UN warns pandemic could create human rights chaos

Tuesday, April 28th, 2020 00:00 |
A medic takes a swab sample from the throat of a girl at a COVID-19 testing centre in New Delhi, India yesterday. Photo/AFP

Geneva, Monday

The UN rights chief warned Monday that countries flouting the rule of law in the name of fighting the novel coronavirus pandemic risk sparking a “human rights disaster”.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called on countries to refrain from violating fundamental rights “under the guise of exceptional or emergency measures.”

“Emergency powers should not be a weapon governments can wield to quash dissent, control the population, and even perpetuate their time in power,” she warned in a statement.

Her comments came even as the virus infections grew to 2,989,090, with  207,431 deaths worldwide since the novel coronavirus surfaced in China late last year.

Bachelet acknowledged that states have the right to restrict some rights to protect public health, but she insisted that any restrictions should be necessary, proportionate and non-discriminatory, and also limited in duration.

“There have been numerous reports from different regions that police and other security forces have been using excessive, and at times lethal, force to make people abide by lockdowns and curfews,” she said.

Even as confirmed virus infections around the world grew, governments were increasingly itching to revive shuttered economies—although there was intense debate on how quickly to move forward.

In one sign of the turnaround, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson returned to his Downing Street official residence, a month after he tested positive for the virus and later went into intensive care.

The PM warned against easing the UK lockdown too soon, saying the country is at the moment of maximum risk in the coronavirus outbreak and urged people not to lose patience with the restrictions.

He said he refused to “throw away” the public’s “effort and sacrifice” and relax the lockdown too soon.

But on the streets of hard-hit Spain, children hopped on bicycles and scooters as the government allowed children outside for the first time since March.

Under the revised rules, children are allowed out once per day between 9am and 9pm, but cannot venture more than a kilometre from home.

With more than 23,000 fatalities, Spain has the third highest death toll in the world after Italy’s 26,000. The US has the highest death toll, which on Sunday neared 55,000.  

Signature bustle

Italy, which shut down in March as the disease’s devastation became clear, gave the green light for wholesale stores and restaurants to resume business on May 4 and for people once again to stroll in parks and visit relatives.

Other shops will open three weeks later as will Italy’s many museums, just in time for summer, when in ordinary times tourists would swarm the country.

But PM Giuseppe Conte told Italians that they would still have to wear face masks in public and rigorously observe social distancing.

In New York, where the signature bustle has been reduced to an eerie halt, Governor Andrew Cuomo said that a first stage of a reopening would start on May 15 if hospitalisations decrease.

President Donald Trump, bracing for November elections, has been impatient to resume business. 

The US leader faced a fresh volley of criticism after suggesting that coronavirus could be treated by shining ultraviolet light inside patients’ bodies, or with injections of household disinfectant. -AFP

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