Respect for human rights essential in tackling the pandemic, UN officer says

A United Nations’ officer expressed concern over reported incidents of massive human rights violations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, in a statement on April 27, shared her observation about how many countries “appeared to transgress key basic freedoms” as governments imposed upon their citizens restrictive lockdowns in an effort to prevent the spread of the deadly disease.

“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 in the statement.

Bachelet reminded governments that human rights should not be violated “under the guise of exceptional or emergency measures.” She added that emergency measures must be “enforced humanely.”

Emergency powers, according to her “should be used to cope effectively with the pandemic” and not to be turned by governments into a weapon “to quash dissent, control the population, and even perpetuate their time in power.”

Bachelet has cited the Philippines among the 15 countries deemed with most “highlighted allegations of abuses.”

Other countries include Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Sri Lanka, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Peru, Honduras, Jordan, Morocco, Cambodia, Uzbekistan, Iran and Hungary.

Bachelet’s statement came as the Philippines grapple with severe cases of police brutality in overseeing the enhanced community quarantine.

Since President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the Luzon-wide lockdown on March 17, reports of police arbitrarily arresting and using excessive force against alleged quarantine violators have flooded the news.

Government officials were quick to defend the police saying their actions were necessary to contain the spread of the pandemic.

However, the fatal shooting of a former military man Winston Ragos on April 21 has become the epitome of the disproportionate use of police power in the enforcement of quarantine measures.

Human rights groups denounced the killing of Ragos and called out the government for its accountability. They attributed cases of police brutality and human rights violations to the government’s militarized lockdown.

Progressive groups have also voiced concern over the government’s “martial law-like” lockdown that they said have targeted cause-oriented groups and activists.

On April 19, the police arrested and detained volunteers of Sagip Kanayunan and Tulong Anakpawis on their way to a humanitarian mission for peasants communities in Bulacan. The group condemned the incident and cried police harassment against their humanitarian and relief efforts.

Bachelet said that if the rule of law is not upheld, “the public health emergency risks becoming a human rights disaster, with negative effects that will long outlast the pandemic itself.”

Bachelet said further that respect for human rights is “fundamental to the success of the public health response and recovery from the pandemic.”

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