“Coronavirus is a global health challenge but it is also a global human rights crisis,” says Gary Allison.
In America, Black Lives Matters protestors have been arrested and detained without access to masks, food and water. In Angola, activists who distributed information about protection against Coronavirus to the indigenous population were attacked by police, arrested and held for several days before being released without charge. In Azerbaijan, journalists have been arrested for writing articles critical of the government’s response to the virus.
Covid-19 is a global health challenge but it is also a global human rights crisis. This is not something reserved for those countries with traditionally poor human rights records. All over the world, our rights are under threat in some way or another. The stories shared above are just the tip of the iceberg.
We discussed the pandemic and the extraordinary measures that countries have adopted in response during a recent online panel discussion with our colleagues at Amnesty International UK, Human Rights Watch and Front Line Defenders.
Here at Prisoners of Conscience, we are particularly worried about the impact of the crisis on freedom of expression and freedom of speech, which we know have been particularly adversely affected throughout.
Even before the pandemic hit, the situation had been deteriorating. In the last five years, we have seen a huge increase in the numbers of applications from people who have been persecuted for exercising these particular rights –80 per cent of whom had to flee their home countries in search of safety. We are bracing ourselves for an influx of applications from people who have been persecuted for sharing their stories of Coronavirus and for asking difficult questions of their governments.
Same storm; different boat
The pandemic has placed everyone under pressure and we are all feeling the social, economic and mental health effects of isolation. For human rights defenders, these issues are intensified by the conditions in which they live. By their very nature, they are often hidden “underground” or in exile somewhere far away from home, which limits their access to water and sanitation and personal protection equipment, and places additional stresses on their financial and emotional wellbeing.
During our panel discussion, I emphasised how charities like ours need to demonstrate to governments around the world the financial and social benefits associated with protecting human rights and those who defend them. We are committed to working closely with our referral agencies and other partners around the world to create a more powerful and unified movement that will create long-term permanent change.
We can’t do this without you
There are many ways in which you too can help. You can use your voice to tell your government that you want them to take action against human rights abuses. You can use the power of your purse to place pressure on companies to make the changes you want to see. And you can make donations to organisations such as Prisoners of Conscience –because with your support, the stronger we can become and the bigger the difference we can make, both now and in the long term.
Gary Allison is the director of Prisoners of Conscience
Human rights under lockdown: How to protect our rights during the Coronavirus pandemic
Watch the webinar here: bit.ly/humanrightsunderlockdown