Civil Society question legalities of some COVID-19 prevention guidelines

By Elina Jonas Ruzindaza
On 10 September 2020 at 07:59

Members of the Civil Society Platform of Rwanda that brings together non-governmental organizations in the country, have written to the Prime Minister’s Office, expressing their concern over the various directives issued by government agencies to prevent Covid-19, which are said to be contrary to the rule of law.

The letter is based on recent measures aimed at preventing the spread of Covid-19, especially regarding how people should behave and the penalties imposed on those who violate Covid-19 prevention guidelines.

The Civil Society Organizations say that some measures are contrary to the decisions of the cabinet.

The cabinet meeting on August 26 passed resolutions to further strengthen measures for the prevention of the spread of Covid-19.

Among them was the resolution that “private (private) travels between the City of Kigali and other districts will continue to be carried out but in accordance with the regulations of the health authorities”.

Another resolution was that “public gatherings are prohibited, except for those who have permission and have not more than 30 people.”

The resolution further states that “the permission to host such meetings will be issued by the relevant authorities in collaboration with the RDB, and shall be based on the guidelines of the health authorities.”

The next day, Rwanda Development Board, RDB, issued a statement on August 27 aimed at implementing the directives issued by the Cabinet Decisions.

The statement said that the “applicants for the meeting permission should go through [email protected] and inform the relevant authorities.” Also the reception area does not exceed 30% of the capacity of the reception hall.

The organizers of the meeting also should make sure that the participants should have a Covid-19 tests of not more than 72 hours, and pay a fee of $ 50 (Rwf48,442).

Shortly afterwards, on August 31, the City of Kigali also issued a directive, imposing sanctions on those who violate Covid-19’s proposed measures.

This also came after the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority, RURA, on August 28, declared that “no public buses or motorcycle are allowed to transport anyone to or from Kigali City”.

Non-governmental organizations say that these regulations are contrary to cabinet decisions, because, for example, RURA’s directive that private travels between the City of Kigali and other areas are prohibited, contrary to the Cabinet decision.

The organizations also say that some of these regulations are unclear, making implementation difficult.

Currently, it is alleged that the RDB’s regulations do not clearly define the meaning of “general meetings” or “necessary meetings” which must request for permission from the RDB and tests for COVID19 for all the participants.

They point out that the meetings and conferences referred to are only happening in hotels, rather than in public places such as in markets, in bus stations, and so on.

They also noted that the cost of Covid-19 testing, set at Rwf 48,442, is too expensive and Rwandans could not manage it every time they go to a meeting.

The organizations and their partners say they are also affected by the decision because they have suspended various meetings and activities due to lack of capacity to test each invitee.

They also observed the fines imposed by the City of Kigali on violators of the Covid-19 prevention guidelines are quite high, considering it is at a time when the pandemic has had a devastating economic impact.

They added that testing measures for each participant at a meeting or wedding is not the best way to deal with Covid-19, but that standard measures such as frequent hand washing, social distance and wearing masks would be the best solution.

Human rights are threatened

The NGOs said a directive that requires people to meet after getting permission is contrary to the Constitution and other international laws to which Rwanda is a signatory, especially Article 39 of Rwanda constitution, defining the right of assembly as passed in 2003, and amended in 2015.

They also said that measures for children under the age of two to wear masks were contrary to the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines.

They also emphasized the need to focus on business, especially in hotels, as meetings and conferences are one of the main sources of income, of which ban will have devastating effects on post-Covid-19 recovery.

To address all these issues, these organizations have called for the establishment of a system to monitor all regulations in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19, to comply with national and international law, and not to violate human rights principles.

They also said that regulations that violate human rights and should be removed, or revised. They requested that the guidelines set out in the RDB’s announcement and applying for permit at public meetings and testing the participants within 72 hours should be revised.

As for the City of Kigali’s prohibitive fines for Covid-19 prevention regulations violators, they demanded that they be removed forthwith.

They said the fines should be carried out to the fullest extent of the capacity of the citizens, and be approved after discussions with everyone concerned, including the public. Once approved, it must be announced through legal channels.

They stressed the need for the government to work with its partners as they learn about strategies to prevent the Covid-19 pandemic, and to encourage them to step up their efforts to prevent the Covid-19 pandemic, including hand washing, wearing face masks and observing social distance.

The government has been asked to continue its campaign to prevent Covid-19, instead of imposing harsher sanctions