Posts Tagged ‘Corona virus’

Refugees and migrants in camp conditions at high risk of COVID-19

March 30, 2020

Covid-19 spread leads to reactions and messages of solidarity

March 27, 2020

From the myriad of messages on the spread and impact of the Covid-19 virus, here a few excerpts:

On 27 March 2020, Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, UN Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons said that society has a duty to exercise solidarity and better protect older persons who are bearing the lion’s share of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Reports of abandoned older persons in care homes or of dead corpses found in nursing homes are alarming. This is unacceptable,” said  “We all have the obligation to exercise solidarity and protect older persons from such harm.” Older persons .. are further threatened by COVID-19 due to their care support needs or by living in high-risk environments such as institutions, the expert said. [https://reliefweb.int/report/world/unacceptable-un-expert-urges-better-protection-older-persons-facing-highest-risk-covid]

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Adrien-Claude Zoller, President of the small NGO ‘Geneva for Human Rights – Global Training’ issued a statement of solidiarity ith the marginalised who will suffer most:….As a human rights organisation, Geneva for Human Rights is deeply worried about the situation of the most vulnerable, of the unemployed and homeless, of those in extreme poverty, of people with disabilities, of women already assuming so many tasks, of the elderly, of those arbitrarily detained in overcrowded prisons, of minorities, migrants, internally displaced, refugees, and indigenous peoples. It is a matter of human dignity. Human rights are at stake.
Many Governments first denied, then de-dramatized the spread of the virus, before taking measures to contain it and limit the damage for their economy. Too often in these measures, the social impact of both the health and the economic crises is neglected. We all fully support efforts to eradicate the virus. At the same time, we should not forget the commitment of the international community to eradicate extreme poverty (‘Sustainable Development Goal’, Nr.1). We have to protect the most vulnerable.
….Countrywide lockdowns imply a limitation of human rights. Indeed, complying with these emergency rules, including home confinement, is a moral imperative, a matter of solidarity to slow down the spread of the virus in our communities, and to support those on the frontline, in particular health- and social workers. However, we should recall that measures derogating from human rights obligations in ‘public emergency which threatens the life of the nation’ have to be limited ‘to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation’. They have to be proportionate, limited in time, and in no way discriminatory (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 4, United Nations, 16 December 1966). In many countries, such derogations led to special powers attributed to the Executive branch. Still, the principles of proportionality and non-discrimination have to apply. Parliamentary control and the Rule of Law remain a must, as well as transparency and access to all the information. We are dismayed that in several ‘denying’ countries (e.g. China at the beginning of the pandemic, Brazil, Egypt, Turkey) journalists, physicians, health workers and human rights defenders, are targeted for having exposed the gravity of the situation and the fate of marginalized people…………

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The New Humanitarian looks at the expected impact on aid:  https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/news-feature/2020/03/26/coronavirus-international-aid

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The G20 seems to be aware as shown by a portion of their recent statement: “Enhancing Global CooperationWe will work swiftly and decisively with the front-line international organizations, notably the WHO, IMF, WBG, and multilateral and regional development banks to deploy a robust, coherent, coordinated, and rapid financial package and to address any gaps in their toolkit. We stand ready to strengthen the global financial safety nets. We call upon all these organizations to further step up coordination of their actions, including with the private sector, to support emerging and developing countries facing the health, economic, and social shocksof COVID-19.We are gravely concerned withthe serious risks posed to all countries, particularly developing and least developed countries, and notably in Africaand small island states, where health systems and economies may be less able to cope with thechallenge, as well as the particular risk faced by refugees and displaced persons. We consider that consolidating Africa’s health defense is a key for the resilience of global health. We will strengthen capacity building and technical assistance, especially to at-risk communities. We stand ready to mobilize development and humanitarian financing” [https://g20.org/en/media/Documents/G20_Extraordinary%20G20%20Leaders%e2%80%99%20Summit_Statement_EN%20(3).pdf]

Corona virus threatens human rights defenders in detention: Egypt and Turkey

March 20, 2020

Human rights defenders are often kept in detention and that is bad enough, but with the Covid-19 pandemic this risks killing many of them. Overcrowded prison conditions are such that infection is bound to occur. Following a request from the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, Tehran released 85,000 prisoners, including many political prisoners, in an attempt to help stop the spread of the virus. China, Italy and Bahrain also have released prisoners over coronavirus concerns.

