Monthly Human Rights Round-up – April

By Brianna Cox, Celeste Rebecchi, Lachlan Cameron and Zoë Tripovich

Presenting the Castan Centre’s monthly human rights round-up, highlighting some of the month’s most important human rights news articles, and upcoming events. 


In Australia 

COVID-19 and Human Rights in Australia 

What Australia’s ‘extreme’ new coronavirus laws and police powers mean for our civil liberties – The New Daily

On Sunday night, Scott Morrison tightened gathering restrictions to no more than two people. NSW, Victoria and Tasmania have announced that they will be enforcing this new law with penalties of up to 6 months in jail or fines of up to $11,000 in NSW, $1600 in Victoria and $16,800 in Tasmania. Civil liberties experts have raised concerns over the impact this extreme new law has on the right to freedom of movement, warning that enforcement must be vigilantly monitored to prevent misuse of the powers it confers. 

5 concerns with Australia’s policing during COVID-19Amnesty International 

Restrictions on our freedom of movement are an important way to protect the community during a pandemic. Our government must however ensure that rights are not ‘needless diminished’. Amnesty International Australia has investigated police enforcement of lockdown and isolation measures, and raised five critical concerns with Australia’s approach to policing during COVID-19.

‘“Pandemic drones”: Useful for enforcing social distancing, or for creating a police state?The Conversation 

The Western Australia police force has announced plans to deploy drones to enforce social distancing. Drones have also been used for this purpose in China, as well as for medical and food deliveries. While they are currently a useful tool in combating COVID 19, they also have the potential to be used as a sinister means of social control if they are not reigned in once the pandemic passes. 

Coronavirus is a ticking time bomb for the Australian prison systemThe Guardian

As the threat of COVID-19 remains, concerns have been raised about the risk of the virus reaching already overpopulated and vulnerable prison populations. This threat has been recognised in overseas jurisdictions such as the UK and the US, who have opted for the temporary release of prisoners to protect the health and wellbeing of the community, prison staff and inmates themselves. Approaches within Australia have however varied between states and territories. 

Senate Select Committee A Waste of Time, Unless It Has Human Rights FrameworkAmnesty International 

In April, the Australian Government announced the planned establishment of a cross-party Senate Select Committee into the government’s response to Covid-19. Amnesty International has responded by welcoming the committee, but urging the government to recognise the necessity of including a human rights framework in the Committee’s terms of reference. Unless human rights is put at the centre of the Government’s response, vulnerable groups will continue to be overlooked.

Coronavirus and ‘domestic terrorism’: how to stop family violence under lockdown The Conversation 

Discussion and analysis of the prevalence and seriousness of escalating family violence during Covid 19 isolation, and how it can be likened to a form of ‘domestic terrorism’. There is a need for more safe housing for victims of domestic violence, and it may be beneficial to introduce legislation to criminalise ‘coercive control’ as is the case in the UK, as this is often the first stage of an eight-stage pattern in intimate partner homicides.

SA reproductive rights experts worried coronavirus is creating more barriers to abortionABC News 

Reproductive rights groups in South Australia have highlighted that the restrictions imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have increased barriers to reproductive rights and critical healthcare services for women. The organisations have called for access to abortion through telehealth consultations, as has been possible in some overseas jurisdications. 

There are fears coronavirus is stopping Australia’s migrant women from accessing abortionsSBS News

Health providers have raised concerns that migrant women are losing access to abortion in Australia due to the increased financial hardship brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Factors such as job losses, differing abortion laws between states and territories, limited access to state healthcare support and unavailability of financial assistance are providing barriers to the exercise of reproductive rights. 

COVID-19, surveillance and the threat to your rightsAmnesty International

Amnesty looks at the legality of different measures of data surveillance during COVID, such as using personal location data, artificial intelligence such as facial recognition technologies, and big data tools which are being sold to governments by private surveillance companies to assist in mapping people’s movements. The article discusses the use of apps and the issues around publication of infected individuals personal location data such as in South Korea.

Contact tracing app could help combat coronavirus, but privacy fears remainThe New Daily

The Morrison government is asking Australians to download a coronavirus contact tracing app to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Civil liberties experts have raised concerns about the government collecting personal data and information, and the impact this will have on privacy. Other human rights law experts argue that the app will not necessarily impinge on privacy if it is properly regulated.

