HRC: protect the vulnerable


Bermuda’s human rights watchdog today asked community leaders to protect the vulnerable after major restrictions were imposed to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

The Human Rights Commission said that the homeless, abuse victims and people with mental health problems were among those most at risk from changes to the law to limit freedom of movement to combat Covid-19.

A HRC spokeswoman said: “The commission stands ready to provide guidance and work with the Government, industry associations, businesses and individuals in accordance with our statutory mandate.

“The exercise of powers by Government officials under the emergency coronavirus legislation needs to be in alignment with human rights principles and the Commission will be undertaking an independent review of the legislation from this perspective in the coming weeks.”

The Government has imposed quarantine measures for airline passengers and told people to stay at home.

It has also issued closure notices to most businesses, reduced opening hours for others and limited gatherings to no more than ten people.

The HRC spokeswoman said public and private-sector organisations should honour human rights obligations and “consider the potential disproportionate impacts of Covid-19 on the vulnerable groups that they employ or serve”.

She said: “Within our community, there are individuals living in shelters, on the street or at risk of homelessness, adults and children seeking refuge from domestic violence, persons with disabilities and those with health conditions, individuals with mental health issues, older individuals living alone or in care facilities, and individuals in correctional institutions.

“There are individuals who are disproportionately in low-paying, hourly-wage, benefit-free and otherwise precarious jobs that make them unable to provide care or interrupt work.

“They are also more likely to have limited access to stable healthy housing, child care, transportation and health insurance. As a society, we must ensure that they are not forgotten or ignored.”

The spokeswoman added human rights laws gave a clear framework to help the Government, trade and industry associations, charities and businesses “determine what are reasonable restrictions and what are not”.

She said: “Protections that complement or enhance our hard-won rights will maximise consent and compliance, and ultimately best safeguard public health.

“Changes of such magnitude should be proportionate and measured, and rooted in science and the law. They must have clear review and end points, be flexible to specific needs, and remain fully open to transparent challenge.”

The spokeswoman added: “For many people, the restrictions to everyday life will be hugely disruptive, but ultimately manageable. For others, though, the implications could be profound.

“At the commission, we believe that it is possible to protect human rights while saving lives and protecting public health and safety.

“We will continue to receive and process discrimination and harassment complaints.

“We will continue to serve the residents of Bermuda and advocate for a society where everyone is valued and respected.”

The HRC can be contacted at 295-5859 or by e-mail to humanrights@gov.bm.

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Published Mar 26, 2020 at 12:09 pm (Updated Mar 26, 2020 at 2:16 pm)

HRC: protect the vulnerable

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