Principles for Protecting Civil and Political Rights in the Fight against Covid-19

Travelers at the airport amid coronavirus pandemic

International travelers wait in line before meeting with U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Field Operations officers at the airport amid the coronavirus pandemic. Via Wikimedia Commons

The Covid-19 pandemic presents a grave threat to public health, but emergency measures adopted to combat the dangers can also have discriminatory impacts and harmful effects, and can be extended and repurposed after a crisis has passed. Freedom House calls on governments to protect civil and political rights during and after the pandemic by following these principles:

  1. Any emergency restrictions should be clearly communicated, enacted in a transparent manner, well grounded in law, necessary to serve a legitimate purpose, and proportionate to the threat.
  2. Emergency restrictions affecting basic rights, including freedoms of assembly, association, or internal movement, should be limited in duration, subject to independent oversight, and imposed and extended based only on transparent criteria. Individuals should have the opportunity to seek remedies and compensation for any unnecessary or disproportionate rights violations committed during the crisis.
  3. New or expanded surveillance programs that use emerging technologies or collect individuals’ personal information, including that obtained from private companies, must be administered in an open and transparent manner, scientifically necessary to limit the spread of disease, limited in duration, subject to independent oversight, and “firewalled” from other commercial and governmental uses such as law enforcement and enforcement of immigration policies.
  4. A free press is especially vital during times of emergency. There should be no state censorship or other undue restrictions on the free flow of information. All efforts must be made to provide and maintain access to the internet and other communication platforms. Criminal penalties for distributing false information are disproportionate and prone to arbitrary application and abuse. Instead, governments should counter any falsehoods by delivering clear, accurate, and up-to-date information.
  5. Every feasible step should be taken to protect the administration of free and fair elections, including by adjusting voter-registration rules and polling-station procedures, encouraging early voting, and allowing vote-by-mail or other remote voting procedures where their integrity can be assured. Postponement of elections should only be a last resort, and should be supported by law and a broad consensus among political forces and independent experts.