COVID-19 still used by governments as pretext to repress human rights – Amnesty

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Governments around the world continue to use the coronavirus pandemic during the last year to further repress citizens’ rights and push authoritarian agendas, Amnesty International said in its annual report released on Wednesday.

From the prosecution of journalists to the repression of activists, Amnesty International said ignoring escalating hotspots for human rights violations and allowing states to perpetrate abuses with impunity could jeopardise efforts to rebuild after the pandemic.

“We’ve seen the development of new legal tools to supposedly ‘combat fake news’ but which in fact repress freedom of expression, attacks against human rights defenders – particularly environmental defenders – the world over,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty’s new secretary general.

“The voices and experiences of all these people must be at the heart of our reboot post COVID-19. If they are not, then the crises will multiply and the [current]system will perpetuate.”

A number of under-reported crises were taking place across the globe that warranted immediate attention, said Callamard.

Amnesty’s global report for 2020–2021, found that “fake news” laws in the Gulf, Hungary and Singapore were being used to silence criticism of governments and responses to the pandemic.

Singaporean authorities used the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, which forces online media platforms to carry corrections or remove content the government considers to be false.

The Singaporean law, which carries penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment or fines of up to S$1m (£540,000), have been used throughout 2020 against government critics and political opponents.

Activists in Western Sahara, which has been locked in a decades-long struggle for independence from Morocco, faced a number of interrogations and trumped-up charges for their human rights work, according to the report.

“Western Sahara has been living under oppression for many decades, but [the decision by Donald Trump]to recognise Morocco’s sovereignty has simply escalated the repression,” said Sahrawi activist Mohamed Elbaikam.

The human rights situation in the Philippines, already tenuous, worsened dramatically in 2020. In July 2020, the Philippines passed an anti-terrorism bill and its broad and vague definition of terrorism has since been used to target rights campaigners.

The island nation is already the second deadliest country behind Colombia for human rights activists, according to the advocacy group Front Line Defenders. The vast majority of those killed in 2020 were working on environmental, land and indigenous rights, it said.

Amnesty’s report painted a grim picture of the state of human rights around the world, with Callamard saying COVID-19 had “exposed and amplified everything that is wrong with our society”.

Leaders had weaponised the pandemic by using it to ramp up attacks on human rights; vulnerable and elderly people died in their thousands in care homes; gender-based and domestic violence had increased in every region of the world; and global bodies such as the international criminal court and UN had failed to meet the human rights challenges omnipresent in 2020, she said.

A number of governments around the world also used excessive violence to police the pandemic – including the Philippines, Nigeria and Brazil, where an average of 17 people were killed every day by police in the first half of the year, Amnesty’s report claims.

In nearly a third of all the countries Amnesty monitored, authorities had harassed or intimidated health or other key workers, with many facing reprisals, including arrest and dismissal, for raising concerns about safety or working conditions during the pandemic.

Callamard said the pandemic had highlighted “the world’s inability to cooperate effectively in times of dire global need”.

“The only way out of this mess is through international cooperation,” she said. (Source: The Guardian)

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