I have always been starkly critical of the United Nations (UN). They are an imperfect organization that often-times gets a little too involved in International Affairs. As an organization, the UN is a threat to sovereignty — however, with that said, the UN does provide an international standard for Human Rights which is an invaluable resource for discussing human rights across the world.
I’m fairly proud of my A+ in my university-level Human Rights class… if that’s something to be proud about. I’m adding this to the post so that you know that I’m not coming into this topic with a tiny bit of internet research and a bone to pick. I’ve spent a lot of money and time for the privilege to discuss human rights (I think I’m crazy).
In my fairly educated opinion, COVID-19 isolation and quarantine measures are a violation of human rights. Whether or not we agree with their use and impact (“flattening the curve”), I do not think it is debatable that the COVID-19 measures are human-rights violations. It is up to the citizens of the world to decide if they are willing to accept the validity of these rights being infringed upon. Historically speaking, times of war and crisis (think “war measures act”) have led to situations where human rights are temporarily suspended – but make no mistake, the reason the human rights are infringed upon does not change that the right has been suspended.
Sovereign nations ignore the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights all the time – asylum seekers are sometimes banned from countries, freedom of movement is restricted, especially in countries like China, and the right to life and liberty (article 1) is curtailed in numerous scenarios.
The following rights, in my opinion, are infringed upon by COVID-19, some to lesser degrees than others, and of course are subject to interpretation and debate.
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.
There are stories of people being arrested for breaking isolation – while this is not necessarily arbitrary, the new isolation laws have been enacted very quickly. Of course, isolation is being used to protect the greater public from the virus – but to what end? How do we choose who must isolate? New laws, especially emergency measures do not have the same precedents and have not been tried and tested by stare decisis. Cops fining families over $800 for going rollerblading (Global News), neighbours tattling for going outside, etc, all seems very arbitrary – this is especially concerning when Prime Minister Trudeau (Edmonton Journal) and Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer (National Post) are still going on vacations and shipping their families across the country. These laws are obviously arbitrary and by no means impartial.
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.
Right now, self-isolating from my apartment (which is basically my day to day life COVID-19 or not, so don’t feel sorry for me), I am questioning the government saying people should not travel for “un-essential” reasons. What is essential? Apparently, it is not essential to visit family (unless you’re Trudeau). Nova Scotia (and New Brunswick) have introduced self-isolation for interprovincial travel, and “[n]ew arrivals in the province have to self-isolate for 14 days” (The Globe and Mail). I personally am from Nova Scotia and live in New Brunswick. Not that this matters, as the governments have already said not to visit family and friends interprovincial or not.
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
The closure of churches – and asking families not to recognize Easter (or any other holiday) is a human-rights issue. Closing churches is never okay in a human-rights standpoint. Yes, it’s for the safety of the public, and yes, many people are okay with losing this right for a while to help their community – but that does not change that it’s a human rights violation to stop families from worshiping. This also applies to the Jewish recognizing Passover and every other religion that has holidays or daily worship that is no longer possible.
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
(2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.
We all have the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. Unless they’re gatherings of 5 or 20 people or more (depending where you are). This right has obviously been infringed upon by COVID-19. We also are no longer allowed to protest this right with free speech since we will be arrested for a large group. These COVID-19 regulations have deeper implications than public health. Rights we once enjoyed – especially the right to fight back with protesting are quashed under the guise of “public health and safety”.
I am by no means minimizing the impact of COVID-19 and other viruses. Personally, I think the time to act was months ago. The borders should have been shut down sooner. Testing should have been more wide-spread (now the tests are sort of like a band-aid on a bullet wound – it’s already here, it’s already spread). Of course, this measure would have been questionable under Article 13, in which, “[e]veryone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.” Canadians have been left abroad for long periods of time in some circumstances – and more would have been with border closures. Human rights are always in balance with other considerations. The point is to always question which rights are being infringed upon and why.
How much are we willing to give up for public safety?
Is there not a way to defend public health where we protect the vulnerable – ie. have them be the ones to isolate, provide extra support, and allow the young and healthy population to make their own decisions? Perhaps not. It is still important to talk about it instead of providing arbitrary rules we all must blindly follow. Government was never meant to have this much power.