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COVID-19 Pandemic is Fast Becoming a 'Human Rights' Crisis, Guterres Warns

COVID-19 Pandemic is Fast Becoming a 'Human Rights' Crisis, Guterres Warns

Thursday, 23 April, 2020 - 05:15
In this file photo UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres looks on at the opening of the UN Human Rights Council's main annual session on February 24, 2020 in Geneva. AFP

The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned on Thursday that the novel coronavirus pandemic is accelerating in turning into "a human rights crisis.”


In a video message, he said there is discrimination in the delivery of public services to tackle COVID-19 and there are “structural inequalities that impede access to them.”


He warned that with “rising ethno-nationalism, populism, authoritarianism and a push back against human rights in some countries, the crisis can provide a pretext to adopt repressive measures for purposes unrelated to the pandemic.”


Guterres stressed that the pandemic has seen “disproportionate effects on certain communities, the rise of hate speech, the targeting of vulnerable groups, and the risks of heavy-handed security responses undermining the health response.”


“Human rights cannot be an afterthought in times of crisis — and we now face the biggest international crisis in generations," he noted.


Earlier n February, Guterres issued a call to action to countries, businesses and people to help renew and revive human rights across the globe, laying out a seven-point plan amid concerns about climate change, conflict and repression.


The secretary-general said he was releasing a report Thursday on how human rights must guide the response to the virus and recovery from the pandemic. Neither he nor the report name any countries or parties responsible for human rights violations, the Associated Press reported.


The report said governments also need to take action to mitigate the worst impacts of COVID-19 on jobs, livelihoods, access to basic services and family life.


He also called on governments to be “transparent, responsive and accountable,” and stressed that press freedom, civil society organizations, the private sector and “civic space” are essential.


Guterres said any emergency measures — including states of emergency — must be “legal, proportionate, necessary and non-discriminatory, have a specific focus and duration, and take the least intrusive approach possible to protect public health.”


The report said the best response is proportionate to the immediate threat and protects human rights.


“The message is clear: People — and their rights — must be front and center,” Guterres stressed.


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