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Partner Spotlight: The Human Rights Dimensions of COVID-19

The Moria refugee camp in Greece, where overcrowding and unsanitary conditions pose a serious threat to asylum seekers in the face of COVID-19. Photo Credit: Human Rights Watch
April 23, 2020

This article is part of a “Partner Spotlight” series where we will be sharing the innovative ways SCSC partners are responding and adapting in light of COVID-19. 

Human Rights Watch (HRW) investigates and reports on abuses happening in all corners of the world, working to protect the most at risk, from vulnerable minorities and civilians in wartime, to refugees and children in need. HRW directs advocacy towards governments, armed groups and businesses, pushing them to change or enforce their laws, policies and practices.

The Samuel Family Foundation and SCSC have worked closely with HRW’s Disability Rights Division over the last few years to document the impact of social isolation on people with disabilities and older people. SCSC supported the publication of two reports: improper social care assessments of older people in the United Kingdom and the use of chemical restraint on older people with dementia in Australia. Our Social Connectedness Fellows have also worked with HRW to better understand social isolation facing older women in the Canadian workforce, migrants with disabilities in the Canadian legal system, and Indigenous youth in the Canadian justice system. This summer, SCSC will also be conducting in-house research in partnership with Human Rights Watch on the detention of forced migrants in Canada. 

In response to the global pandemic, Human Rights Watch has released a series of reports and resources on the human rights dimensions of COVID-19. Their research has produced a 40-question checklist that guides governments towards a human rights-respecting response to this health crisis, including measures such as affordable access to health care without discrimination and the equitable deployment of testing kits and ventilators. HRW has also released an overview of human rights challenges posed by the outbreak, highlighting the tensions between international human rights law and government responses across the globe to date. Their most recent report called attention to the dire conditions of refugee camps in Greece, which put older people, people with chronic conditions, and people with disabilities at great risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19.

Examining an issue closer to home in Canada, HRW has issued a call for governmental transparency and immediate action concerning the release of immigration detainees. Detainees face an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19 due to confined spaces and sparse health care services, in addition to the risk of contamination from security guards who may bring the virus into the facility from the outside world. Gros also emphasizes that released detainees should have access to appropriate accommodations, support, and health care. 

SCSC Founder Kim Samuel, who sits on the HRW Disability Rights Advisory Committee, has also co-authored recent opinion pieces with Emina Ćerimović, senior disability rights researcher at HRW, on the urgency to end human chaining and Bethany Brown, researcher in older persons rights at HRW, on concerns about COVID-19 visitor bans at aged care facilities in Australia. 

You can learn more about Human Rights Watch on their website and follow their updates on Facebook and Twitter.