• Guarantee that any exceptional measure and legislation issued to combat the pandemic do not in any circumstances restrict certain fundamental rights, including the right to life, the prohibition of torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment, recognition before the law and the presumption of innocence.
  • Make sure that any legislation enacted or measure implemented is necessary and proportional to the public health need, not discriminatory in any way, including on the grounds of race, ethnicity, sex, sexual identity, language, religion and social origin, be limited in duration and subject to sufficient oversight by both the legislature and courts.
  • Guarantee fully the right to the freedom of peaceful assembly as provided in international law and standards. Ensure that any restriction on public gatherings are regularly assessed to determine whether they continue to be necessary and proportionate in light of the health emergency.
  • Review and if necessary update existing human rights training for police and security forces, with the assistance of independent CSOs, to foster the consistent application of international human rights law and standards during protests, including the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms. This should be coupled with ensuring accountability when violations occur while policing protests.
  • Ensure that the freedom of expression is safeguarded in all forms by bringing all national legislation into line with international law and standards and refrain from censoring social and conventional media. Any restrictions should be pursuant to an order by an independent and impartial judicial authority, and in accordance with due process and standards of legality, necessity and legitimacy. Businesses must also not capitulate to censorship demands that are not in accordance with international human rights standards.
  • Maintain reliable and unfettered access to the internet and cease internet shutdowns that prevent people from obtaining essential information and services during the crisis. Restrictions on access to the internet cannot be justified on public order or national security grounds.
  • Repeal any legislation that criminalises expressions based on vague concepts such as “fake news” or disinformation in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, as such laws are not compatible with the requirements of legality and proportionality.
  • Explicitly recognise and reaffirm the work and legitimacy of human rights defenders (HRDs) and journalists and publicly support their work. Take measures to foster a safe, respectful and enabling environment for civil society and work with these groups to establish effective national protection mechanisms which respond to the needs of those at risk.
  • Take steps to address impunity for violations against HRDs and journalists, ensuring that these violations are independently and promptly investigated and that perpetrators are brought to justice.
  • Release human rights defenders detained in connection with their human rights work, and any persons unlawfully held. People in prisons or other detention facilities are particularly at risk for COVID-19.

International and regional bodies:

  • Pressure states to repeal or substantially amend restrictive legislation that is not in accordance with international law and standards in protecting freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression.
  • Protect and open spaces for civil society to advocate and participate in decision-making. Strengthen existing mechanisms and put in place new mechanisms to address reprisals against human rights defenders who cooperate with international and regional mechanisms.
  • Take the necessary measures to ensure that activists and civil society actors are not put at risk because of the information they provide and publicly call out states who impose restrictions on the participation of civil society.


  • Provide long-term, unrestricted and core support for civil society in countries where civil society is facing increasing restrictions from states. Funders should provide specific support to groups conducting advocacy in countries with rapidly closing civic space.
  • Adopt participatory approaches to grantmaking. Include human rights organisations in designing schemes and conduct situation assessments with CSOs; maintain engagement at every stage, including when the fund has been granted, to create adaptation and re-allocation strategies with grantees when required by a difficult working environment.
  • Prioritise security. In sensitive cases, donors need to balance transparency and security needs. Where civil society and human rights work is criminalised, defenders are under surveillance or facing constant harassment, key information such as the identity, work, activities and location might need to remain undisclosed. Support programmes to ensure that defenders have appropriate training, skills and equipment to conduct their work safely.