Now a coalition of human rights groups, activists, and politicians, including former Tunisian President Moncef Marzuki, sent a letter to UN Secretary and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urging the prisoner releases after the first case among prisoners was confirmed in Egypt. …..”Even more worrying in this time of pandemic, prisoners are crammed in cells that are so small that they have to wait for their turns to lay down and sleep,” the letter read.

Coronavirus: Egypt detains novelist Ahdaf Soueif for demanding prisoners’ release

On Wednesday the Egyptian government’s reaction was – surprise, surprise – to detain four activists who staged a protest calling for the release of prisoners in the country. The writer Ahdaf Soueif protested in front of the cabinet building in Cairo, alongside academic Rabab al-Mahdi, Soueif’s sister and academic Leila Soueif, and her niece, activist Mona Seif. Mona Seif live streamed the protest on Facebook, recording a confrontation with police officers who reportedly asked them to stop and “discuss the matter” at a police station…..On 19 March the Middle East Eye reported that Laila Soueif remained in custody late on Wednesday but the three others were freed. This comes as Egyptian prosecutors on Thursday ordered the release of 15 political dissidents, including a prominent academic arrested as part of a crackdown on nationwide protests in September. Mona Seif, Laila Soueif’s daughter, is the sister of Alaa Abdel Fattah, a left-wing activist currently in pre-trial detention.

President Erdoğan’s government in Turkey has rejected calls from human rights organizations to release inmates from two overcrowded prisons despite detection in those facilities of the coronavirus, which has caused the death of more than 8,000 people around the world. A purge of thousands of dissidents in the aftermath of a coup attempt in July 2016 has filled Turkey’s prisons, which today are overcrowded with tens of thousands of political prisoners…On Wednesday Erdoğan announced a number of measures to battle the spread of the coronavirus following an emergency meeting convened to coordinate the fight. Yet the release of prisoners was not among the measures disclosed by the Turkish president.

Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a member of parliament and one of Turkey’s most prominent human rights defenders, revealed how he received news from Edirne Prison that three prison guards tested positive there for COVID-19, as a result of which the prison was put under quarantine. A day later, Balıkesir’s Kepsut Prision was also quarantined, Turkish media reported. “A short while ago my husband called and informed me that contamination in a cell had been detected and that they had put everyone in quarantine,” the wife of an inmate told reporters. On March 16 Gergerlioğlu launched a campaign for the release of all prisoners starting with those at greatest risk and submitted a parliamentary question directed to the Ministry of Justice about health conditions in the country’s prisons.

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https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/coronavirus-egypt-united-nations-rights-groups-request-prisoner-release

https://pen.org/press-release/egyptian-writer-detained-for-protesting-prison-conditions-that-could-worsen-covid-19-spread/

https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/coronavirus-egypt-releases-bail-four-women-who-called-releasing-prisoners

https://ahvalnews.com/amnesty-bill/turkey-excludes-sex-offenders-early-prison-release-after-outcry-columnist-says

https://www.balcanicaucaso.org/eng/Areas/Turkey/Journalism-in-times-of-COVID19-an-update-from-Turkey-200596

 

http://bianet.org/english/law/222239-27-rights-organizations-call-on-turkey-to-release-jailed-journalists

More on how COVID-19 affects human rights work..

March 20, 2020

The Corona virus relates to human rights in many ways.

One is of course that emergency measures are abused or used for other purposes. The UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, indicates that emergency measures tend to become permanent and underlines ‘emergency or not, states must reach the same threshold of legality, legitimacy, necessity and proportionality for each measure taken’. Human Rights Watch’s Executive Director, Ken Roth, called upon states to ensure that COVID-19 is ‘reason to reaffirm, not abandon, everyone’s rights’. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/03/17/covid-19-emergencies-should-not-be-shortcut-to-silencing-human-rights-defenders/.

