COVID-19 hits people gripped by oppression especially hard as a result of decades of inequality, neglect and abuse

The pandemic has exposed the terrible legacy of deliberately divisive and destructive policies that perpetuated inequality, discrimination and oppression and paved the way for the ruin caused by COVID-19, Amnesty International said in its annual report, you posted today.

Amnesty International Report 2020/21: The Situation of Human Rights in the World covers 149 countries and contains a comprehensive analysis of human rights trends observed around the world in 2020. The organization describes in it how groups that Already among the most marginalized, such as refugees and women, they suffered the worst consequences of the pandemic because of discriminatory policies applied by decision of world leaders for decades.

We are faced with a world in chaos. At this point in the pandemic, even the most delusional leaders would have a hard time denying that our social, economic and political systems have collapsed.

Agnès Callamard, new Secretary General of Amnesty International

Health workers, migrant workers and those employed in the informal sector – in many cases on the front lines of the pandemic – have also been betrayed by neglected health systems and highly unequal economic and social support. The response to COVID-19 has been further undermined by leaders who have ruthlessly profited from the crisis and used the pandemic to renew their attacks on human rights, the organization says.

“COVID-19 has starkly revealed and exacerbated existing inequalities between and within countries, highlighting the tremendous disregard of our leaders for the common good of humanity. Decades of divisive policies, ill-advised austerity measures and official decisions not to invest in deteriorating public infrastructure have made too many people easy prey for the virus, ”said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s new secretary general.

“We are faced with a world in chaos. At this point in the pandemic, even the most delusional leaders would have a hard time denying that our social, economic and political systems have collapsed. ”

The pandemic has amplified decades of inequality and attrition of public services

The Amnesty report shows that as a result of the inequalities generated by toxic leadership for decades, the pandemic disproportionately affected women, refugee populations, the elderly and ethnic minorities.

COVID-19 worsened the already precarious situation for refugees, migrants and asylum seekers in many countries, in some cases leaving them trapped in miserable reception camps, disrupting vital supplies or triggering border controls that left many stranded. For example, Uganda, the country hosting the largest number of refugees in Africa – 1.4 million – immediately closed its borders at the start of the pandemic and made no exceptions for refugees and asylum seekers trying to enter the country. . As a result, more than 10,000 people were trapped along its border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

We are reaping the fruits of years of calculated neglect on the part of our leaders.

Agnes Callamard

The report highlights the marked increase in gender-based violence and domestic violence, in the context of which many women and LGBTI persons had to face greater obstacles to receive protection and support due to restrictions on freedom of movement, lack of mechanisms confidential information that allowed victims to report violence while in isolation with their abusers, and reduced capacity or suspension of services.

Those working on the front lines of the pandemic – health workers and the informal sector – suffered the consequences of deliberately neglected health systems and appalling social protection measures. In Bangladesh, many people working in the informal sector were left without income or social benefits due to lockdowns and curfews. In Nicaragua, at the beginning of June, at least 16 health professionals who had expressed concern about the lack of individual protection equipment and the State’s response to the pandemic were fired in just two weeks.

“We are reaping the fruits of years of calculated neglect from our leaders. In 2020, the exceptional pressure of a pandemic definitely put health systems to the test and plunged the population into a deep economic crisis. The heroes of 2020 were the health workers who were on the front line saving lives, as well as the people at the bottom of the pay scale who joined forces to feed families and keep our essential services active. Cruelly, the people who gave the most were the ones who received the least protection, ”said Agnès Callamard.

A virulent strain of leaders instrumentalize the pandemic to continue their attacks on human rights

The report also describes a sad picture of world leaders whose management of the pandemic was characterized by opportunism and an outright disregard for human rights.

“We have seen all kinds of responses from our leaders, both mediocre and misleading, selfish and fallacious. Some have tried to normalize the authoritarian emergency measures they have taken to combat COVID-19, while an especially virulent strain of leaders have gone even further, seeing the pandemic as an opportunity to assert their power. Instead of supporting and protecting the population, they have limited themselves to exploiting the pandemic to seriously undermine their rights, ”said Agnès Callamard.

