ICNL, ECNL Launch COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker

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John Palfrey, President, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
John Palfrey, President, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

The International Center for Not-For-Profit Law (ICNL) and the European Centre for Not-For-Profit Law (ECNL) have launched a COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker, which monitors government responses to the Coronavirus pandemic that affect civic freedoms and human rights, focusing on emergency laws.

Launched on March 31, 2020, the COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker is a collaborative project developed by the ICNL, ECNL and their global network of partners, with research support from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Fionnuala D. NíAoláin.

The tracker is aimed at keeping “civic space healthy” and focuses in particular on emergency laws and orders which impact the rights to freedom of assembly and association, as well as freedom of expression, privacy and other human rights.

According to the ICNL, “The coronavirus is a significant threat to public health; it does not need to be a significant threat to civic freedom. The ICNL Alliance is working to keep civic space healthy. The ICNL-ECNL COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker monitors government responses to the pandemic that affect civic freedoms and human rights, focusing on emergency laws.  Our issue page presents key resources on how the coronavirus response is impacting civic space and the existing international law framework on upholding human rights during the crisis.”

It said Governments can use a crisis as a pretext to infringe rights and cites UN Special Rapporteur FionnualaNíAoláin’s explanation that “states and security sector institutions will find emergency powers attractive because they offer shortcuts,” and that such powers will, therefore, tend to “persist and become permanent.”

The ICNL noted that in recent weeks, governments around the world have acted with significant implications for fundamental freedoms and civic space, advising that “during this time, we must remember that responses to public health threats are stronger and more effective when they respect human rights.”

Many of the laws and orders, which have been developed by governments around the world ostensibly as part of their efforts to curtail the spread of the Coronavirus, expand into the online sphere, regulating all sorts of information, providing for and allowing increased surveillance of citizens and the use of location data.

The tracker contains a list of countries in alphabetical order, beginning with Algeria, and provides a summary of the laws and orders introduced by each of the countries listed, the manner in which the law or order was introduced, including the date on which it was passed. Each entry also contains a link to the primary source of the information about the law or order.

The tracker was launched with 115 entries on the website, although the initiators say it is an “ongoing effort”. They are also soliciting for updates and suggestions from users and pledge to share additional resources.

The tracker is expected to assist law reform advocates to respond to current developments even in the face of ongoing global efforts to combat the Coronavirus as well as in the longer term, after the emergency is over and the laws lose their apparent necessity and proportionality.

ICNL explained that the issue page on the tracker “presents key resources and information on how international law provides a framework to uphold human rights during crisis response.”

 The tracker is accessible at: https://www.icnl.org/covid19tracker/