Combatting the COVID-19 pandemic must also include stamping out what one independent human rights expert has called the “darker sides” of the disease: verbal and physical attacks against Chinese and other minority communities, and excluding them from access to healthcare.
“COVID-19 is not just a health issue; it can also be a virus that exacerbates xenophobia, hate and exclusion,” said Fernand de Varennes, the UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues, in a statement issued on Monday.
He reported that politicians and groups are exploiting fears surrounding the disease to scapegoat certain communities, leading to a rise in violence against them.
This has included physical attacks against Chinese and other Asians, hate speech blaming Roma and Hispanics for the spread of the virus, and calls by some political leaders for migrants to be denied access to medical services.
Safeguard human rights
Mr. de Varennes said countries need to show that the human rights of all people must be protected, particularly the most vulnerable and marginalized.
“Combatting the epidemic requires tackling its darker sides. Firm actions by States and all of us to safeguard the human rights of the most vulnerable and marginalised, including minorities, indigenous communities and migrants, are urgent and necessary”, he stressed.
More than 200 countries have reported cases of the new coronavirus disease, which first emerged in Wuhan, China, last December.
There were 638,146 cases globally as of Sunday, and more than 30,000 deaths, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO).
“The coronavirus outbreak endangers the health of all of us, with no distinction as to language, religion or ethnicity. But some are more vulnerable than others”, said Mr. de Varennes.
He urged people everywhere to resist the rise in discriminatory and hate speech against Asian and other minorities by using the hashtag #IAmNotAVirus on social media.
Protect people in prisons, detention centres
Meanwhile, authorities are being urged to consider measures to mitigate COVID-19 risk in places such as prisons, immigration detention facilities, closed refugee camps and psychiatric institutions.
The UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture issued the advice on Monday, in a call to protect people deprived of their liberty during the pandemic.
“Governments have to take precautionary measures necessary to prevent the spread of infection, and to implement emergency measures to ensure detainees have access to appropriate levels of health care and to maintain contact with families and the outside world”, said Sir Malcolm Evans, the Committee Chairperson.
Measures include reducing prison populations by allowing early or temporary release of low-risk offenders, and extending the use of bail for all but the most serious cases.
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