Human rights abuses under cover of the pandemic

Human rights abuses under cover of the pandemic

File photo of members of Quezon City’s Task Force Disiplina castigating a fish vendor with yantok sticks. The vendor reportedly refused to follow quarantine protocols and became the object of ire by local authorities.

If someone puts their hands on you make sure they never put their hands on anybody else again.

— American Muslim minister and human rights activist Malcolm X

LET me start with this—a short narrative from adult author Angie Tomas: “When I was twelve, my parents had two talks with me.

“One was the usual birds and bees. Well, I didn’t really get the usual version. My mom, Lisa, is a registered nurse, and she told me what went where, and what didn’t need to go here, there, or any damn where till I’m grown. Back then, I doubted anything was going anywhere anyway. While all the other girls sprouted breasts between sixth and seventh grade, my chest was as flat as my back.

“The other talk was about what to do if a cop stopped me.

“Momma fussed and told Daddy I was too young for that. He argued that I wasn’t too young to get arrested or shot.

“‘Starr-Starr, you do whatever they tell you to do,’ he said. ‘Keep your hands visible. Don’t make any sudden moves. Only speak when they speak to you.’

I knew it must’ve been serious. Daddy has the biggest mouth of anybody I know, and if he said to be quiet, I needed to be quiet.”

With that said, let me move on . . .

Law-enforcement agencies around the world have violated human rights in 60 countries under the pretext of tackling Covid-19, according to a new report from Amnesty International.

The abuses include accounts of people being shot for breaking curfew, the violent suppression of protests, arbitrary arrests, and assaults on individuals not wearing masks – in countries from Angola to Chechnya.

In some cases, the abuses actually may have worsened the impact of Covid-19, for example by detaining people in crowded, unsanitary jails, the report added.

“The horrific abuses committed on the pretext of fighting Covid-19 include Angolan police shooting a teenage boy in the face for allegedly breaking curfew, and police in El Salvador shooting a man in the legs after he went out to buy food,” said Patrick Wilcken, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Global Issues Programme.

“While the role of law-enforcement at this moment is vital to protect people’s health and lives, the over reliance on coercive measures to enforce public health restrictions is making things worse. The profound impact of the pandemic on people’s lives compounds the need for policing.

The report, Covid-19 Crackdowns: Police Abuse and the Global Pandemic, also found that 85,000 people in the Dominican Republic were detained for not complying with curfews in just three months, from May-July.

In Iran, several were killed and injured when security forces reportedly used live ammunition and tear gas to suppress protests over the Covid-19 risk in prisons.

In the first five days of a curfew in Kenya earlier this year, seven people were killed and 16 hospitalized “as a result of excessive police operations,” according to the report.

In Chechnya, video footage showed police assaulting and kicking a man for not wearing a mask, and in South Africa, police fired rubber bullets at people “loitering” on the streets on the first day of lockdown.

In Turkey, 510 were reportedly detained for questioning for “sharing provocative coronavirus posts” on social media.

In a number of contexts, over-zealous policing of curfews may actually have worsened the pandemic, Amnesty said.

For example, video footage from across the Americas verified by Amnesty International’s Citizen Evidence Lab showed police rounding people up for failing to wear masks – but ironically, abandoning physical distancing entirely while doing so.

In Venezuela, at least 12 health workers have been detailed and brought before tribunals for speaking out about safety concerns in their work.

And The Telegraph exposed how Ethiopian migrants were kept in ‘hellish’, cramped detention centers in Saudi Arabia as part of a drive to stop Covid-19. Some have since returned home.

The report also documents racial bias and discrimination in how police have enforced regulations, with refugees, migrant workers, LGBTQ+, sex workers and homeless people particularly affected.

For example, in Slovakia, law enforcement officers cordoned off Roma settlements under quarantine, and in France, volunteers from Human Rights Observers documented 175 cases of forced evictions of migrants in Calais between March and May.

Other countries used the pandemic for wider crackdowns, including on protests. For example, at least 16 people were killed in Ethiopia by security officers, allegedly for holding a meeting in contravention of Covid-19 restrictions, after a protest against the arrests of local leaders, Amnesty International found.

In view of these abuses, the question now is whether these, too, are happening here in the Philippines. I guess the Philippine National Police can answer this in their own time.

Meanwhile, let me wish our good general, Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Debold Menorias Sinas and likewise generals Rolando Fernandez Miranda of the PNP’s regional office in Western Visayas, Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) assistant chief Major Michael John Villanueva, Manila Police District (MPD) director Brigadier Gen. Leo Francisco, Quezon City Police District (QCPD) director Danilo Macerin and National Bureau of Investigation’s Ferdinand Lavin, Claro De Castro and Nick Suarez a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Likewise to our colleagues in the media and others who have kept our friendship though all the past years, among them my boss in Hataw Jerry Sia Yap, Joey Venancio of Police Files Tonite, Carlo Mateo of GMA7, Zyann Ambrosio, Mer Layson, Percy Lapid, Norman Cordon, Roy Mabasa, Noel Lontoc and several others whose names would take some 20 pages to mention. (AI/MTVN)

Leave a Reply