UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, on Thursday said that the COVID-19 crisis could give some countries an excuse to adopt repressive measures that are unrelated to the pandemic and warned that the outbreak risks becoming a human rights crisis.
Guterres released a UN report highlighting how human rights should guide the response and recovery to the health, social and economic crisis gripping the world. He added that while the virus does not discriminate, its impact does.
“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 said migrants, refugees and internally displaced people are particularly vulnerable. 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.”
The United Nations did not give any specific examples of such measures.
Guterres called on governments to be transparent, responsive, and accountable and stressed that civic space and press freedom were “critical.”
He also said, “The best response is one that responds proportionately to immediate threats while protecting human rights and the rule of law.”
The UN report said the pandemic was creating hardship that “if not mitigated, will raise tension and could provoke civil unrest,” adding that this could then spark a heavy-handed security response.
“In all we do, let’s never forget: The threat is the virus, not people,” Guterres said.