle the inequalities that have been exposed by the coronavirus.
Our latest digital symposium, Global Responses to COVID-19: Rights, Democracy, and the Law, presents a snapshot of the spectrum of rights-related measures adopted in response to the pandemic in dozens of countries to date.
Given the international focus of the symposium, we opted not to solicit a submission representing the situation in the United States. However, the Bill of Health blog has published numerous relevant posts on different dimensions of legal and policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.
The selections below, which we will continually update, offer an array of perspectives on how the U.S. response to the pandemic has affected rights, democracy, and the rule of law.
Mexico is a country of contrasts; both in the richness of our culture as in the advances and shortcomings that have arisen in our path towards the effective protection of human rights. In the face of the health crisis due to COVID-19, violations to rights and liberties are a latent risk.
The Mexican Health System is too fragile to face COVID-19 due to the corruption and lack of investment of former administrations, and due to poorly-implemented reforms made by the current administration. Read More
On its face, Norway is a COVID-19 success story.
Facing rapidly increasing infection, the government introduced on March 12th, 2020 a wide-ranging lockdown. The sovereign wealth fund was tapped to bolster public spending and ensure that welfare for most citizens remain relatively unchanged. By April, the outbreak was brought under control; and, as of May 7th, domestic lockdown restrictions were partially eased.
This success is partly due to widespread trust in government and national public health authorities, and the mobilization of the deeply ingrained cultural concept of “dugnad,” voluntary and collective work. However, the government’s interventionist response raises many questions with respect to the rule of law and human rights, which we explore in this blog.
By James W. Lytle
After a banner year for organ transplantation in the United States in 2019, the success became a tattered memory by April 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit major cities in the U.S. with its full fury.
A record number of 39,178 organs were donated in 2019, including 7,397 organs from living donors, also an all-time high. After several years of adverse media and regulatory scrutiny, LiveOn NY, the organ procurement organization (OPO) that serves the Metropolitan New York City region, proudly reported that a total of 938 organs had been transplanted in 2019, another record that represented more than a fifty percent increase over the transplant total in 2015.
By late April 2020, however, organ transplantation activity in New York State had reportedly declined by ninety percent.
By Aeyal Gross
Facing the novel Coronavirus, Israel adopted a series of legal measures that have restricted various human rights both directly and indirectly.
The earliest restrictions — requirements established in February for people returning from abroad to isolate — were, in March, gradually broadened to restrict freedom of movement within Israel, ranging from a general lockdown, which at its peak restricted any outing to walking or exercising only within 100 meters of one’s home, except for specific purposes, to cordon sanitaire for areas with bigger outbreaks, which prohibited movement into and out of those regions.
The various restrictions created severe limitations not only on the right to freedom of movement itself, but also on family life, freedom of assembly, and freedom of religion.
Like many other countries, different levels of government in Canada have adopted a wide range of measures in response to COVID-19. Many of the measures vary from province to province and municipality to municipality.
Canada is a federation composed of a federal government, three territorial governments (which operate with delegated federal authority), ten provincial governments, and thousands of municipal governments (which exercise powers delegated by the provinces).
Each level of government has distinct responsibilities under the Constitution Act, and each has used a variety of legal instruments including laws, regulations, executive orders, directives and by-laws, during the COVID-19 pandemic to protect public health. This brief overview offers a few examples of the legal instruments that have impacted individual civil liberties.