Promoting Justice /
Protecting Rights


A rights based approach to Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic has shocked and changed the world, in some ways perhaps irrevocably so. Many jurisdictions, including both the UK and Ireland, have introduced emergency legislation in response to this crisis, which has placed major limits on people’s rights.

In Northern Ireland, we have faced a real and pressing public health emergency due to the pandemic. Though we may be beginning to take our first steps towards emerging from the crisis now, it will be some time before a return to relative normality becomes possible.

CAJ is convinced that a human rights perspective is essential both to enduring the remainder of the pandemic and moving into the future. It is evident from the shocking statistics that the poor, disabled, older people, and people from minority ethnic backgrounds have disproportionately suffered serious illness and death from the virus both within NI and the rest of the UK. The pandemic has also exposed the pre-existing frailty of the mechanisms that should have protected social and economic rights better.

CAJ is not alone in arguing for a human rights approach to the crisis. In response to it, we must collectively say ‘never again’ and take action towards creating a fairer, more equal, and truly rights based society.

For us, a human rights approach to Covid-19 can be summed up in the following imperatives: Protect people, restrict freedom only as necessary, help the most vulnerable, and together prepare for a better world.

Our work on the Covid-19 pandemic

Below you will find some useful links to the material the CAJ team has authored in response to the crisis, which sets out our stance in more detail.

Coronavirus and human rights FAQ: Facemasks, vaccines, and vaccine passes
Published December 2021

Briefing notes & submissions
COVID-19, Northern Ireland, and emergency law
Published March 2020

Covid-19, passenger quarantine, and the Common Travel Area (CTA)
Published May 2020

Equality Proofing the Return to School – Briefing paper from the Equality Coalition
Published September 2020

Stormont’s vetoes in the context of a pandemic – An Equality Coalition briefing note
Published November 2020

Are vaccination or immunity ‘passports’ lawful under the Human Rights Act? An analysis by the Committee on the Administration of Justice
Published April 2021

The Right to Protest and NI Coronavirus regulations
Published June 2021

Joint statements
Civil society groups call for action to ensure inequalities are not exacerbated by the Covid-19 crisis
Published April 2020

Amnesty, CAJ & UNISON call for public inquiry into care home deaths
Published June 2020

Equality Coalition joint statement on the pandemic recovery
Published July 2021

Open letters
CAJ writes to NI Executive on vaccine passports
Published November 2021

Articles and blogs
Prepare for a better world
Published May 2020 by Rights NI

Explaining Covid-19 emergency legislation in NI
Published May 2020 on

From special powers to legislating the lockdown: the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020
Published June 2020 in Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly

Just News: Special Covid-19 edition
Published June 2020

Covid Conversations – Human Rights in a Pandemic
Held between summer 2020 and spring 2021

External resources from other rights organisations

Guidance on emergency powers in the UK
Liberty (Note: England-centric)

Coronavirus Legislative Responses in the UK: Regression to Panic and Disdain of Constitutionalism

Guidance on emergency powers in the South of Ireland
Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL)

The implications for privacy and rights of contact tracing apps
Privacy International

UN policy briefing on Covid-19
Covid-19 and Human Rights: We are all in this together

Legal advice on employment, social security and immigration
Law Centre NI

FAQs on Covid-19 and children’s rights
Children’s Law Centre

Community rights monitor

Global response monitor
Covid-19 Civic Freedom Tracker

Covid-19 rights toolkit
Covid-19 Toolkit for Civil Society Partners