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UN chief: Pandemic is becoming 'human rights crisis'

April 23, 2020

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned about ''rising ethno-nationalism, populism, authoritarianism and a pushback against human rights'' in many nations as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres
Image: picture-alliance/Kyodo

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned the global community on Thursday about the potential for the coronavirus pandemic to become a ''human rights crisis.''

In a video message posted on his Twitter account, Guterres said that while the coronavirus does not discriminate, its impacts do. 

The UN chief pointed to existing discrimination in the delivery of public services to tackle COVID-19 and the ''structural inequalities that impede access to them.'' 

Guterres released a UN report that is meant to be a human-rights blueprint to respond to the health, social and economic crisis gripping the world, stressing that "human rights cannot be an afterthought in times of crisis." 

"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," Guterres said. 

The UN report also called on governments to act to mitigate the worst impacts of COVID-19 on jobs, livelihoods, access to basic services and family life. 

Rising 'authoritarianism' 

Guterres expressed concern about what he saw as ''rising ethno-nationalism, populism, authoritarianism and a push back against human rights in some countries,'' as a result of the pandemic. 

"The crisis can provide a pretext to adopt repressive measures for purposes unrelated to the pandemic,'' he added. 

The UN chief's remark comes as governments around the world carry out extraordinary measures to deal with the pandemic and as activists have denounced state violence, threats to press freedom, arrests and smartphone surveillance, as many of the alleged abuses regimes have implemented to fight COVID-19. 
Guterres said governments must be ''transparent, responsive and accountable,'' stressing that press freedom, civil society, the private sector and ''civic space'' are essential. 

The UN chief added that emergency measures must be ''legal, proportionate, necessary and non-discriminatory, have a specific focus and duration, and take the least intrusive approach possible to protect public health.'' 

''Heavy-handed security responses undermine the health response and can exacerbate existing threats to peace and security or create new ones,'' Guterres said. ''The message is clear: People and their rights must be front and center.''  

jcg/sms (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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