What human rights are at particular risk of being restricted during a pandemic?
Rights and Freedoms
A number of rights have been restricted during the COVID-19 pandemic. They include:
- The right to freedom of association: With the virus being air-borne and aggressively transmitted in groups, social distancing is key to limiting the spread. Restrictions on association with other people have been introduced worldwide during the pandemic. Restrictions have ranged from total bans on associating with anyone outside your household to only being allowed to gather in groups of limited size for purposes like weddings, funerals, and work.
- The right to peaceful assembly: Protests involve large groups of people meeting together and so have been restricted during the pandemic for similar reasons. Rights to protest and freedom of expression can be exercised in other ways – such as online – and have not been completely restricted.
- The right to liberty of movement: This applies to moving between states in Australia as well as to the freedom to leave a country (including Australia). Border restrictions are explicitly recognised in international law as a right that may be lawfully restricted during a public emergency.
- The right to family reunification: This includes a right to reunification across borders, but is similarly recognised in international law as a right that may be lawfully restricted in a time of public emergency.
- The right to enter your own country: International law provides that people should not be arbitrarily deprived of this right. Again, it is a right that may be lawfully restricted in a time of public emergency.
Other human rights violations
The pandemic has also left people vulnerable to other human rights violations, including being at risk of:
- experiencing racial discrimination or racial hatred
- poverty and lack of sufficient resources for an adequate standard of living, due to higher unemployment
- experiencing family or domestic violence or elder abuse
- experiencing mental health problems, or exacerbating existing conditions.
Governments have human rights obligations to address these situations and prevent them where possible.
Particular groups within the community are also more vulnerable to experiencing breaches of human rights during the pandemic, including:
- Women experiencing increased economic insecurity due to more vulnerable employment, and additional caring responsibilities affecting their availability for employment.
- People with disability having decisions made on their behalf and having less access to regular supports within the community.
- Older persons being more vulnerable to serious health impacts from COVID-19, and facing increased social isolation, especially during lockdown.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people being more vulnerable to serious health impacts from COVID-19 due to higher levels of pre-existing illness than other population groups because of relative social and economic disadvantage.
- Children experiencing difficulties in learning and education, particularly children who do not have access to technology and broadband.
- Newly arrived migrants and asylum seekers who may be at higher risk of poverty and exclusion from employment.
- People in detention who may be held in overcrowded conditions where social distancing is difficult.
The Commission has produced two reports about the effects of COVID-19 on the human rights of particular groups of people. You can read them below: