As the entire world struggles to contain a common enemy, China, India and Turkey have been accused of gross human right violations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Protecting human rights amid the global pandemic has become the need of the hour. As the number of COVID-19 cases increases, human right violations seem to have doubled up.
The pandemic must not be used as a pretense for autocratic countries to crush individual human rights or suppress the free flow of information, the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, warned in an effort to bring the UN’s influence to bear on the crisis.
Guterres said what had started as a public health emergency was quickly turning into a human rights disaster. Government responses to the crisis have been considered as asymmetrical in nations including China, India, Hungary, Turkey and South Africa.
#COVID19 is a public health emergency — that is fast becoming a human rights crisis.
People — and their rights — must be front and centre.
— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) April 23, 2020
Guterres warned, “the virus is having a disproportionate impact on certain communities through the rise of hate speech, the targeting of vulnerable groups, and the risks of heavy-handed security responses undermining the health response”.
In its new report on COVID-19 and human rights, the UN used the expressions like “foreigner’s disease” to describe the virus, saying such remarks can lead to discrimination, xenophobia, racism and attacks.
Freedom of movement needs to be restrained, Guterres admitted, but he said the scale of such constraints can be diminished by adequate testing and systematic quarantine processes. He declared that over 131 countries have closed their borders, with only 30 permitting exemptions for asylum seekers.
#COVID19: We are all in this together. To effectively combat the pandemic, we all need to be part of the response.
— UN Human Rights (@UNHumanRights) April 26, 2020
The UN stated that under the pretext of fake news, journalists, medics, and activists or political adversaries were being detained. “Sweeping efforts to eliminate misinformation or misinformation can result in purposeful or unintentional censorship that underpins trust,” it said.
Even though the UN approved using new technologies to battle the deadly virus, “the use of artificial intelligence and big data to fortify emergency actions or to hunt affected groups, raise concerns,” Guterres cautioned.
The UN’s report further highlights the potential for abuse is high: what is justified during an emergency now may become normalised once the crisis has elapsed. “Without adequate defences, these powerful technologies may cause discrimination, be intrusive and infringe on privacy, or maybe used against people or groups for purposes going far beyond the pandemic response.”