Exploring the wide-reaching impacts of the pandemic on fundamental freedoms
The emergence of the pandemic has had a strong impact on fundamental rights globally. This pillar explores the impact and state of play of COVID-19 restrictions on fundamental freedoms and the strategies to overcome these, especially regarding the freedoms of peaceful assembly, association and expression, and the right to defend human rights. For public policy to advance out of the COVID crisis, it is necessary to identify how the health crisis impacted fundamental rights. As governments introduced emergency measures in response to the pandemic, a host of challenges arose for human rights and their defenders. For example, sudden limitations on the fundamental freedoms of peaceful assembly and association accelerated pre-existing global trends of shrinking civic space; the shifting of civic space online brought new avenues for repression and challenges to freedom of expression; and for persons deprived of liberty, certain measures deteriorated the enjoyment of their rights and increased the risks of rights abuses behind closed doors.
These challenges that emerged as a result of the pandemic have, in many cases, exacerbated existing problems, while also bringing about new challenges for those who defend and protect human rights. However, the response of civil society and human rights defenders (HRDs) has been one of admirable adaptation and resilience. They have shown initiative in their response and as a result, new opportunities for human rights advocacy and participation have emerged. In these sessions, the lessons learned will be discussed and debated, with the aim of seeing where improvements are needed, and building solidarity between HRDs and civil society organisations across the globe. Civil society and HRDs play a key role in restoring the fundamental freedoms that were restricted under the pandemic and in finding ways to emerge stronger.