HUMAN RIGHTS & COVID 19

Edited by – Tirtharaj Basu


This article is written by Aribba Siddique, a law student of Amity University, Kolkata.


HUMAN RIGHTS: AN OVERVIEW

The State maintains the framework of social order by the execution of various laws without which well-ordered social life would not be possible. Various philosophers of social contract theory are in the favour that the creation of the state is to maintain and protect the rights of individuals. According to Aristotle’s view, State came into existence out of necessities of life and continues for the sake of excellent life.

The dignity of every individual in the society should be protected to maintain peace and prosperity in society. Non-fulfilment of protection of individuals will have a devastating impact on society thus Each individual is entitled to Rights from the time they are born I.e. Natural rights. These Natural rights should not be violated on any grounds (religion, caste, gender, etc) These rights are called Human Rights. Human Rights are the basic rights that every individual in a society is entitled to these rights were present in ancient societies and mainly focused on Civil rights, liberties and social, religion and the Right to earn a livelihood. Safeguarding human rights is a necessity for the development and growth of an individual personality, which ultimately contributes to the growth of the nation as a whole. It is a globally recognised issue and various global instruments have been established for safeguarding human rights.

The concept of Human Rights is dynamic and modify to the needs of the nation and its people. The ultimate goal of the national, as well as international law, is to safeguards the human rights of the people. At the global level, various efforts have been made for safeguarding human rights. The United Nations through its charter represents remarkable assistance in the direction for the promotion as well as protection of human rights. International bill on human rights has been incorporated within-the UN Charter. The UN Charter contains various provisions for the promotion of human rights and fundamental liberty in the Preamble and in various Articles 1, 13(b), 55, 56, 62 (2), 68 and 76(c).[1]

Apart from UN Charter, there are four international instruments created under the guidance of the United Nations known as International Bill of Human Rights, which include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights 1966, the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966.

 The Governments of all the nations must work to promote the welfare of people by eliminating all forms of discriminations and provide the right to equality and justice to all.

 HUMAN RIGHTS IN INDIA

India is the biggest democracy in the world. Being a democratic country one of the main objectives is to safeguard the basic rights of the people. The Indian government has the duty to identify and safeguard human rights. The Constitution of India recognises these rights of the people and pledges to protect them and upheld the rights of people in the country.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights contains civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. Constitution assures most of the human rights contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Part III of the constitution contains civil and political rights, whereas economic, social and cultural rights are included in Part IV of the Constitution.[2]  All statutes have to be in concurrence of the provisions of the Constitution.

The philosophy and objective of the Constitution of India are enshrined in the preamble which includes: Safeguarding the dignity of an individual. For the fulfilment of this objective Part III of the constitution assures fundamental rights to people which are essential for the development of an individual, these rights include the right to equality, the right to freedom, the right against exploitation, the right to freedom to of religion, ethnic and educational rights and the right to constitutional remedies. It is the duty of the Union as well as state Governments to provide adequate benefits to each individual to enjoy their human rights. The constitution through Directive Principles of State Policy enshrined in Part IV of the Constitution, ascertains the duties on the government to work for the betterment of the people and for safeguarding the human rights of the people. These act as a yardstick for the government to legislate ( or frame schemes) in matters of distributive justice, preservation and enhancement of all ecosystems, proselytizing the advancement of the downtrodden (or weaker section), upgrade the nutrition and living standard and advance public health, right to education, right to earn a livelihood by working in a decent and upstanding environment, social security, etc. to enable each human being to exercise his rights in the best way possible.

THE PROTECTION OF HUMAN RIGHTS ACT, 1993

The need for the protection of human rights issues both at the national and global level led to the enactment of an Act which specifically deals with the protection of Human rights called ‘The Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993’.

The Act aims to provide an organisational structure for safeguarding human rights. The Act provides for Human Rights Commission at the national level as well as at State level in each state and further for the setup of Human Rights Courts at the district level for better protection of human rights and matters connected therewith.

The Act defines human rights in Section 2(d) as “the rights relating to life, liberty, equality and dignity of the individual guaranteed by the Constitution or embodied in the International Covenants and enforceable by courts in India.”

The above definition, however, limits the scope of the functioning of the National Human Rights Commission. Though India ratified the two Covenants, these are International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.[3] International covenants are not justifiable before the courts, so there should be laws in the country which is to be with the conformity of these conventions. Therefore, the rights guaranteed in the Constitution are in conformity with these International Conventions.