Another asepect is that the COVID-19 context makes it very difficult to operate for non-governmental organisations [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/03/20/covid-19-starts-to-affects-aid-and-civil-society/]. Florian Irminger, of Penal Reform International (PRI), in a piece in Medium on 19 March 2020 warns that …...charities will fall out of donations very quickly, at a time their services are more needed than ever. Right now, even the best intended of us tend to stop donations to charities. Foodbanks, shelters for victims of domestic violence, health charities or charities working with prisoners and their relatives will rapidly reach a cash-crisis.

Such service providing organisations will aim at being able to continue delivering their services to those most vulnerable of us. …..Organisations addressing human rights violations are more than ever needed to monitor situations in areas affected by COVID-19 outbreak…and …COVID-19 represents a high risk to populations in prisons. ……Detention facilities are always a risky place in regard to infectious deceases and are now more exposed than ever. Similarly for other human rights organisations, to be able to continue to operate where we are most needed right now means we must divert resources from other projects and invest in protecting their staff working in the frontlines….. COVID-19 must lead governments to empower and support civil society to continue its work. ..In a funding landscape for human rights and humanitarian NGOs largely based on project grants, civil society has little flexibility to adapt to external events hampering its ability to operate in certain territories and to deploy its staff. In other words, just like the for-profit-sector, not-for-profit organisations see their revenue decrease and have costs associated to a crisis like this one, but do not have reserves and little ability to divert costs associated to a specific project to address the new challenges.

Many private donors have already adapted their grant making. One of them, Ford Foundation, should be applauded for strengthening even further its flexibility on the use of resources by its grantees. Fritt Ord, a Norwegian foundation specialised in promoting freedom of expression, announced it would invest 40 million Norwegian kroner in its programmes, at a time the kind of human rights work it wishes to support will face financial difficulties.

PRI’s briefing note on COVID-19

View at Medium.com

COVID-19 starts to affects aid and civil society

March 20, 2020

The New Humanitarian is providing updates on how COVID-19 is disrupting aid efforts around the globe. As the coronavirus pandemic reaches new corners of the globe, its impacts are beginning to cascade on already stretched aid operations in crisis zones. The New Humanitarian is collecting updates about how the coronavirus is hitting aid responses in vulnerable communities – from refugee camps and disaster displacement sites, to border crossings and conflict zones. Border closures are squeezing relief supply channels in some areas. Elsewhere, lockdowns and quarantines are erecting roadblocks in front of other operations. The rapidly evolving outbreak is pushing aid groups to plan for new responses in communities already facing long-running crises – and forcing a re-think of how the sector operates when resources are stretched on a global scale.
The South Africa based NGO CIVICUS published on 19 March an Open letter urging donors to act to ensure civil society’s resilience against the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter reads in part:

As the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, ….Funds have been (rightly) redirected from planned activities to COVID-19 responses. Reserves – when they exist – are limited and will soon be depleted. Responding to these extraordinary challenges requires flexibility in how we use our grants.  …

We call on all donors and intermediaries providing essential support for civil society to adopt similar approaches by offering as much flexibility, certainty, and stability towards grantees and partners as possible. 

Here are five specific ways this can be done:

  •   Listen to grantee partners and together explore how you can best help them face the crisis, trusting they know best what is needed in their own contexts.
  •   Encourage the re-design and re-scheduling of planned activities and deliverables and provide clear guidance on how to seek approval for these changes.
  •   Support new and creative ways of creating a culture of solidarity and interaction while adhering to the physical distancing and other precautionary measures. 
  •   Offer greater flexibility by reconsidering payment installments based on actual needs, converting existing project grants into unrestricted funds, or adding extra funds to help build-up reserves or cover unexpected costs.
  •   Simplify reporting and application procedures and timeframes so that civil society groups can better focus their time, energy and resources in supporting the most vulnerable rather than on meeting heavy reporting and due diligence requirements.

