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Human Rights suspended in face of Covid-19 disaster

Human Rights Day celebrations did not take place in Sharpville and other parts of SA on Saturday./ VATHISWA RUSELO
Human Rights Day celebrations did not take place in Sharpville and other parts of SA on Saturday./ VATHISWA RUSELO

South Africans should embrace having some of their human rights limited as the government tries to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

On Saturday, for the first time in a democratic era, South Africans were unable to gather in large numbers to celebrate Human Rights Day due to the national state of disaster announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa last Sunday.

Instead, people were faced with a situation where the government had suspended their rights to consume alcohol in public spaces and gather in numbers in religious groups.

No more than 100 people are allowed to gather, among other measures to curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The new regulations placed restrictions on some rights such as freedom of movement, assembly, religion and privacy.

SA Human Rights Commission CEO Tseliso Thipanyane said the constitution provided for rights to be suspended but this had to be in response to the threat the nation faces.

He said under a state of emergency, a declaration must be made by the president and can only be for 21 days. However, the state of emergency can go beyond the 21 days.

"Section 37 of the constitution outlines what rights cannot be taken away at all. Under human dignity, no right can be suspended at all. The right to life cannot be suspended at all."

He said government's decision to suspend citizens' rights can be challenged in a court of law if people feel "it is going too far and is not justifiable".

"As the Human Rights Commission, we can also intervene when we feel that the government is going too far. Any state of emergency can be challenged in a court of law."

Thipanyane said though government had declared a national state of disaster, "it is a state of emergency but they do not want to use those words which remind people of the apartheid times. There are different stages of the state of emergency. We have chosen to use, for political reasons, a state of disaster so that people do not panic. But it is a state of emergency already."

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