Quarantine through the eyes of human rights | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 07, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 09:15 PM, April 07, 2020

Quarantine through the eyes of human rights

Freedom of movement is a classic human right. However, the same is not absolute and therefore can be curtailed on some occasions. Restrictions on freedom of movement are justified when they are imposed by law, are necessary to protect national security, public order, public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others, and when they are consistent with other human rights.

In the context of Bangladesh, the Constitution provides in Article 36 that subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the public interest, freedom of movement can be restricted. The rule of quarantine or isolation in our country also stems from the provisions of two laws, namely the Penal Code, 1860 and the Communicable Diseases (Prevention, Control and Elimination) Act, 2018. Moreover, the severity as well as scale of the COVID-19 pandemic evidently has already risen to the level of a public health emergency all over the world justifying restrictions on freedom of movement, thereby validating the imposition of quarantine or isolation, limiting freedom of movement.

Therefore, isolation or quarantine rule, if and when imposed in order to avoid contagion is in public interest, in compliance with public health and necessary to protect the rights and freedoms of others, is well within the rubric of human rights. However, the rule also needs to be in compliance with other human rights. Therefore, it cannot be imposed arbitrarily, in a discriminatory manner, as inconsistent with the principles of equality or in blatant disregard of other human rights (for instance right to food, shelter, prohibition on the use of arbitrary detention, freedom from torture and ill-treatment, etc).

In the context of COVID-19 pandemic, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has issued a guidance which requires the governments to "take urgent measures to help people without adequate housing." According to the OHCHR, "[g]ood practices for addressing people living in inadequate housing and the homeless include providing emergency housing (including using vacant and abandoned housing units, available short-term rentals) with services for those who are affected by the virus and must isolate." The OHCHR also requires the national authorities to "take particular care to prevent additional people from becoming homeless – for example as people face eviction when loss of income makes it impossible to pay mortgages and rents". The OHCHR further dictates that no one should be punished during the process of enforcement of quarantine rule, for the reason that they are homeless or live in inadequate housing.

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