HUMAN RIGHTS AND COVID 19

  1. Right of access to information

Access to information is considered as one of the primary rights of an individual. The Government should provide access to the right kind of information relevant to health problems, cures as well as on how to prevent them. The Government of India had satisfactorily spread genuine and authentic information about the symptoms of the disease, the precautions an individual needs to take as well as the threat it causes to the humankind. Along with this, it also authorises itself to inform the public about the possible actions taken up by the authorities in the event of such danger, repercussions of violating the rules imposed by the Government and about the public response towards the ongoing effort

The purpose behind this is to assure that its citizens can take the necessary health-related decisions beforehand. A limited 4hour notice before the enactment of a nationwide lockdown violated the very purpose of this right, leaving people flustered and scared as most of them were unprepared on how to take care of themselves and their families and what precautions one should be prepared for during the upcoming days.

  • Right to free movement

The freedom to move around can only be limited under extraordinary circumstances. The restrictions need to be reasonable and inconsistency with the law. Since the lockdown, various newspapers, television interviews as well as articles have featured that the condition f the migrant workers’ have deteriorated severely. The closing down of all public transport and other modes of transportation, along with losing the daily income they were left with the prime option of walking several kilometres back to their villages.

The news channels have reported the death of dozens of them on their way back home due to starvation or accidents. Even though, steps have been taken to provide them with food, shelter and first aid had the Government been more cautious it could’ve saved the lives of many.

  • Right to protection

Everyone deserves protection and safety, even more so when it comes to the health workers. Therefore, it does exhibit an important human right. Health workers of all states should be provided with proper health-related guidance and information as well as protective clothing and safety equipment. Doctors in India have been treating their patients wearing homemade hazmat suits, masks and without gloves.

There have been continuous reports of a shortage of the N95 masks and the government is doing very little to rectify that. The Government needs to frame guidelines regarding treating positively tested patients as well as bring about the swift manufacture and transportation of the personal protection equipment (PPE). [4]

  • Right to privacy

Right to privacy cannot be neglected when it comes to highlighting the contemporary human rights of an individual. This right is also a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution. The spread of the pandemic has made the public increasingly concerned about their privacy. Facebook and WhatsApp records reveal a highly confidential list of private details of several passengers who travelled to New Delhi in the time of Corona drafted by the Government itself. Even though the Government claims it was for security purposes, such information being leaked on social media platforms is highly unacceptable and disturbing.

Another government action which intervened with the privacy of the people was the launch of the Aarogya Setu app. This is a tracking app which lets the citizens know if they have been in contact with an infected person. The creators argued that the data is codified and nothing is shared with a stranger, also the location tracking attribute does not intend to violate privacy but is rather a feature which sends reports directly to the government.

However, it can be considered as a subtle mass surveillance technique. The information fed into this app might be misused if it falls into criminal hands. The citizens don’t need to download this application but the Government has been actively promoting it.

  • Right to health.

Right to health forms an essential part of all the contemporary human rights available to the Indian public. India finds herself in acute crisis after the lockdown came into force. By the time the lockdown was in motion in March, that in-charge in the respective states and UTs mostly shifted their focus on curtailing the pandemic; which meant keeping the public safe in their homes, shutting down of most hospitals, clinics and pharmacies.

A survey also revealed that that child immunization hit a rock bottom as at least 1lakh (approx.) children had not received their BCG vaccination which protects against Tuberculosis. Another 2 lakhs (approx.) missed the pentavalent vaccine along with the rotavirus vaccine.

NHM data further shows that medical treatment for inpatient, outpatient as well as emergencies dropped drastically for all diseases. The Pandemic also halted the lab investigations and HIV screening for several days. A close look at the survey results indicates that in an attempt to hinder the spread of the pandemic and its deadly effects, more people became unwell during their period at home.


[1] S. K. Kapoor, International Law & Human Rights 800(Central Law Agency, Allahabad, 17th edition 2009).

[2] Supra note 6 at 886.

[3] Justice J.S. Verma, Second Justice M. Hidayatullah Memorial Lecture “Protecting Human

Rights through the Judicial Process” on 21 December 2002 at Raipur, 15,

[4] Himadri Buch, Coronavirus: India faces massive shortage of N95 masks, sanitizers, Money Control (Mar 05, 2020, 06:26 PM), https://www.moneycontrol.com/news/eye-on-india/videos/coronavirus-india-faces-massive-shortage-of-n95-masks-sanitisers-5000491.html


Written by –

Author Name – Aribba Siddique

Published on – 19/08/2020