13 May 2020
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has said the State must more clearly demonstrate that it is taking into account its human rights obligations in its response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Under the Irish Constitution, the European Convention of Human Rights and international human rights standards to which the State is a party, rights can be restricted for public health reasons, but only where the most minimal restrictions possible are used, and their necessity is demonstrated.
ICCL today wrote to the Minister for Health to urge him to demonstrate that the government is taking these obligations into account in its response to the pandemic, in particular before any decision to amend or extend the considerably expanded Garda powers of enforcement on 18 May.
ICCL’s Executive Director, Liam Herrick, said
“During the first phases of the public health restrictions on our rights, government and gardaí operated by consent – with high levels of successful compliance.
The expansion of police powers with the threat of arrest, huge fines and imprisonment hanging over the population is an extreme measure which must be justified. The Government must show that these powers are necessary to achieve the public health aims and that consent, advice and guidance are not sufficient. In fact, we note that the World Health Organisation has clearly stated coercion can be counter-productive in achieving public health goals during the pandemic.”
The public health needs are now changing. With the easing of measures, questions of essential work and essential travel will become more complex, and we believe the time has clearly come to remove these extraordinary police powers. If the Government has evidence to the contrary it should make its case before the Oireachtas and the people.
ICCL is calling for a full return to policing by consent and not coercion.
Many other human rights issues have arisen during the pandemic, either as a direct result of action by the State, or through a lack of adequate action.
The treatment of certain, already marginalised, communities could constitute violations of the right to equal treatment. People living in Direct Provision have not been facilitated to comply with social distancing, and in some cases may have been subjected to arbitrary detention.
Other communities living in congregated settings continue to be of concern and we believe more must be done to ensure these communities are protected.
The roll-out of a contact-tracing app continues apace. ICCL believes that questions remain about the efficacy of such an app and how the app will address privacy and data protection concerns. Publication of the app’s Data Protection Impact Assessment, source code and design specifications would go a long way to answer these questions and assuage any public concerns about the app. This is why ICCL has joined a group of experts calling for publication of the same. The app’s uptake will be proportional to the public’s trust in the app.
Spit hoods, full hoods which are used to forcibly cover a person’s head, were introduced and their use is now widespread. Use of these hoods could potentially constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. The normalisation of instruments such as these, as well as the normalisation of armed policing, is deeply concerning from a human rights perspective.
Notes for editors:
For information on derogation from rights, see article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/ccpr.aspx
See our letter to Minister Harris: https://www.iccl.ie/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/200513-ICCL-letter-to-Simon-Harris.pdf
See ICCL and other organisations’ call for a human rights impact assessment: https://www.iccl.ie/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/CSOs-letter-to-Taoiseach-calling-for-HRIA.pdf
See our joint letter to the Minister for Justice Caherciveen Direct Provision centre: https://www.iccl.ie/news/covid-and-direct-provision-joint-letter-to-the-department-of-justice/
See our joint letter regarding the HSE app: https://www.iccl.ie/news/hse-app-experts-and-public-need-to-see-details/
See ICCL’s letter to the Garda Commissioner re spit hoods: https://www.iccl.ie/iccl-letter-to-garda-commissioner-re-spit-hoods/
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties is Ireland’s oldest independent human rights monitoring organisation. We monitor, educate and campaign for all human rights for everyone.
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