In a statement issued on 22 April, CSW has urged states around the world to adhere to rule of law and protect fundamental rights and freedoms, including the right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB), as they adopt unprecedented measures to limit the spread of Covid-19.
“In these exceptional circumstances, saving lives will depend on rapid and effective government interventions and the temporary imposition of limitations on certain rights, including on the freedoms of religion or belief, assembly and association. While recognising and supporting legitimate limitations on public health grounds, it is also important to ensure these essential derogations are applied in a non-discriminatory manner; that they remain in place for no longer than the minimum period necessary to contain the spread of the virus, and that they are not instrumentalised to undermine the future enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms.”
In the statement CSW also called on states to immediately address any vilification of religious groups whenever it occurs, pointing out that “In the current climate religious communities that regularly experience violations may be targeted further, including with accusations of being ‘carriers’ of the virus.”
The statement highlights the importance of ensuring that vulnerable groups such as those in refugee and IDP camps, and overcrowded prisons or irregular detention centres, are not overlooked. In addition, the need to guarantee freedom of expression and access to information is emphasised alongside a call to ensure the well-being of human rights defenders, including those who investigate or document virus-related rights abuses.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: “The Covid-19 pandemic is having a profound effect on every nation. While fully understanding the need for states to adopt extraordinary measures that may limit certain rights and freedoms, we nevertheless urge them to ensure transparency and adhere to the rule of law. Unfortunately this pandemic also poses a specific threat to marginalised religious communities, which may now be at even greater risk. We therefore call for greater vigilance on the part of the international community to ensure that faith groups that ordinarily experience violations are afforded the same protections as others, and that any measures undertaken to combat the spread of Covid-19 are not exploited by authoritarian governments to consolidate power by curtailing fundamental rights and freedoms indefinitely.”