GOVERNMENTS have the right to restrict protests on public health grounds, the United Nations Human Rights Committee has said, when it stepped in to formulate its legal interpretation, having seen a gap in the international norms being tested even before the Covid-19 pandemic.
But with the proliferation of Black Lives Matter protests and other demonstrations when authorities are trying to stem the spread of Covid-19, the matter has become more pressing.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, signed by 173 countries, including the United States and China, has always allowed for restrictions to be placed on the rights of peaceful assembly on grounds including public health. The new document, called a “general comment”, confirmed that.
“The protection of ‘public health’ ground may exceptionally permit restrictions to be imposed, for example, where there is an outbreak of an infectious disease and gatherings are dangerous,” the report said.
The document’s author, Christ of Heyns, said the legal interpretation was intended to set out the “rules of the game not just for protesters, but for police”.
In Zimbabwe, some vigilante groups that masquerade as opposition activists have been inciting people to pour out into the streets and demonstrate, ostensibly against corruption but really to subvert the constitutionally-elected Government.
But with the Covid-19 confirmed cases reaching 3 092 last night, with 53 deaths after 12 new deaths were recorded in just one day, the health risks are high.
Of the total 2 042 are local infections and 11 of the 12 new deaths were in Harare, which has now overtaken Bulawayo as the most seriously hit province. The proposed demonstrations would accelerate the rate of infection of Covid-19, cases of which are increasing on a daily basis in the country.
More than half a million people have died from the pandemic worldwide, with infections now nearing 20 million cases. To curb the spread of the contagion governments worldwide have put in place different measures that limit people’s liberties.