The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has called on African countries to provide members of the public with factual, regular and science-based information on the threat that the Coronavirus (COVID-19) poses to their health as well as the precautionary measures that members of the public should take to contain its spread.
In a “Press Statement on human rights-based effective response to the novel COVID-19 virus in Africa” signed by its Chairperson, Dr. Solomon Ayele Dersso, the Commission said, Public officials should communicate such information both in words and action to promote compliance with the measures by members of the public and should inform the public on the implications of non-compliance for controlling the spread.”
The Commission cited Article 4 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the right to life; Article 9 on the right to access to information, and Article 16 on the right to health as the basis of its intervention, saying that States Parties to the Charter have an obligation under its Article 1 to take appropriate measures to give effect to the rights, duties and freedoms enshrined in the Charter, including through taking measures necessary for preventing threats to the life, safety and health of people.
According to the Commission, “Information should be made available in all major languages and with particular attention to ensuring access to such information by vulnerable groups, including the poor with limited access to mainstream media and sources of information, and persons with disabilities.”
The Commission noted that “In times of public health emergencies, members of the public have the right to receive factual, regular, intelligible and science-based information on the threat COVID19 poses to their health, the role and impact of the measures adopted for preventing and containing the virus, the precautionary measures that members of the public should take, and on the scale of the spread.”
It advised that States are best placed to fulfil their obligations to provide timely access to relevant and factual information when they adopt a communication strategy tailored to their particular realities and called on States to put in place measures to dispel misinformation and myths about COVID19 and to penalize the dissemination of false information on risks of COVID19 and preventive measures.
The Commission reiterated the obligation of States to ensure that their measures are consistent with the principle of legality, are necessary and proportional to the objective of safeguarding public health and accompanied by contextually tailored policy measures for mitigating adverse impacts, particularly on the most vulnerable sections of society.
It urged States to have clear and evidence-based plans as basis for introducing measures for the prevention and containment of COVID19 along with effective implementation framework for consistent and predictable application and enforcement of the measures, adding that the measures for prevention and containment should be declared to the public and published in official gazette.
Besides, the Commission stressed that States should ensure that the measures adopted to fight COVID19 do not lead to discrimination and stigmatization of anyone on the basis of any of the grounds of discrimination listed under Article 2 of the African Charter or similar grounds.
Rather, it said, States should ensure that people affected by the virus and people coming from countries with major spread of the virus are treated with dignity and humanely and that they are not subject to attacks and discriminatory treatment.
The Commission observed that various sectors of society, including individuals, political leaders, private sector and other social actors, community leaders, the media, public opinion leaders and religious institutions bear special responsibilities in varying degrees for the implementation of the prevention and containment measures.
It said: “Individuals have a duty in accordance with Article 27 (1) of the African Charter to comply with the prevention and containment measures not only to safeguard their health but also to ensure that they do not become the medium for infecting others, including people in their families and communities who are at high risk of suffering from severe sickness and death if infected by the virus.”
The Commission noted that the media, along with Community leaders and opinion leaders, “also have special responsibility for shaping government action, promoting the prevention and containment measures, provide relevant information and analysis to the public and should be encouraged to mobilize the public to heed the scientific advice and requirements of the prevention and containment measures.”
It urged countries to mobilize State and non-State actors, including civil society organizations, opinion and community leaders, to ensure public compliance with the prevention and containment measures, adding that “States should communicate clearly including through the actions of their leaders and functionaries on the imperative of compliance and prescribe in the duly enacted law or the implementing decree the consequences of non-compliance including civil and criminal responsibility of those violating the measures duly declared in accordance with applicable law.”
The Commission stressed that in applying public health prevention and containment measures, States should ensure that restrictions on rights are narrowly defined and are in proportion to the requirements of achieving the objective of preventing and containing the spread of the virus subject to supervision by the courts.
According to the Commission, “Such rights as the right to privacy, physical security, liberty, freedoms of movement, assembly and religion as well as the socio-economic rights to work and education could be seriously affected due to the social distancing, medical testing and quarantine measures enforced as part of the prevention and containment measures. These restrictions should be temporary and should expire upon the achievement of the objectives of prevention and containment of the spread of the virus. The restrictions on rights should not in their application have disproportionate impact on vulnerable groups, including precarious workers, people operating in the informal sector, persons with disabilities, homeless people and small businesses.”
It called on States to set up effective and efficient systems to monitor the measures adopted; to take corrective measures; and undertake investigations in cases of allegations of violations of human and peoples’ rights.
The full text of the press statement is available at: https://bit.ly/2yZdcR7