Repressive COVID-19 measures declared as “toxic lockdown culture” by OHCHR

A civilian of Myanmar leaving court after charges filed against him for breaking COVID-19 measures A civilian of Myanmar leaving court after charges filed against him for breaking COVID-19 measures AP Photo, Human Rights Watch

12 June 2020

The most poor and vulnerable parts of the world impacted by repressive COVID-19 measures “supposably put in place to save them"

A statement issued on 27 April 2020 by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, reveals concerning details of how dozens of countries’ counterintuitive efforts against the COVID-19 pandemic are resulting in human rights abuses. Bachelet criticised certain countries for shooting, detaining, and abusing persons who break curfew, and expressed particular concern for pregnant women who need to get to hospital to give birth, or those who are in need of medical treatment and food.

In Myanmar, at least 500 civilians, including children, religious minorities, and migrant workers have been sentenced to between one month and one-year prison since late March 2020 for breaking curfews. This is despite jails and prisons being known as high risk environments for the spread of the virus. Furthermore, the Myanmar military and ethic armed groups continue to engage in conflict, further risking the immediate survival of many civilians during these times. 

In contrast, it has been reported by the World Health Organization (WHO) that local officials in Yemen are not taking enough preventative measures as warring parties continue to engage in conflict. The civilian population has been recorded to have one of the world’s lowest immunity levels to the coronavirus disease due to malnourishment caused by the ongoing conflict. Spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Jens Laerk told a Geneva briefing that “after five years of war and now a pandemic, Yemen is really on the brink and its health system has in effect collapsed.”

The Director of Thematic Engagement at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Peggy Hicks has called for States to avoid involuntary forced returns during this period and stressed that international law does not allow for States to restrict some rights in order to protect public health. OHCHR also shared its concern with the United States (US) and the European Union (EU) for allegedly refusing to provide shelter to migrants on the grounds of preventing the spread of the virus. 


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Author: Catherine Gregoire;  Editor: Sara Gorelli

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