HUMAN RIGHTS CONCERNS IN A PANDEMIC
Although sexual and gender-based violence is not uncommon in times of war or emergency as currently, we are fighting a war of survival from the virulent Covid-19 virus. The SGBV actors could be police or joint security forces engaged to enforce restriction orders by Federal and State Governments or it could be spouses who are now forced to stay home with their partners. There have been instances of soldiers killing in Delta state, Nigeria and some members of the military, manhandling those flaunting the stay at home order. I have however focused on some human right infractions in a broad spectrum that may be novel to us adapting from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and SIRACUSA PRINCIPLES.
The scale and severity of the COVID-19 pandemic clearly rises to the level of a public health threat that could justify restrictions on certain rights, such as those that result from the imposition of quarantine or isolation limiting freedom of movement. At the same time, careful attention to human rights such as non-discrimination and human rights principles as well as transparency and respect for human dignity can foster an effective response amidst the turmoil and disruption that inevitably results in times of crisis and limit the harm that can come from the imposition of overly broad measures.
HUMAN RIGHT CONCERNS: ENSURE QUARANTINE, LOCKDOWNS, AND TRAVEL BANS COMPLY WITH RIGHTS NORMS
International Human Rights law, notably the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), requires that restrictions on rights for reasons of public health or national emergency be lawful, necessary, and proportionate. Restrictions such as mandatory quarantine or isolation of symptomatic people must, at a minimum, be carried out in accordance with the law. They must be strictly necessary to achieve a legitimate objective, based on scientific evidence, proportionate to achieve that objective, neither arbitrary nor discriminatory in application, of limited duration, respectful of human dignity, and subject to review. The case in Nigeria to some extent is within the bounds of law and for determined period of 14 days as proclaimed by FG. Some states have toed the line although cases of Governors imposing restrictions on highways passing their territories even before FG declaration cannot be said to be within the law because highways are federal roads.
Recommendations: Governments should avoid sweeping and overly broad restrictions on movement and personal liberty, and only move towards mandatory restrictions when scientifically warranted and necessary and when mechanisms for support of those affected can be ensured.
When quarantines or lockdowns are imposed, governments are obligated to ensure access to food, water, health care, and care-giving support. Many older people and people with disabilities rely on uninterrupted home and community services and support. Ensuring continuity of these services and operations means that public agencies, community organizations, health care providers, and other essential service providers are able to continue performing essential functions to meet the needs of older people and people with disabilities.
ADDRESS DISPROPORTIONATE IMPACTS ON WOMEN AND GIRLS
Outbreaks of disease often have gendered impacts. Human Rights Watch found that the 2014 Ebola virus disease outbreak and the 2015-2016 outbreak of the mosquito-borne Zika virus in Brazil had particularly harmful impacts on women and girls and reinforced longstanding gender inequity. News reports and public health analysis suggest that COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting women in a number of ways.
Up to 95 percent of female workers in Nigeria work in the informal sector where there is no job security, and no safety net if a crisis like COVID-19 destroys their earnings. Informal work includes many occupations most likely to be harmed by a quarantine, social distancing, and economic slowdown, such as street vendors, goods traders, and seasonal workers. Women are also over-represented in service industries that have been among the hardest hit by the response to COVID-19.
Worldwide, 70 percent of health and social service providers are women – meaning women are at the front lines of containing the spread of COVID-19 and may be heavily exposed to the virus through work in the health sector.
Recommendations: Authorities should take steps to mitigate gendered impacts and ensure that responses do not perpetuate gender inequity.
Measures designed to assist workers affected by the pandemic should ensure the assistance of workers in informal work and service industries, who are predominantly women.
Governments should ensure public awareness campaigns address how victims of domestic violence can access services, and should ensure that services are available to all victims of domestic violence, including those living in areas under movement restrictions or under quarantine and those infected with COVID-19.
Governments should also support frontline health and social service care workers with the recognition that these workers are mostly women. Support should include consideration of their needs as caregivers within their own families and the impact of stigma on them and their families.
TARGET ECONOMIC RELIEF TO ASSIST LOW-WAGE WORKERS.
Governments should take policy measures to buffer the economic impacts of COVID-19, which will affect lower-wage workers first and hardest. Social distancing, quarantine, and the closure of businesses may have enormous economic consequences. The most vulnerable people are low-wage workers in low-income households. Governments should create mechanisms so that workers affected by COVID-19 do not suffer loss of income that might deter them from self-isolating to contain the spread of the virus.
Public health experts recommend that companies encourage employees to work from home to prevent the virus from spreading. However, remote work is not an option for millions of workers in fields like retail, restaurants, personal services, the gig economy and informal sectors. In these fields, employment situations are more precarious, wages tend to be lower, and in some countries, workers have low rates of paid sick leave or nonexistence of it. Particularly in countries such as Nigeria, hazard allowance for a medical doctor is $11 or #5,000. The current minimum wage is $71.42 or #30,000. Many states are yet to pay this paltry monthly token. There is also the issue of overcoming power supply challenges and this results to low productivity, low wage and low returns on investment.
Many governments guarantee some paid sick leave to all workers. Others – most notably the US and other developed economies do not. Low-wage earners, service workers, informal workers, and workers in the gig economy are among those least likely to have paid sick leave. The lack of paid sick and family leave means disease outbreaks like COVID-19 place an undue burden on poor and marginalized workers and exacerbate economic inequality and also contribute to gender inequity. To support families during the outbreak, sick and family leave should cover self-isolation and caregiving responsibilities during school and care facility closures.
Without assistance, these workers may face intense economic hardship, fall behind on debt payments and risk eviction. Simple one-off cash grants to families whose children receive free school meals or who are in receipt of specific family-related social security assistance could also help mitigate impacts on already-struggling families who now in addition to loss of income could face extra burdens, for example, due to school closures. European countries, including Italy, France, and Spain, are considering or have already adopted special financial measures to support workers, low-income families and small businesses. Nigeria can learn from them as the concept of trader money may not be sufficient for all categories of workers.
The Nigerian government directed its Humanitarian Ministry to make available its social Welfare in the form of Trader moni and unconditional payout to the most vulnerable to cushion the effect of the 14-day lockdown.
Unconditional tax cuts for employers and employee-side payroll tax cuts are often poorly targeted and may not reach those most in need. For the employer, tax cut will help in capital formation and would be able to retain the numbers of employees even after Covid 19 and this also falls within policy of financial inclusion by CBN. Also, expanded social insurance programs like unemployment may permit workers to stay on payroll and be paid when they cannot work because of a COVID-19 downturn.
To be continued.
This article was written by Oluwafisayo Ayita ESQ. He is a Human Rights Lawyer and works with Ayita Oluwafisayo Chambers which was registered to promote and protect Human Rights and Mediation Training Institute Nigeria. He is passionate about Rules of Law and Alternative Dispute Resolutions and is a Chartered Mediator and Conciliators by ICMC, Chartered Arbitrator UK, Chartered Tax Accountant CITN and Chartered Public Relations Professional NIPR. He’s on the Panel of Neutrals of the Abuja Multi-door Courthouse (AMDC). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org