CIVICUS will continue advocating for a robust civic space, including measures that enable civil society to mobilise with and for the groups most affected by the Coronavirus pandemic. In these critical times, we must nurture civic space and its resourceful actors by expanding relevance and resilience, not reducing it. We must also be mindful that the present moment could also be used as an opportunity by some actors to further restrict the civic space. …We must do whatever it takes to keep civil society alive, vibrant and resilient.  

The way we will deal with this pandemic will have profound and lasting implications on how we build the future of our world.  This crisis can be successfully dealt with through a global culture of solidarity and civic action, one underpinned by intense cooperation, trust and burden sharing. And your role, as funders and supporters of civil society, is fundamental to this outcome.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/03/17/two-high-commissioners-issue-rare-joint-statement-re-covid-19/

https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/media-releases/open-letters/4346-open-letter-donors-and-supporters-must-act-to-ensure-civil-society-resilience-against-covid-19-pandemic

COVID-19 emergencies should not be shortcut to silencing human rights defenders

March 17, 2020

Following on the heels of the joint statement on the Corona virus by the two High Commissioners [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/03/17/two-high-commissioners-issue-rare-joint-statement-re-covid-19/], more than a dozen U.N. experts on issues including on the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, health, education, and religious belief, along with the U.N. working group on arbitrary detention signed a statement urging Governments in crisis mode not to use the emergency measures to suppress human rights.

The rights experts, who are appointed by the United Nations Human Rigbhts Council but who do not speak on behalf of the world body, said they recognized “the severity of the current health crisis and acknowledge that the use of emergency powers is allowed by international law in response to significant threats” but they went on to “urgently remind states that any emergency responses to the coronavirus must be proportionate, necessary and non-discriminatory.

The experts stressed that the use of emergency powers should be declared publicly and the U.N. treaty bodies should be notified if fundamental rights, including movement, family life, and assembly were being significantly limited. “Moreover, emergency declarations based on the COVID-19 outbreak should not be used as a basis to target particular groups, minorities, or individuals,” they insisted. The emergency, the experts said, “should not function as a cover for repressive action under the guise of protecting health nor should it be used to silence the work of human rights defenders.”

They warned that some states might find the use of emergency powers “attractive because it offers shortcuts.” “To prevent such excessive powers to become hardwired into legal and political systems, restrictions should be narrowly tailored and should be the least intrusive means to protect public health,” they said.

 

Emergency Powers in Virus Fight Must Not be Used to Quash Dissent: UN Experts

Two High Commissioners issue rare joint statement re Covid-19

March 17, 2020

On 12 March 2020 Michelle Bachelet and Filippo Grandi – the UN High Commissioners for respectively Human Rights and Refugees – issued a rare joint statement entiteled: “The coronavirus outbreak is a test of our systems, values and humanity“:

If ever we needed reminding that we live in an interconnected world, the novel coronavirus has brought that home. No country can tackle this alone, and no part of our societies can be disregarded if we are to effectively rise to this global challenge. Covid-19 is a test not only of our health-care systems and mechanisms for responding to infectious diseases, but also of our ability to work together as a community of nations in the face of a common challenge. It is a test of the extent to which the benefits of decades of social and economic progress have reached those living on the margins of our societies, farthest from the levers of power.

The coming weeks and months will challenge national crisis planning and civil protection systems – and will certainly expose shortcomings in sanitation, housing and other factors that shape health outcomes. Our response to this epidemic must encompass – and in fact, focus on – those whom society often neglects or relegates to a lesser status. Otherwise, it will fail.

The health of every person is linked to the health of the most marginalised members of the community. Preventing the spread of this virus requires outreach to all, and ensuring equitable access to treatment. This means overcoming existing barriers to affordable, accessible health care, and tackling long-ingrained differential treatment based on income, gender, geography, race and ethnicity, religion or social status. Overcoming systemic biases that overlook the rights and needs of women and girls, or – for example – limit access and participation by minority groups, will be crucial to the effective prevention and treatment of Covid-19.

