On 10th December 2020, Rwanda joined the International Community to commemorate the 72nd anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that happened in the period when the word is shaken by the COVID-19 pandemic, which obviously has negative impact on human rights. The theme of the year was “Recover Better, Stand up for Human Rights” and was related to COVID-19 pandemic which has adversely affected human rights and therefore focused on the need of building back better by putting human rights at the core of recovery.
The outbreak of COVID-19 was a global concern which culminated into a human rights issue. That called the National Commission for Human Rights to conduct an assessment on the impact of COVID-19 on human rights, from March to October 2020. The results of that assessment were presented to participants on that commemoration day.
The Commission noted that the country has done its most effort to respect human rights but also to implement COVID-19 protection measures, only to point out that there have been instances where various institutions have deviated from human rights.
The Commission said that there have been some cases where things have gone wrong, where some people have been using excessive force. But the good thing was that the perpetrators have been prosecuted, some others have been tried in the courts, and people have been convicted at the time in general.
The Commission added that although some of the measures adopted to combat the virus may have affected the enjoyment of human rights in different ways, it was important to appreciate that the responses adopted by the government were aimed at mitigating the adverse impact of the spread of the Covid-19. Some measures included restrictions of movement, closing of schools, borders and businesses. Such measures seriously affected many people. However, there are some improvements that still need to be done to ensure that the theme of the year to ‘build back better’ by putting human rights at the core of recovery is realized.
The Chairperson of the Commission, MUKASINE Marie Claire, said that “While the work and resources that the government has invested in fighting and mitigating the spread of the COVID-19 must be acknowledged, this was also an opportunity to use the experiences learned to prepare better for future emergencies of similar magnitude. She commended the effort in the battle against the pandemic and suggested that the government should use the experience to enact an emergency health bill that is clear and will make the entire process even much easier so that the government is even more ready if something like this happens again”.
The Chairperson concluded by emphasizing the need for the government to continue explaining about the pandemic because the general population are a better ally when they are armed with the right information.
In his remark, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Busingye Johnston, said that “Rwanda had fought COVID-19 and human rights abuses but that the impact on human rights could be very limited. He added that people should avoid COVID-19 because it itself deprives them of many rights including life”. He explained that the relationship between COVID-19 and human rights is clear and understandable, and that the virus is a health problem, because it can take lives, and it has done so in many countries around the world and in Rwanda. He was pleased that the government has put in place special treatment programs for inmates with disabilities, especially since their families are not allowed to visit them to bring them as much food as they can.
The Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Busingye Johnston, ended by saying that the country will continue to do its most to fight COVID-19 and human rights abuses.
The United Nations Resident Coordinator in Rwanda, Fodé Ndiaye, reminded that COVID-19 continues to kill many and affecting the socio-economic activities of most countries and affecting humanitarian development. Therefore, it is increasing poverty, rising inequalities, vulnerabilities, sexual and gender-based violence and other gaps in human rights protection.
He said that robust efforts in cooperation among states, enhancing the solidarity among the institutions and countries are required to overcome the challenges caused by COVID-19.