Australia has COVIDSafe. Here is how other countries are using contact tracing apps in the fight against coronavirusABC News

In response to the pandemic, the Australian Government has released ‘COVIDSafe’, a contact tracing mobile phone app that aims to support containment of the virus. This article examines how the unique approaches adopted by overseas jurisdictions, and the lessons we can learn from their experience. 

Refugee brings court case over threat of Covid-19 in Australian detentionThe Guardian 

A refugee currently held in immigration detention with a chronic illness has launched a case in the high court seeking his release into the community to protect him from the serious risk of contracting COVID-19. The case is the first of its kind, and has the potential to set an important precedent for cases involving men and women living in close confines within detention during the pandemic. 

COVID-19: Some issues for asylum seekers and refugees in AustraliaAndrew and Renata Kaldor Centre for Human Rights, UNSW

The outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic has dramatically impacted upon refugees and asylum seekers in Australia.  Immigration Law specialist Ken Murphy details the challenges faced by these groups, including long delays for Immigration department interviews, financial barriers to obtaining legal representation from job loss, limited access to healthcare and support, and increased risk of detention from heavy policing of social distancing around the country. 

Other News

People are crying and begging”: the human cost of forced relocations in immigration detentionThe Conversation 

Between July 2018 and August 2019, the Australian Home Affairs Department spent A$6.1m flying refugees and asylum seekers around Australia. Refugees and asylum seekers are frequently transferred between detention facilities within Australia, with no warning or explanation of the reasons for the transfer. Researcher Richard Wainwright has found that these relocations have a significant impact on the wellbeing of detainees, separating them from their support networks, friends, advocates, doctors and lawyers in the community. 

Older women facing homelessness on the riseAustralian Human Rights Commission

 Age Discrimintation Commissioner Dr Kay Patterson has renewed calls for policy makers and leaders to prioritise housing security for older Australian women, with older women being the fastest growing cohort of homeless people, with a 31% increase between 2011 and 2016. This is due to a combination of factors such as domestic violence, the gender pay gap, job loss, illness and financial elder abuse or scams.


Rights of the LGBTIQ+ Community 

Idaho governor signs two bills limiting the rights of transgender peopleJurist

Idaho Governor Brad Little signed two bill into law on March 31 which (1) prohibit transgender people from changing the biological sex recorded on their birth certificates, and (2) prohibit transgender women from participating in women’s sports teams.

Singapore Upholds Colonial Anti-Gay Laws: Being Gay Remains Illegal For 5.7 Million PeopleForbes

Singapore’s High Court dismissed an attempt to overturn the colonial anti-gay law.. The High Court upheld the constitutionality of section 377A of Singapore’s Penal Code which makes being gay illegal. A man found to engage in “gross indecency with another male” may face up to two years in prison.

Lesbians, gays live in fear of attacks in Kenyan refugee campReuters 

LGBTIQ+ refugees in Kakuma refugee camp are targeted and violently attacked in the Kakuma refugee camp in northwestern Kenya. The refugees have limited support, and have stated that despite ongoing calls for help, the  United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has failed to adequately protect them from harm. 

Refugees and Asylum Seekers 

Greek island refugee camps face coronavirus ‘disaster’, aid groups warnThe New Humanitarian

The Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesvos is “massively overcrowded and unsanitary” with aid groups concerned that it “isn’t fit for purpose and is dangerous to human life.” These conditions mean that if coronavirus spreads into the camp, it would be catastrophic, which is why aid groups are calling for either partial relocation or total evacuation of the refugee camp. 

Third Circuit Court rules single attack on gay man sufficient for asylum claimJurist

A Ghanaian man who fled to the US after being assaulted and threatened by his father and neighbours due to his sexuality has been found eligible for asylum, despite an immigration judge initially saying that a single incident was not sufficient to demonstrate the ‘persecution’ requirement. The Third Circuit Court reaffirmed that persecution doesn’t require multiple incidents, and that if a single incident is “sufficiently egregious” it may constitute persecution for asylum purposes.

Women’s Rights

Federal appeals court temporarily permits Texas executive order banning most abortions during COVID-19Jurist 

The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit overruled a decision by the District Court for the Western District of Texas on Tuesday, instead allowing executive order GA-09 by Texas Governor Greg Abbott banning most abortions to preserve medical supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to this order, various abortion providers in Texas, including Planned Parenthood, filed a lawsuit on 25 March 2020 against Abbott and other state officials criticizing the move as political and arguing that abortion is an “essential, time-sensitive procedure” that should not be banned during the pandemic.

