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Group slams rollback of human rights in Asia

/ 05:44 AM April 09, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — Governments in Southeast Asia, including the Philippines, have used the COVID-19 pandemic to impose measures that have rolled back human rights in the region, according to Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum-Asia).

Under the pretext of public safety and national security, these governments have either imposed partial or complete lockdowns, social and physical distancing, controlled the release of information, or declared a state of emergency that legitimized the presence of military forces, said Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu, executive director of Forum-Asia.

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“What we have seen is that these measures have instead resulted in a disregard of public health and human rights perspective by putting forward a militarized approach [that] end up further contributing to high mortality and morbidity rate,” Kaliemuthu said in a webinar with journalists and civil society groups on Tuesday.

These measures have also worsened the public health risks of marginalized populations, including the homeless, people living in poverty, indigenous groups and the LGBTQ community, she added.

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As cases and deaths due to the new coronavirus are projected to rise in the next few weeks and months, civil society groups have expressed alarm over the impact of authoritarian measures on civic space, democracy, and the protection of human rights in the region.

The Commission on Human Rights on Wednesday also reminded local officials that despite the lockdown, the Bill of Rights is still in effect “to protect citizens and their rights.”

Across Southeast Asia, hundreds have been arrested for their posts on social media and accused of conspiracy against government and of spreading false information.

Last week, the National Bureau of Investigation summoned more than a dozen people for their Facebook posts.

Local human rights group also slammed the degrading and inhumane treatment of curfew violators, citing an incident in Laguna province where several young men were locked inside a dog cage for the violation.

While there is no one-size-fits-all model in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, Kaliemuthu said the best practice—as observed in countries like South Korea and Taiwan—was to introduce measures founded on human rights principles.

—With a report from Patricia Denise M. Chiu

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TAGS: coronavirus pandemic, COVID-19, Forum-Asia, lockdowns, rights violations
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