Cambodia’s ‘naming and shaming’ of COVID victims alarms UN rights experts

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The decision by Cambodian authorities to allow the publication of personal information about individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 has alarmed UN human rights experts who said it is unnecessary and a breach of privacy.

The country’s Ministry of Health has started to disclose the identity and personal information of individuals infected with COVID-19 to the media on December 04, a decision endorsed by the Prime Minister Hun Sen.

“The naming and shaming in public of those who have contracted the virus can lead to discrimination and stigma. These actions are deplorable breach of privacy,” the experts said.

“This may also deter people from having tests should they have symptoms of COVID-19 or if they suspect they are at risk of infection having been in close proximity with someone who has tested positive for the virus”.

Since Dec. 04, the ministry has published lists of those testing positive for the virus on its social media site. The published details include names, age, sex, work place and home address. The personal information has been widely disseminated by the mainstream media and on social media.

‘It is very concerning that personal data is being collected and published without consent. There is no legal provision authorising the collection, processing and publication of such personal data,” the experts said.

“Confidentiality and privacy laws require appropriate safeguards, and remedies for the persons affected, to ensure the secure use of personal and health-related data, along with independent oversight,” they continued.

The experts welcomed a Ministry of Health press statement of Dec. 10, which affirmed its commitment to respect individual’s right to privacy and human dignity, and removed photographs of individuals diagnosed with COVID-19. The experts, however, remain concerned that the press statement retains personal data.

The global pandemic has put data protection safeguards to the test. The experts noted that any personal information collected in contact-tracing should be limited to that which is strictly necessary and proportional to stop the spread of the disease.

They urged the authorities to ensure that all Cambodians, especially the most vulnerable, have access to public health measures, including testing, advice, counselling and treatment.

The UN experts also expressed concerns about the spread of the pandemic in the country’s jails, and called on the government to urgently follow through on its pledge to test inmates. “In order to prevent any potential outbreak, we urge the government to take all necessary preventive measures and prioritise mandatory testing for all detainees and prisoners,” they said.

Cambodia reported its first community transmission of COVID-19 on Nov. 29, after a number of prison officials including General Department of Prisons director-general have tested positive for COVID-19. These officials were in contact with detainees and prisoners at a time when they may have already contracted the virus, raising fear about possible transmission of the virus amongst prisoners and detainees. (Source: OHCHR)

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