South Africa: The Covid-19 Lockdown Does Not Mean Human Rights Have Been Suspended

South African Police shut down spaza shops in Govan Mbeki Township in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

There's a fine line between enforcing the Covid-19 lockdown and violating the human rights of South African citizens. The government would do well to remind itself that constitutional rights still apply.

A non-government organisation called Hola Bon Renaissance (HBR) Foundation has approached the Constitutional Court seeking a declaration that the lockdown currently underway in South Africa is unnecessary and unconstitutional.

The HBR Foundation claims President Cyril Ramaphosa's lockdown declaration violated peoples' rights to human dignity, freedom of movement, freedom of trade, occupation and profession, and access to healthcare, food and water. In essence, the HBR Foundation is challenging from a human rights point of view the government's response to Covid-19.

It will be interesting to know how the Constitutional Court rules in the case.

I am indebted to Human Rights Watch (HRW) for its recently published document "Human Rights Dimensions of Covid-19 Response", which calls for governments to respect and protect human rights and peoples' freedoms in their responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. A concern expressed by HRW is that lengthy quarantines and lockdowns may sometimes be indiscriminate and unconstitutional.

Below I consider some of the issues identified in the HRW document, with a specific focus on nine points that...

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