Lockdowns shut off healthcare to millions of womenThe New Humanitarian 

The International Planned Parenthood Federation has reported that COVID-19 lockdowns have resulted in the closure of more than 5,600 sexual and reproductive healthcare clinics in 64 countries around the world. The IPPF highlights that South Asia and Africa have seen the greatest number of closures. Further, clinics still operating face shortages of contraceptives and HIV related medicines. 

Sierra Leone: Discriminatory ban on pregnant girls attending school is liftedAmnesty International 

On March 30, Sierra Leone’s Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education announced that a law preventing pregnant girls from attending school and sitting exams was overturned with immediate effect. The ban had been in effect for almost five years. An Amnesty International representative condemned the ban as having “deprived too many young women of their right to education… it has now rightly been consigned to the history books”.

Death penalty

The Texas Appeals Court upheld this man’s death sentence despite new scientific evidenceThe Appeal 

Rigoberto Avila Jnr. has been on death row since 2001 for a crime he maintains he did not commit. Avila was recommended for a new trial to challenge his conviction based on newly available scientific evidence which contradicted expert testimony from his original trial. An appellate court denied Avila a new trial, reiterating the State’s original trial evidence. Avila’s execution date was then set for 2 September 2020. 

Amnesty report shows global decrease in death sentencesAmnesty International 

An Amnesty International report covering 20 countries from January to December 2019 has shown a decrease in confirmed executions by 5%.

Death penalty 2019: Saudi Arabia executed record number of people last year amid decline in global executionsAmnesty International 

In spite of a decrease in global executions, Saudia Arabia executed a record number of people in 2019 per Amnesty International’s global review of the death penalty, with 184 people put to death in 2019. There have also been spikes in deaths in Iraq, South Sudan and Yemen. 


Coming in May

How can we make our voices heard in the time of the COVID-19 Crisis Hague Talks – Wednesday, May 3 (Free)

In celebration of World Press Freedom Day, Hague Talks is hosting a virtual event on the challenges faced by independent media around the globe. In particular, they will examine how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted freedom of expression. They welcome a line-up of international expert speakers and panellists and provide you the opportunity to join in the conversation and ask questions. 

The Deployment of COVID-19 to Undermine Sexual and Reproductive HealthHuman Rights Institute, Columbia Law School – Tuesday, May 5 (Free)

As COVID-19 threatens healthcares systems around the globe, reproductive health rights are increasingly endangered. The pandemic has been seized as an opportunity for conservative policymakers to limit abortion access both directly and indirectly. This online event, hosted on Zoom, brings together reproductive rights experes Brigitte Amiri (ACLU), Eszter Kismodi (Sexual and Reproductive Health Matters), Melissa Murray (NYU), and Quita Tinsley (Access Reproductive Care-Southeast) do discuss access, advocacy, and human rights challenges arising on this issue in the US.

COVID-19 and the Rights of Persons With DisabilitiesHuman Rights Institute, Columbia Law School – Thursday, May 7 (Free) 

The COVID-19 pandemic has lead to the exacerbation of discrimination against, and challenged faced by persons with physical and mental disabilities. Some of these challenges are posed by the virus itself, which particularly threatens those with pre-existing conditions. This virtual event, hosted on Zoom, brings together Catalina Devandas Aguilar (UN Special Rapporteur on Rights of Persons with Disabilities), Mohamed Farah (Somali Disability Empowerment Network), Ben Gauntlett (Disability Rights Commissioner, Australia), and Amanda McRae (Women Enabled International) to discuss how advocates can promote disability rights-based responses to the pandemics, and how policy-makers must include persons with disabilities in the decision-making process for prevention and containment measures around the world. 

Advocacy in Parliament Webinar – Engaging with Members of Parliament Amnesty Australia – Wednesday 13 May 7pm AEST 

Advocacy training with Amnesty Australia to learn strategies on how to engage with Parliamentarians. This workshop will teach participants about Amnesty’s advocacy strategies, and how to plan engagement with MPs, which MPs to approach, what to say and why. The workshop will be led by Amnesty’s Strategic Campaign Advocate Joel Clark. To attend, RSVP here

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This post was originally published on Castan Centre for Human Rights Law.