The Toll of COVID-19 on Human Rights: Selected Countries and Territories Worldwide


The coronavirus outbreak was labelled a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on 11 March 2020. As of 22 June 2020, the WHO had reported cases of COVID-19 in more than 216 countries and more than 8,844,171 people infected worldwide.

At this time, there are no specific vaccines or treatments for COVID-19. However, there are many ongoing clinical trials evaluating potential treatments. In this regard, the WHO is providing updated information and data about all medical aspects of the pandemic.

From a regulative perspective, the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health was first articulated at the international level in the 1946 Constitution of the World Health Organization and recognised in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) as well as in the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which states that governments are obligated to take effective steps for the prevention, treatment, and control of epidemic, endemic, occupational, and other diseases.

The right to health is an inclusive right and, as reported in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the WHO Fact Sheet No. 31, it contains freedom; entitlements which include the right to prevention, treatment, and control of diseases; equal and timely access to basic health services; the provision of health-related education and information; and participation of the population in health-related decision-making at the national and community levels.

With regard to government responses to disease prevention or control and to national emergencies, human rights law also recognises that in these contexts restrictions on some rights can be justified when they have a legal basis, when they are strictly necessary, based on scientific evidence and neither arbitrary nor discriminatory in application, of limited duration, respectful of human dignity, subject to review, and proportionate to achieve the objective. The scale and severity of the COVID-19 pandemic clearly rises to the level of a public health threat, which could lead to government responses that restrict certain rights for reasons of public health. However, even if these restrictions can affect any country, in those ruled by authoritarian regimes they can pose a heightened threat of grave and systematic human rights abuse.

This document provides an overview of human rights and freedom concerns posed by the coronavirus outbreak in several countries where we operate, notably China, Kazakhstan, Iran, Moldova, the Russian Federation,Turkey, and the illegally occupied territories of Donbas and Crimea. These countries are characterised by an authoritarian form of government where patterns of human rights violations can be routinely observed, namely media censorship, information manipulation and government-controlled press, political incarceration of dissenting voices, widespread use of torture in prisons, and systemic repression of fundamental freedoms, in particular of freedom of expression and assembly. In this respect, it is important to emphasise that although Moldova cannot be compared to consolidated dictatorships like Kazakhstan or China, Freedom House classifies Moldova as “a hybrid regime with clear elements of an authoritarian regime”. The reason for this is the persistent corrupt legacy of Vladimir Plahotniuc, the recently ousted Moldovan oligarch and long-time de facto ruler in the country, which still affects the country’s path towards a consolidated democracy.

The Report in PDF-format is available down: