UN human rights experts on Monday urged states to avoid overreach of security measures in their response to the coronavirus outbreak and reminded them that emergency powers should not be used to quash dissent.
"While we recognize the severity of the current health crisis and acknowledge that the use of emergency powers is allowed by international law in response to significant threats, we urgently remind States that any emergency responses to the coronavirus must be proportionate, necessary and non-discriminatory," the experts said.
Their appeal echoes the recent call by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to put #HumanRights at the centre of #CoronavirusOutbreak response.
The Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, according to a message received here from Geneva.
Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world.
Declarations of states of emergency, whether for health or security reasons, have clear guidance from international law, the UN experts said.
"The use of emergency powers must be publicly declared and should be notified to the relevant treaty bodies when fundamental rights including movement, family life and assembly are being significantly limited."
Moreover, they said, emergency declarations based on the Covid-19 outbreak should not be used as a basis to target particular groups, minorities, or individuals.
It should not function as a cover for repressive action under the guise of protecting health nor should it be used to silence the work of human rights defenders.
"Restrictions taken to respond to the virus must be motivated by legitimate public health goals and should not be used simply to quash dissent," they said.
Some States and security institutions may find the use of emergency powers attractive because it offers shortcuts, the experts said.
"To prevent such excessive powers to become hardwired into legal and political systems, restrictions should be narrowly tailored and should be the least intrusive means to protect public health."
Finally, in countries where the virus is waning, authorities must seek to return life to normal and must avoid excessive use of emergency powers to indefinitely regulate day-to-day life, they said.
"We encourage States to remain steadfast in maintaining a human rights-based approach to regulating this pandemic, in order to facilitate the emergence of healthy societies with rule of law and human rights protections," the UN experts said.
Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work.
They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.