Coronavirus Outbreak is a Matter of Human Rights

Yazar / Referans: 
Osman İşçi, Bianet

"As coronavirus outbreak is a matter of human rights, it can only be solved based on the principles of human rights. We can find a way out of these dark days only by developing policies and practices based on human rights principles."

Originating in Wuhan, the capital city of China's Hubei province, in December 2019, novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has taken hold of the whole world. The outbreak reached such an extent that the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the situation that we faced a pandemic on March 11, 2020.

While the total number of cases around the world is 472,762, the death toll is 21,306 as of March 26. 114,749 people have reportedly recovered from the virus across the globe. As for our country, of 2,433 confirmed cases, 59 people have unfortunately lost their lives.

Coronavirus outbreak is an issue which also needs to be closely followed by the human rights movement. Our responsibility of closely following this issue is, first of all, related with the right to health. It is directly related with the fact that the right to health must be truly enforced and it must be accessible for all in addition to being free of charge and of good quality.

It is of utmost importance that the right to health must be made accessible for all disadvantaged segments of the society, especially prisoners, the elderly, children, women, refugees and the chronically ill.

In considering which segments to focus on, 10 United Nations (UN) committees which have made statements about coronavirus can serve as a guide for us. The following 10 committees of the UN have underlined that the combat against coronavirus must be human rights-oriented:

1) UN Human Rights Committee,

2) UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,

3) UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

4) UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,

5) UN Committee on the Rights of the Child,

6) UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women,

7) UN Committee against Torture,

8) UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture,

9) UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances,

10) UN Committee on Migrant Workers.

In addition to the right to health, there are also other rights that we, human rights defenders, must pay heed to during the COVID-19 process. For instance, in the period when people will stay home, the processes as to their rights to housing, food and heating as well as their economic and social rights must be closely monitored and abuses must be reported.

Similarly, if people have to stay home, their access to right to health in terms of both coronavirus and other health problems must be observed. The economic and personal rights of workers who cannot go to work due to the virus must be safeguarded.

Under such extreme circumstances, the risk of discrimination and hate speech increases even more. For instance, as the virus originated from China, there is a risk that the people from China as well as from other Asian countries might face hate speech, acts of violence and discrimination.

For instance, there are some videos on social media featuring physical attacks on the Chinese after US President Donald Trump defined coronavirus as the "Chinese virus." Similarly, after the citizens 65 years and older have been restrained from going out in public as part of coronavirus measures in Turkey, there are now also images featuring discrimination and incidents of violence against the elderly on the streets of our country.

Information must be shared by official and reliable sources so that the society can overcome its fears and worries while going through such an outbreak. Otherwise, there is a risk that the existing fears and worries will ultimately evolve into chaos. Intentions aside, misinformation and deliberate disinformation can apparently aggravate the situation even more. At this point, it is indispensable to inform the public regularly and transparently.

Another method to follow is to cooperate and coordinate with professional chambers like Turkish Medical Association (TTB), Turkish Pharmacists' Association and Dentists' Association as well as unions organizing health laborers such as Health Laborers' Union (SES). It would also be useful to cooperate with media organizations while informing the public.

Another factor that affects the global struggle against coronavirus is armed conflicts and wars. With an awareness of this fact, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres made a brief statement on March 23 and called for a global ceasefire. His brief statement underlines the devastating effect of war and armed conflicts on the right to health.

It also notes that any targeting of health workers under such circumstances will disrupt the struggle against coronavirus. Reiterating the direct relation between war and right to health, it once again reveals the need for peace.

In conclusion, as coronavirus outbreak is a matter of human rights, it can only be solved based on the principles of human rights. We can find a way out of these dark days only by developing policies and practices based on human rights principles.

About Osman İşçi

Osman İşçi is a human rights defender. He has been working at the Central Office of Human Rights Association (İHD) since 2006 and is a Central Executive Board Member of the EuroMed Rights. İşçi is also an Academic for Peace, who was put on trial for signing the declaration "We will not be party to this crime" in January 2016. He was discharged and barred from public service by the Statutory Decree no. 689 on April 30, 2017. Though he was awarded by the Human Rights Association of Austria in 2017, he could not go to the country to receive his prize as he had an international travel ban.


Photo: AA / COVID-19 measures in Uzbekistan