Tracking tool – Impact of States of emergencies on civil and political rights

Published on 01 Apr 2020, 03:31 PM

The Centre has developed a tracking tool related to states of emergencies declared after the COVI-19 pandemic

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many states across the world are declaring states of emergencies. Many other states are not declaring states of emergencies, but have a de facto one in place. To track how those states of emergencies have an impact on civil and political rights, and whether the Human Rights Committee has been notified of the derogations to the ICCPR, the Centre for Civil and Political Rights has developed a tracking tool.

Data of the tracking tool

The tracking tool is based on primary and secondary sources collected by the CCPR and its partners. We refer to official sources if they are available online. This tool is meant as a global overview, and does not reflect all the nuances in every country, as that would make the dataset unclear.

The database is a work in progress, and we will be adding data gradually over the next few weeks. If you want to report inaccuracies or updates, contact us at leeckeloo@ccprcentre.org and smard@ccprcentre.org.

Conditions for derogations

Article 4 of the ICCPR

States can derogate from certain provisions of the ICCPR, but this is subjected to several safeguards, mentioned in article 4 ICCPR. In 2001, the Human Rights adopted a General Comment on states of emergencies, which explains in detail what the rights and obligations of State parties are. The following conditions must be respected:

  • Measures derogating from the provisions of the Covenant must be of an exceptional and temporary nature. States with an indefinite State of emergency are violating the ICCPR;
  • The situation must amount to a public emergency which threatens the life of the nation;
  • Proportionality: each measure taken must be limited to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation. This requirement relates to the duration, geographical coverage and material scope of the state of emergency and any measures of derogation resorted to because of the emergency;
  • Some articles cannot be derogated from, ever. The following rights are non-derogable: article 6 (right to life), article 7 (prohibition of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment, or of medical or scientific experimentation without consent), article 8, paragraphs 1 and 2 (prohibition of slavery, slave-trade and servitude), article 11 (prohibition of imprisonment because of inability to fulfil a contractual obligation), article 15 (the principle of legality in the field of criminal law), article 16 (the recognition of everyone as a person before the law), and article 18 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion);
  • Derogation measures should not be inconsistent with other obligations of the derogating state under international law;
  • Measures have to respect the principle of non-discrimination: "according to article 4, paragraph 1, one of the conditions for the justifiability of any derogation from the Covenant is that the measures taken do not involve discrimination solely on the ground of race, colour, sex, language, religion or social origin. Even though article 26 or the other Covenant provisions related to non-discrimination (articles 2, 3, 14, paragraph 1, 23, paragraph 4, 24, paragraph 1, and 25) have not been listed among the non-derogable provisions in article 4, paragraph 2, there are elements or dimensions of the right to non-discrimination that cannot be derogated from in any circumstances. In particular, this provision of article 4, paragraph 1, must be complied with if any distinctions between persons are made when resorting to measures that derogate from the Covenant."
  • Proclamation and notification: The State party must have officially proclaimed a state of emergency, and must immediately notify the other States parties about the measures they are taking, specifying from which articles of the ICCPR they are derogating and why, to the UN Secretary General. States cannot derogate from any rights without declaring a state of emergency: "the State party must have officially proclaimed a state of emergency. States parties should include full information about the measures taken and a clear explanation of the reasons for them, with full documentation attached regarding their law." It is important to note that the Committee monitors the law and practice of a State party and assesses its complaince with article 4, whether or not that State has notified the member States of its measures. 

So far, only a few States have notified the Human Rights Committee, while almost every country in the world is taking exceptional measures that limit the enjoyment of civil and political rights. You can check here (Treaty Reference for the ICCPR being IV-4) which States have sent their notification. On 1 April 2020, only Guatemala, Armenia, Latvia, Estonia and Ecuador have submitted a letter to the Committee.

Most States have now limited the freedom of movement and the right to peaceful assembly of its citizens, guaranteed in article 12 ICCPR: "In the opinion of the Committee, the possibility of restricting certain Covenant rights under the terms of, for instance, freedom of movement (article 12) or freedom of assembly (article 21) is generally sufficient during such situations and no derogation from the provisions in question would be justified by the exigencies of the situation". 

Other tracking tools

This website is a Digital Rights Tracker and documents whether States have taken measures that restrict digital rights. This includes digital tracking measures like apps that track movements, physical surveillance measures, censorship and internet shutdowns.

ICNL has developed a COVID-19 civic freedoms tracker, which monitors government responses to the pandemic that affects civic freedoms and human rights.

There have been reports of arbitrary arrests, targeting of vulnerable groups and very harsh penalties for “spreading fake news” or leaving quarantines. If you would like to get an overview of what has been happening, you can follow Twitteraccount @CovidStateWatch.

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