The United Nations on Monday harshly criticized countries that used the pandemic to justify cracking down on dissent and suppressing criticism. Speaking at the opening of the UN Human Rights Council’s main annual session, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres alleged that the authorities in a number of countries used restrictions meant to stop the spread of Covid-19 to weaken their political opposition.
“Using the pandemic as an excuse, authorities in several countries have deployed security responses and emergency measures to crush dissent, criminalize basic freedoms, silence independent reporting and restrict the activities of non-governmental organizations,” he said, without naming countries.
Speaking in a pre-recorded video message to a virtual meeting of the Geneva-based body, the UN chief lamented that “pandemic-related restrictions were used to subvert the electoral process, weaken opposition voices and suppress criticism” in several countries.
At the same time, he said, “Human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, political activists and even medical professionals are detained, prosecuted and subjected to intimidation and surveillance for criticizing the government’s pandemic response – or lack thereof.”
UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet also slammed countries using Covid-19 as an excuse to impose “unlawful restrictions on public freedoms … and the unnecessary or excessive use of force.” “I think we all realize that the use of force will not end this pandemic. Sending criticism to prison will not end this pandemic,” he said in a video message to the council.
Covid-19 has killed nearly 2.5 million people worldwide since the virus first emerged in China in late 2019, and Bachelet warned that “the medical impact of the pandemic is far from over.” “And the impact on the economy, freedom, society and people is just beginning,” he added.
Guterres also criticized how the pandemic has “deepened pre-existing divisions, vulnerability and inequality, and opened new gaps, including fault lines in human rights.” “This disease has taken a disproportionate number of victims to women, minorities, people with disabilities, the elderly, refugees, migrants and indigenous peoples.”
As a result, he warned, “progress on gender equality has set years back (and) extreme poverty has increased for the first time in decades.” In addition to inequalities within countries, the UN chief condemned inequality between countries when it comes to accessing the Covid-19 vaccine which is marketed as “moral outrage”.
As much as 75 percent of all vaccine doses have been given in just 10 countries, he pointed out, while more than 130 countries have not received a single dose. “Vaccine equity is ultimately about human rights,” he said. “Vaccine nationalism denies it.”
Guterres also voiced concern on Monday over misinformation widespread throughout the world about the coronavirus and pandemic. In a number of cases, Guterres said, “access to life-saving Covid-19 information has been withheld, while misinformation has been reinforced, including by those in power.” Beyond the pandemic, Guterres highlighted the need for more action globally against systemic racism and ideas of white supremacy.
“The decay of racism is eating away at institutions, social structures and everyday life, sometimes invisibly and quietly,” he said. He welcomed “a new revival in the global struggle for racial justice.” “We must also step up the fight against the revival of neo-Nazism, white supremacy, and racially and ethnically motivated terrorism,” said Guterres.
“The danger of these hate-driven movements is increasing day by day,” he said, warning that they were “more than just a domestic terror threat.” “They pose a transnational threat.”