30 March 2020 – The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has infected over 700,000 individuals around the world, with numbers rising by the hour. Civilians – particularly those in conflict-affected areas – are especially vulnerable to this terrible disease. CIVIC is encouraged by governments’ efforts to prevent and mitigate COVID-related harm to civilians – and we urge them to continue taking urgent steps to protect the civilian population from this new threat. At the same time, it is crucial that governments ensure that their security forces exercise restraint in the enforcement of these measures so as to not exacerbate the suffering of civilians.

In the face of this rapidly spreading disease, countries have taken a range of measures to contain the virus and mitigate its effects on civilians – from establishing curfews and erecting travel restrictions to setting up quarantines and shutting down non-essential businesses. As governments implement and enforce these measures, they must ensure their security forces demonstrate restraint and adhere to domestic and international law.

“These are very challenging times for all of us around the world, as we contend with this unprecedented crisis. Governments have a responsibility to their civilians to prevent and mitigate the harm associated with COVID-19, as well as to enforce measures to halt its spread. But this responsibility also requires governments to ensure that their security forces do not abuse civilians or violate their rights,” says CIVIC Executive Director Federico Borello. “Instead security forces need to exercise restraint when enforcing government guidance and work with civilians during this time to ensure prevention and mitigation measures are being properly followed.”

Civilians similarly have a crucial role to play in their own self-protection during this pandemic. Their efforts are crucial to help slow the spread of COVID-19. CIVIC calls on civilians to do their part, when possible, to help mitigate the disease by following local and international guidelines, including those put in place by the World Health Organization.

As an organization that works closely with civilians in conflict zones, it is important we note that these individuals remain some of the most vulnerable to the consequences of such a widespread pandemic. As COVID-19 expands in these areas, it could prove deadly to individuals already suffering from the negative effects of prolonged conflict. Governments and civilians in conflict zones must work together to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on their communities. As always, CIVIC stands ready to work with them to prevent harm to civilians during this trying time.