Human Rights Commission 'expects objections' to vaccine passports

'People tend to look at one right and forget that other people around them have rights too': Prof Bongani Majola

15 September 2021 - 15:06
The SAHRC has already received complaints about employers wanting staff to vaccinate or risk losing their jobs. File photo.
The SAHRC has already received complaints about employers wanting staff to vaccinate or risk losing their jobs. File photo.
Image: REUTERS/DADO RUVIC

The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) is expecting to receive complaints about the Covid-19 vaccination passports the government is considering to enable access to certain venues.

“We are anticipating that we will receive complaints. How we intervene will depend on how the passport will be used,” said SAHRC chairperson Prof Bongani Majola.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Sunday the health department was considering implementing vaccine passports to be shown when entering certain events and venues.

“We will also be providing further information on an approach for vaccine passports which can be used as evidence of vaccination for various purposes and events so people are able to demonstrate they’ve been vaccinated,” Ramaphosa said in an address to the nation.

“If the vaccination passport is used to say, ‘if you do not vaccinate you will not go to school or you can’t go to the clinic’, it may be problematic, because you will be dealing with a situation where the passport appears to be interfering with an existing right,” Majola said.

He said issuing a vaccination passport would have to meet the requirements of section 36 of the constitution, which states that rights may be limited by a law of general application that is “reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on dignity, freedom, and equality”.

“In my view, it would require something bigger like a law, and even when there is such a law, it would require to meet the requirements in section 36 that it is a justifiable limitation and that there are no other means, other than the vaccination passport, that can be used to take away that right,” said Majola.

He said the commission had already received complaints from people about employers threatening to force them to vaccinate or face losing their jobs.

“We have received complaints from people saying the employer is threatening to evict them from the accommodation they provide if they do not vaccinate.

“Others say, ‘it is fine if you do not want to vaccinate, but each time you come to work you must produce a fresh laboratory certificate that proves that you are not Covid-19 positive'.”

He said in one case they engaged an employer who subsequently withdrew a directive compelling employees to vaccinate.

Speaking on the issue of people who argued that the bill of rights protected them from being compelled to vaccinate, Majola agreed that it gave everybody the right of control over their bodies.

“The bill of rights also says that you have a right to refuse that your body be used for medical experimentation.

“However, the bill of rights goes further and says everybody has a right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or wellbeing.

“If you say you have a right to not vaccinate, but when you pose a risk of infecting other people, the question becomes: do we then protect just your rights? What about the right to life of other people? We need to balance these rights ... People tend to look at one right and forget that other people around them have rights too.”

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