UN warns coronavirus pandemic could become human rights crisis

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said the novel coronavirus could give some countries an excuse to adopt repressive measures for reasons unrelated to the pandemic as he warned that the outbreak risks becoming a human rights crisis.

Guterres released a UN report on Thursday highlighting how human rights should guide the response and recovery to the health, social and economic crisis affecting the world. He added that while the virus does not discriminate, its impacts do.

The new coronavirus, which causes the respiratory illness COVID-19, has so far infected more than 2.6 million people globally while more than 183,120 have died, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The virus first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

“We see the disproportionate effects on certain communities, the rise of hate speech, the targeting of vulnerable groups, and the risks of heavy-handed security responses undermining the health response,” Guterres said.

The UN report said migrants, refugees and internally displaced people are particularly vulnerable. It said more than 131 countries have closed their borders, with only 30 allowing exemptions for asylum-seekers.

“Against the background of rising ethno-nationalism, populism, authoritarianism and a pushback against human rights in some countries, the crisis can provide a pretext to adopt repressive measures for purposes unrelated to the pandemic,” he said. “This is unacceptable.”

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