Right to freedom of movement under the Fijian Constitution can be restricted in the interests of public health - Raj

Right to freedom of movement under the Fijian Constitution can be restricted in the interests of public health - Raj

By Vijay Narayan
Friday 03/04/2020
Director of Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission Ashwin Raj

The Director of Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission Ashwin Raj says we all have the right to freedom of movement guaranteed under the Fijian Constitution however, this right can be restricted in the interests of public health.

Raj says the requirement to stay at home initially in Lautoka and now Suva is intended to meet a legitimate social need as it is in the interests of public health.

Raj says the written law to allow this is the Public Health Act.

He also says the step taken is proportionate to the social need as it is to prevent widespread infection and to save lives.

Raj also says the restriction impairs the right as little as possible.

The Director also says the human rights implications of COVID-19 is not only limited to rights and freedoms as it pertains to freedom of movement.

Raj says some of the other human rights issues include : the right to freedom of speech, expression and publication and the need to balance that right with responsibility to ensure that what we say is actually fact based, it does not lead to panic and harm and has the effect of compromising national security or resulting in the diminution of rights and freedoms of others, ensuring access to critical information in a timely and transparent manner including its availability in the vernacular and accessible to those with disabilities and those who are on the margins of our society such as the poor.

He says we should ensure that health data is handled with sensitivity and ensuring the right to privacy, address discrimination, racism and xenophobia particularly when people are apportioning blame on individuals for bringing the virus on the basis of their religion, ethnicity, or place of origin or what they eat.

Ashwin Raj also says that we should ensure access to food, water, health care and care giving support in areas that are under lockdown and quarantine, ensure protection of the most vulnerable such as those in places of detention such as prisons and police stations as these places pose a higher risk since everyone is in close proximity and ensure the rights of arrested and detained persons as that can be a challenge in this context given the risks of exposure.

Raj also says we should ensure the rights of children, women, the elderly, persons with disabilities, and the homeless who are disproportionately affected because they might be in situations of vulnerabilities such as domestic violence, abuse, neglect poverty and destitution, ensure access to clean water and sanitation, ensure economic relief for the most vulnerable such as low wage earners and protect our health workers and law enforcement officers who are on the frontline.

Ashwin Raj says COVID-19 will have (and indeed has already had) a disproportionate impact on a broad range of civil and political as well as economic, social and cultural rights and our ability to realise these rights.

He says more than ever, we must stand in solidarity in the face of stigma, discrimination, racism and xenophobia, carefully weigh our actions in the context of the rule of law, our human rights and freedoms and the responsibilities that come with it.

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