Global response to the coronavirus pandemic has been tainted with “opportunism” and “total contempt for human rights” by many global leaders resulting in failure.
This was the assessment made by human rights group Amnesty International in its annual report released this week.
“We’ve seen a spectrum of responses from our leaders; from the mediocre to mendacious, selfish to the fraudulent,” noted the report.
Agnès Callamard, secretary general of Amnesty International, said some “particularly virulent strain” of leaders even used the pandemic as an opportunity to entrench their own power.”
“Instead of supporting and protecting people, they have simply weaponized the pandemic to wreak havoc on people’s rights,” Callamard said.
She cited Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte who ordered police to shoot “dead” people who protest or may cause “trouble” during the quarantine period.
The Amnesty International report noted that some leaders also used the distraction of the pandemic to clamp down on criticism — and critics — unrelated to the virus, “and perpetrate other human rights violations.”
The report cited Narendra Modi of India who cracked down on civil society activists, even staging counter-terrorism raids on homes.
China’s President Xi Jinping continued its persecution of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang and implemented a sweeping national security law in Hong Kong “to legitimize politically motivated repression.”
In Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, authorities used the pandemic as a pretext to continue suppressing the right to freedom of expression.
Several individuals who posted comments on social media about government responses to the pandemic were prosecuted for allegedly spreading “false news.”
Callamard said international institutions such as the International Criminal Court and UN human rights mechanisms “have been wrestled into political deadlock by leaders seeking to exploit and undermine collective responses to human rights violations.”
Marginalized sector most affected
The report noted that those already most marginalized, including women and refugees, bore the “devastating brunt of the pandemic” as a result of decades of discriminatory policy decisions.
Health workers, migrant workers, and those in the informal sector — many at the frontlines of the pandemic — have also been “betrayed” by neglected health systems, said Amnesty International.
“COVID-19 has brutally exposed and deepened inequality both within and between countries, and highlighted the staggering disregard our leaders have for our shared humanity,” said Callamard.
She said decades of “divisive policies, misguided austerity measures, and choices by leaders not to invest in crumbling public infrastructure, have left too many easy prey to this virus.”
“We face a world in disarray,” added the new secretary general of Amnesty International.
“At this point in the pandemic, even the most deluded leaders would struggle to deny that our social, economic and political systems are broken,” she said.
The report also noted that those on the frontlines of the pandemic — health workers, and those in the informal sector — suffered as a result of willfully neglected health systems and pitiful social protection measures.
In Bangladesh, many working in the informal sector have been left without an income or social protections due to lockdowns and curfews.
“We are reaping the results of years of calculated neglect at the hands of our leaders,” said Callamard. “Cruelly, those who gave the most, were protected the least,” she added.