People living in institutions – the elderly or those in detention – are likely to be more vulnerable to infection and must be specifically addressed in crisis planning and response. Migrants and refugees – regardless of their formal status – must be an integral part of national systems and plans for tackling the virus. Many of these women, men and children find themselves in places where health services are overstretched or inaccessible. They may be confined to camps and settlements, or living in urban slums where overcrowding, and poorly resourced sanitation, increases the risk of exposure.

International support is urgently needed to help host countries step up services – both for migrants and local communities – and include them in national surveillance, prevention and response arrangements. Failure to do so will endanger the health of all – and risk heightening hostility and stigma. It is also vital that any tightening of border controls, travel restrictions or limitations on freedom of movement do not prevent people who may be fleeing from war or persecution from accessing safety and protection.

Beyond these very immediate challenges, the path of the coronavirus will also undoubtedly test our principles, values and shared humanity. Spreading rapidly around the world, with uncertainty surrounding the number of infections and with a vaccine still many months away, the virus is stirring deep fears and anxieties in individuals and societies. Some unscrupulous people will undoubtedly seek to take advantage of this, manipulating genuine fears and heightening concerns. When fear and uncertainty kick in, scapegoats are never far away. We have already seen anger and hostility directed at some people of east Asian origin. If left unchecked, the urge to blame and exclude may soon extend to other groups – minorities, the marginalized or anyone labelled “foreigner”.

People on the move, including refugees, may be particularly targeted. Yet the coronavirus itself does not discriminate; those infected to date include holidaymakers, international business people and even national ministers, and are located in dozens of countries, spanning all continents. Panic and discrimination never solved a crisis. Political leaders must take the lead, earning trust through transparent and timely information, working together for the common good, and empowering people to participate in protecting health. Ceding space to rumour, fear mongering and hysteria will not only hamper the response but may have broader implications for human rights, the functioning of accountable, democratic institutions.

No country today can wall itself off from the impact of the coronavirus, both in the literal sense and – as falling stock markets and closed schools demonstrate – economically and socially. An international response that ensures that developing countries are equipped to diagnose, treat and prevent this disease will be crucial to safeguarding the health of billions of people. The World Health Organization is providing expertise, surveillance, systems, case investigation, contact tracing, and research and vaccine development. It is a lesson that international solidarity and multilateral systems are more vital than ever.

In the long term, we must accelerate the work of building equitable and accessible public healthcare. And how we respond to this crisis now will undoubtedly shape those efforts for decades to come.

If our response to coronavirus is grounded in the principles of public trust, transparency, respect and empathy for the most vulnerable, we will not only uphold the intrinsic rights of every human being. We will be using and building the most effective tools to ensure we can ride out this crisis and learn lessons for the future.

https://www.unhcr.org/news/latest/2020/3/5e69eea54/coronavirus-outbreak-test-systems-values-humanity.html

UN cancels all human rights side events because of Covid-19

March 4, 2020

Late last week, Swiss authorities took the unprecedented step of prohibiting large public events in response to a growing number of coronavirus cases. As a consequence, events such as the International Motor Show, which attracts a half-million people and Swiss watch exhibits, which draw enthusiastic crowds of thousands of people, have been canceled.  See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/03/03/another-covid-19-casualty-the-2020-human-rights-film-festival-of-geneva-fifdh/

Human Rights spokesman Rolando Gomez says 200 side events will be canceled until the end of this council session on March 20.  He says that is an unfortunate, but responsible measure to take in order to prevent the coronavirus from spreading.  He tells VOA the meetings generally attract on average 4,000 to 6,000 participants during the course of the session. He says those side events are very important.

I should point out just as a technical note they are not official council side events,” said Gomez. “They take place in parallel and they are important as they inform the discussions in the formal proceedings. Of course, those lobbying efforts will continue unabated, which are important.” Side events are organized by non-governmental organizations and states.  The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights also has spent a lot of time and effort in organizing several gatherings aimed at exploring particular aspects of human rights that demand a more comprehensive hearing and analysis. They will not be held.

https://www.voanews.com/science-health/coronavirus-outbreak/coronavirus-prompts-cancellation-human-rights-events-un