How can we get back our fundamental rights from Covid -19?

Covid-19 is bringing a new normal. This pandemic stalled the global economy, paralysed international business, made markets volatile and took away thousands of human lives. Legally, this pandemic has suspended all basic or fundamental rights. Even the most powerful and liberal democracies like India, the United States or European countries are unable to ensure these rights due to this disease. For example, India is still under lockdown and Italy and Spain did the same suspending all these rights.

Article 7 of our Constitution guarantees numerous fundamental rights. Bhutan has been able to shield against suspending most of these rights thus far. This is due to the sheer proactive and effective steps taken by our government under the personal supervision of His Majesty since the confirmation of the first case in the country. Yet, we already lost some of these rights to Covid -19 thereby restricting our rights, crippling our economy and halting our developmental activities indefinitely.    

Article 7(22) and Article 8 of our Constitution are weapons to get back these rights and ensure remaining rights as it is. Article 7(22) restricts us from exercising our fundamental rights if it affects the interest of peace, stability, and well-being of the nation and rights and freedom of others. For instance, our freedom of movement or assembly will be a violation of Article 7(22), the other right to physical distancing and right to health (life).  

 Article 8 enumerates several fundamental duties including duty to “protect and defend security and unity, render national service, foster tolerance, mutual respect and spirit of brotherhood, and to provide help, to the greatest possible extent, to victims of accidents and in times of natural calamity.”

  On 10 April 2020, His Majesty said “to be totally successful in preventing local transmission, we can neither be complacent nor can we let our guard down. The reckless action of a single person who clandestinely crosses the border for trade, or to meet acquaintances, or to bring someone to Bhutan, risks spreading the coronavirus in their community and in the country.”  These messages not only reminded of our fundamental duties but also strongly reiterated us to perform our basic duties at this juncture.

 To fight this pandemic, the government has sealed all our borders and deputed our armed forces and Desuup Volunteers to guard the borders, suspended all public gatherings, closed down all entrainment centres and put in a partial curfew with the recent announcement of the closure of all business by 7pm.

 On 22 March 2020, His Majesty also reminded us that we should “not lose sight of our national objectives, and aim to bring normalcy as soon as possible so that when this pandemic is behind us, we can continue to work on making our future better and stronger.” We can leave this “pandemic behind” only if we Bhutanese perform our fundamental duties by restricting our movement unless it is necessary, practice physical distancing, avoid gatherings and do not engage in crossing borders. 

 Otherwise, we may force ourselves into lockdown which will cost our nation enormously including our own livelihoods and lose the remaining fundamental rights. If we perform our fundamental duties well and restrict our fundamental rights, we may be able to leave this pandemic behind much faster.

Let us help ourselves by obeying the government’s rules and respect His Majesty’s command. Let us regain all our fundamental rights by performing our fundamental duties.

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.

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