Impact of Covid-19 on Fundamental Human Rights
According to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Nigeria on 27 February 2020. At the time this press release was issued, the pandemic had been recorded in 12 states and 2 persons were already dead, while 139 persons were already infected with 9 discharged after recovery.
As a response to the covid-19 pandemic, several measures were put in place by the federal and state government to restrict the movement of persons and curtail activities such as political, religious or social gatherings and even economic activities.
Furthermore, These Regulations and Measures empowered the security agencies to ensure compliance and enforcement of the stay-at-home order. The National Human Rights Commission given its mandate for the promotion and protection of human rights, issued an advisory on 30th March to the security agencies to respect human rights in the enforcement of covid-19 regulations.
On the 31st of March, the NHRC also gave directives to the staff of the commission, CSOs and members of the public to document and report to the commission any security agents violating human rights in their law enforcement duties while enforcing covid-19 regulations. In answering this, calls were placed and videos were sent to the commission by members of the public.
This report documented incidents of human rights violations allegedly perpetrated by security agencies and sexual and gender-based violence by other actors during the initial lockdown period. This report went further to document the various thematic areas in which the violations occurred, the nature of the violation, the disaggregated data on states where the violations were reported, and the agencies of government responsible for the violation as well as action/remedy/response taken to remedy these violations.
Having known how COVID-19 came into Nigeria it is important to know the impact of COVID-19 on the fundamental human right of Nigerians. And also determine if there was in fact a violation of the fundamental human rights of Nigerians during this pandemic. As such, some questions are going to be raised.
Firstly, were the fundamental human rights of Nigerians violated during the COVID-19 lockdown and pandemic? Secondly, was there a use of excessive force by security forces/agencies while enforcing COVID-19 lockdowns and curfews?
Going further, the lockdown Regulations have impacted the right to life in that security agents enforcing the orders have used this as an opportunity to unjustifiably kill people. Two weeks after the imposition of lockdown, security forces enforcing it killed 18 Nigerians, while COVID 19 killed 12 persons within the same period. This shows that the Violation of the fundamental human rights of citizens particularly the right to life, killed more citizens than the main threat of covid-19.
Furthermore, The Nigeria Correctional Service was responsible for 8 deaths while the Nigeria Police Force was responsible for 7 deaths, some as a result of police brutality. This indicates that significant breaches of people’s fundamental rights occurred during the COVID-19 lockdowns and curfews implementations, especially within the first month of its implementation.
Furthermore, 33 incidents of torture, inhumane and degrading treatments, 27 incidents of violation of the right to freedom of movement, unlawful arrests and detention. 19 incidents of seizure/confiscation of properties, 13 incidents of extortion, 4 incidents of sexual gender-based violence, and 1 incident of discrimination in the distribution of food items.
Most notable incident of human rights breaches and violations that occurred during covid-19 was the incident that occurred on 20th October 2020, where security forces opened fire on unarmed protesters during the ‘Endsars’ protest thereby killing 12 Nigerians in the process. A total of 51 citizens lost their lives, along with 11 policemen and 7 soldiers.
The incidents mentioned above show that various human rights violations arose as a result of excessive or disproportionate use of force, abuse of power, corruption and failure to adhere to international and national human rights laws and best practices by law enforcement agents.
Going further, COVID-19 lockdown palliatives or social incentives from the Nigerian Government meant for the most vulnerable never reached the majority. This gave rise to a large number of complaints around the world. As it negates part of the provisions of the International Bill of Rights, which enshrines the right to health, among other things. Thus, there was indeed a violation of the fundamental human right of Nigerians during COVID-19.
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The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet seeing the rate of human rights abuses being reported across the globe was annoyed and therefore warned that countries and governments must be reminded at all times that emergency response to the coronavirus must respect peoples Fundamental Human Rights.
The UN also warned tacitly that some countries are flouting peoples’ human rights in the guise of checkmating coronavirus spread and calling it a human rights disaster. According to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, such countries should desist from infringing on people’s fundamental rights in the implementation of their emergency measures.
This warning was followed by a UN report which mentioned 15 countries where allegations of COVID-19 lockdown enforcement human rights abuses were rampant. Amongst these countries, Nigeria made it to the top. Followed by Kenya where 6 persons lost their lives at the hands of law enforcement officers.
Some of the rights that were violated during covid-19 fall under the armpit, purview and umbrella of Fundamental Human Rights enshrined in Chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria. As such the violations of these rights also negates the provisions of Article 20 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, Article 9 of the African Charter