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Human rights implications of COVID-19

OTTAWA, Canada – François-Philippe Champagne, minister of foreign affairs, and Karina Gould, minister of international development, issued the following statement:

“The spread of COVID-19 has demanded that governments around the world take unprecedented steps to protect their citizens. In more than 90 countries, including Canada, this has meant restricting personal movement in an effort to limit the transmission of the disease.

“We are concerned about the risk of discrimination, excessive use of force and violations of fundamental rights and freedoms that have already occurred in some countries during the implementation of lockdowns and mandatory isolation. While the need to protect public health is vital, it is imperative to ensure that these measures are not used to undermine the fundamental civil liberties and human rights of all people.

“Promoting and protecting these essential liberties and rights is and will remain, a priority for the government of Canada. To that end, we urge all states to ensure that restrictions on movement and peaceful assembly are grounded in legitimate public health concerns and are not used to infringe on the people’s essential freedoms. While we are all called upon to sacrifice some parts of our normal lives, we must remain vigilant that this requirement is not abused or taken advantage of.

“We must all do what we can to prevent the tragedy of this pandemic from being compounded by allowing it to be exploited to persecute vulnerable communities. Over the course of this crisis, the government of Canada will work to ensure that vulnerable and marginalized communities, including refugees, internally displaced people, and migrants, indigenous, LGBTQ2I , and religious and ethnic minority communities, are not victimized under the cover of public health.

“Furthermore, we recognize that isolating at home can be very difficult for many families. For people facing domestic and sexual and gender-based violence, COVID-19 has created a perfect storm of isolation, stress, and fear. Gender-based and child-protection services are essential and life-saving, and we urge governments around the world to prioritize and integrate these critical services in all responses related to COVID-19.

“Canada has taken a gender-based approach to its response both domestically and internationally. Canada also took concrete steps to address domestic violence and is joining the United Nations secretary-general’s call on domestic violence.

“Protecting public health and respecting human rights are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they cannot be separated as they go hand in hand toward ensuring the health, safety, and security of our communities and our countries. Together, we can respond to the COVID-19 pandemic swiftly and decisively, but also with compassion, inclusivity and respect for the fundamental rights of everyone.” 

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