Individual And Collective Rights In A Time Of Crisis

As the coronavirus pandemic looms upon us, the topics of freedoms and liberties are highly controversial. I was born and raised in Sydney, Australia, and for a long time, all I knew were my ‘individual rights’. This position was challenged when I began to understand that different cultures, particularly in Africa and East Asia, function around ‘collective rights’. There is an intrinsic link but simultaneously a stark difference between the two.

For example, when governments impose minimally invasive measures such as mandatory mask wearing, some citizens retaliate with anger and frustration that their individual human rights have been breached. Rather than this measure being understood as an example of authoritarian government overreach, it should be viewed as a measure that can potentially prevent the spread of the virus. It is a public health issue that places respect, awareness and regard for fellow citizens at the forefront, aiming to protect our intrinsic rights to life and health.

Today, selflessness and emphasis on rights of the collective are critical for society’s rejuvenation. This principle of international law is outlined in Article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights:

“In time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation and the existence of which is officially proclaimed, the States Parties to the present Covenant may take measures derogating from their obligations under the present Covenant to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation, provided that such measures are not inconsistent with their other obligations under international law and do not involve discrimination solely on the ground of race, colour, sex, language, religion or social origin”

Article 4, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Certain rights fundamental to our existence cannot be waived. These non-derogable rights include the inherent right to life, freedom from torture or cruel treatment, freedom from slavery, freedom from being imprisoned on the ability to fulfil a contractual obligation, freedom from being found guilty of a criminal offence when there was no criminal offence committed, the inherent right to recognition as a person before the law and freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

This post does not intend to offend or assume that personal experiences of citizens throughout this pandemic have been easy. Frustration is most certainly allowed but patience is also required. This is an incredibly difficult and challenging period that we will most certainly get through in time. Time is the key.

To have and continue to be guaranteed our non-derogable rights must be recognised and distinguished from certain degrodable rights.

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