On March 19, 2020, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a short but meaningless report on the “Human Rights Dimensions of COVID-19 Response.”

In particular, the report exposes HRW’s lack of credibility in the area of public health and epidemiology, primarily attacking government measures to prevent widespread death from the virus. As with other areas of policy making, HRW does not consult with real experts in crafting its so-called analysis – relying on a singular academic article and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet. HRW further provides no concrete alternative policy recommendations that would do a better job of balancing the competing rights challenges. Instead, HRW suffices with generalities that contribute nothing of significance.

Lack of Health Expertise

  • HRW emphasizes that “quarantines, lockdowns, and travel bans” must “comply with rights norms,” but does not consider the fundamental “right to life” of all individuals.
  • According to HRW, “Broad quarantines and lockdowns of indeterminate length rarely meet [human rights] criteria…Because such quarantines and lockdowns are difficult to impose and enforce uniformly, they are often arbitrary or discriminatory in application.” No evidence and citations to health experts or research studies are provided for this broad ideological claim.

Criticizes Existing Measures without Providing Concrete Policy Alternatives

  • HRW asserts that “Governments should avoid sweeping and overly broad restrictions on movement and personal liberty, and only move towards mandatory restrictions when scientifically warranted and necessary and when mechanisms for support of those affected can be ensured” without providing any assessment of what “overly broad restrictions” might mean or when they might be warranted.
  • HRW provides generic critiques of Chinese and Iranian repression of dissidents and violations of freedom of expression. Their analysis offers nothing new to the discussion and therefore falls short of holding these regimes accountable.