UN chief warns against human rights violations in COVID-19 fight

May 10, 2018: Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations (UN), speaks during an interview in New York. /VCG Photo

The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Thursday the COVID-19 pandemic could give some countries an excuse to adopt repressive measures for reasons not related to the health crisis.

The UN chief warned that the pandemic risked becoming a human rights crisis.

Guterres released a U.N. report highlighting how human rights should guide the response and recovery to the health, social and economic crisis gripping the world. He noted that while the disease does not discriminate, its impact may do just that.

“We see the 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,” said Guterres.

The U.N. report said migrants, refugees and internally displaced people are particularly vulnerable. It said more than 131 countries have closed their borders, with only 30 allowing exemptions for asylum-seekers.

“Against the background of rising ethno-nationalism, populism, authoritarianism and a pushback against human rights in some countries, the crisis can provide a pretext to adopt repressive measures for purposes unrelated to the pandemic,” he said. “This is unacceptable.”

Globally, COVID-19 deaths have exceeded 185,000, with infections going beyond 2.65 million.

Guterres called upon governments to ensure that their response of the pandemic does not infringe on human rights.

“The best response is one that responds proportionately to immediate threats while protecting human rights and the rule of law,” he said.