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Human Rights Principles

Relevance to Epidemic Situations

Human Rights are inherent to all people because as humans they are by their very nature, rights holders. These rights create duties for the states in which such individuals live. The duties upon such states can be both positive and negative in nature. Human rights principles in Europe emanate from numerous sources on the international, the national and the regional level. On the international level the primary sources are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and two international covenants on human rights: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). In addition, the UN has created a number of treaties concerning more specific human rights violations in areas such as migration, racial and gender based discrimination and also governing rights of other groups such as children. Each of these contains principles that may be pertinent during the course of an epidemic.

As the names of these two treaties suggest, they are intended to cover broadly two different genres of human rights i.e. on the one hand civil and political and on the other economic and social rights. Rights in both of these categories have a pertinence to public health responses to epidemics. With respect to civil an political rights, this may for example include the right to life, the rights to privacy. Regarding social and economic rights this will most notably include the right to health. Human Rights that are applicable in an epidemic situation can range from those that were intended to apply specifically to such situations (e.g. Article 12 of the UN ICESCR obligates States to take measures to prevent and control epidemic and endemic diseases), to other that apply by virtue of their general nature (e.g. privacy rights).