Human rights and freedom of speech may prove to be victims of COVID-19 as authoritarian states around the world respond to the Coronavirus pandemic with increasingly restrictive measures. While measures restricting people’s movements and the spread of misinformation may be justified by the crisis, human rights organisations are raising the alarm about the potential for abuse of such measures.
Europe is one of the world’s epicenters of COVID-19 cases and governments across the continent have taken measures to contain it. On March 30th, Hungary adopted an emergency law giving the Prime Minister sweeping powers to suspend laws and govern by decree. It also allows journalists or others accused of spreading ‘false facts’ to be jailed for five years. The following day, The Netherlands’ government joined other EU member states in issuing a joint statement expressing their concern.
‘In this unprecedented situation, it is legitimate that Member States adopt extraordinary measures to protect their citizens & overcome the crisis. We are however deeply concerned about the risk of violations of the principles of #RuleofLaw, democracy & fundamental rights.’
Click here to read the full statement.
Human rights and freedom of speech are already under pressure in many of the countries where RNW Media is active. And in many of those countries conflict, poverty, inadequate health infra-structure and poor governance will add to the difficulty of dealing with an outbreak. Our in-country teams are working to support and inform their young audiences as you can read here.
Responding to the crisis, RNW Media has joined other Dutch development, human rights and emergency organisations in issuing this appeal for international solidarity to the Dutch government:
The Hague, March 30th 2020
The COVID-19 crisis requires national and international solidarity
Our lives have changed completely in a short time as the world is being overwhelmed by the effects of this virus. We are all looking for a way to deal with new fears and uncertainties. At the same time, it is mainly solidarity with and protection for the most vulnerable that drives us.
Now more than ever, we are thinking about each other, taking good care of our family and friends and those who need extra attention.
In the Netherlands, strong measures are in place to protect the vulnerable, prevent the spread of the virus and mitigate the social and economic impact on people and companies.
But we are concerned that international coordination and solidarity in combating and tackling this worldwide problem is insufficient. Each country has its own approach within its own borders. Although that is understandable in the short term, the virus does not stop at the border. This pandemic can only be controlled with a coherent, cross-border approach.
We will have to show solidarity with vulnerable people everywhere in the world. As human beings we owe this to ourselves and to each other. But it is also necessary for global public health, and therefore in the Dutch interest. Curbing this pandemic is also essential for the economy and our social security.
Many developing countries are just now beginning to experience the pandemic, and most do not have a high-quality health care system, good waterworks or a stable food supply. Health care in these countries will quickly collapse without additional support. On average, developing countries have 50 times fewer doctors and 20 times fewer hospital beds per person than in Europe. The virus will also have an impact on the food supply, and finding reliable information about the virus and its control is a problem in many countries.
Not to mention fragile states that have been weakened by years of conflict and have to deal with overcrowded refugee camps and slums. Here millions of people live in close quarters, without electricity, clean drinking water, or a regular food supply. How can they keep a safe distance from each other and wash their hands frequently?
In addition, measures in some countries threaten to work against people and increase existing inequalities. We see parliaments being closed and space for free press, opposition and human rights defenders limited. Discrimination is on the rise, and women’s and girls’ rights are under pressure. Think, for example, of marginalized and persecuted groups – like the LGBTI community – that do not have access to good health care. Or women who are structurally underpaid and have to take risks because they cannot afford to stay at home.
Support for developing countries and civil society organizations in these countries is necessary, especially in this time of crisis, and should be part of the emergency measures taken by this cabinet. Finally, it is with very good reason that António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, called on countries this week to contribute to an international emergency fund to deal with the COVID-19 crisis.
Without international solidarity, we do not only undermine efforts to tackle the pandemic, but also the values of our society.
ActionAid, Aidsfonds, Amref Flying Doctors, Arisa, CARE Nederland, Centre for Safety and Development, CNV International, COC Nederland, Cordaid, Dorcas, Foundation Max van der Stoel, Free Press Unlimited, Heifer, Hivos, ICCO, International Campaign for Tibet, Justice and Peace Netherlands, Kerk in Actie, Leprazending, Light for the World, Liliane Fonds, Mercy Corps, Nederlands Juristen Comité voor de Mensenrechten, ONE Campaign, Oxfam Novib, Partos, Pax, Peace Brigades International – Nederland, Plan International, Prisma, Red een Kind, RNW Media, Rutgers, Save the Children, Simavi, SOS Kinderdorpen, Terre des Hommes, Tear, Verre Naasten, Wemos, WO=MEN, Women Engage for a Common Future, Woord en Daad, World Vision, ZOA