The passage of laws to penalize comments related to the pandemic has been a dominant pattern. In Hungary, for example, the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán amended the country’s Penal Code to introduce penalties of up to five years in prison for “spreading false information” about COVID-19.

In several Gulf States – Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Oman – the authorities used the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to continue repressing the right to freedom of expression, with measures such as prosecuting people for disseminating “Fake news” due to comments they had posted on social media about the government’s responses to the pandemic.

Other leaders have resorted to the excessive use of force. In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte said he had ordered the police to “shoot to kill” those who protested or could cause “trouble” during the confinement measures. In Nigeria, brutality by security forces killed people for protesting in the streets, claiming their rights and demanding accountability. In Brazil, police violence increased during the COVID-19 pandemic under the government of President Bolsonaro. Police killed at least 3,181 people across the country from January to June, an average of 17 a day.

Some leaders went even further and used the pandemic to deflect attention while suppressing criticism unrelated to the virus and who made it, and committing other human rights violations, taking advantage of the world’s media having an eye on other issues. . For example, in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi further cracked down on civil society activism, with counter-terrorism measures such as breaking into homes and offices.

Meanwhile, the Chinese government of President Xi Jinping did not give up its persecution of the Uighur people and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, and an abusive national security law was passed in Hong Kong to legitimize politically motivated repression.

“International institutions, such as the International Criminal Court and the UN human rights mechanisms, are there to hold perpetrators to account, whether they are individual individuals or states. Sadly, 2020 showed that they are trapped in a political stalemate caused by leaders trying to undermine and profit from collective responses to human rights violations, ”said Agnès Callamard.

National interests have prevailed over international cooperation in responding to COVID-19

World leaders have also wreaked havoc on the international scene by hampering collective recovery efforts by blocking or weakening international cooperation.

Examples of this are:

The leaders of rich countries, such as former President Trump, who bypassed global cooperation initiatives and acquired most of the world’s vaccine supplies, leaving other countries virtually without them. These rich countries also did not pressure pharmaceutical companies to share their knowledge and technology in order to expand the supply of COVID-19 vaccines worldwide.

The government of Xi Jinping, which censored and persecuted health personnel and journalists who at the beginning tried to sound the alarm about the virus in China, and thus prevented fundamental information from being known.

The G-20, which proposed to suspend debt payments to the poorest countries to claim them later with interest.

“The pandemic has exposed a stark reality: the world’s inability to cooperate effectively in times of extreme global need,” said Agnès Callamard.

“The only possible way out of this disastrous situation is international cooperation. States must ensure that vaccines are readily available to everyone, everywhere, and free wherever they are administered. Pharmaceutical companies must share their knowledge and technology so that no one is left behind. And the members of the G-20 and international financial institutions must alleviate the debt of the 77 poorest countries in the world so that they can fight the pandemic and recover from it. “

Protest movements of a population defrauded by their governments arise all over the world

The regressive policies adopted have prompted many people to join established struggle movements, such as the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the United States and the #End SARS protests in Nigeria, or new and creative forms of protest, such as virtual strikes by the weather.

In 2020, leadership did not come from power, privilege or money, but from the countless people who demonstrated to demand change.

Agnes Callamard

The report describes in detail many victories achieved by human rights activism in 2020, especially in the area of ​​gender-based violence.

For example, in South Korea, Kuwait, and Sudan, legislation was passed to combat violence against women and girls, and in Argentina, South Korea, and Northern Ireland, abortion was decriminalized.

“In 2020, leadership did not come from power, privilege or money, but from the countless people who demonstrated to demand change. We saw huge displays of support for the #End SARS and Black Lives Matter movements, as well as public protests against repression and inequality in places around the world such as Chile, Hong Kong, Iraq and Poland. It was the leadership of ordinary people and human rights defenders around the world, often risking their safety, that prompted us to act. And these are the people who are at the forefront of the fight for a better, safer and more egalitarian world ”, said Agnès Callamard.

“We are at a crossroads. We must break the bonds that degrade human dignity. We must press the reset button to build a world based on equality, human rights and humanity. We must learn from the pandemic and join forces with courage and creativity to ensure that all people are treated equally. ”

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