Chinese policemen patrolling. Source: Busiweek.com
As the Corona virus rampages across the globe, we often think of what it will do to the various dimensions of our everyday life. In this short read, I want to focus on the key issues in human rights that we face right now, and how we can deal with the disease in a humanitarian way, finishing up with an inspiring message of hope that the disease allows us to build a better, fairer, world.
The decision to quarantine a person is in a complicated relationship to the most basic interpretation of human rights. After all, doesn't forced quarantine violate the individuals' decision to be free to go where they want to go, are we allowed to just isolate people against their will? According to international law, quarantining is allowed if it is done in the most humane way possible, implemented in a safe and respectful manner with access to healthcare, food, and other necessities. This is sadly not always upheld. In Australia, for example, many who are quarantined are being sent to immigration centers that have extensively been described as inhumane. Similarly, border closings should also be proportionate, not leaving your nationals, regardless of whether or not they have contracted the virus, in foreign nations with no chance of returning, as is happening in Papua New Guinea.
In China, streets have become completely desolated due to forced measures, not allowing people to leave their houses under any condition. Quarantines have become arbitrary, as the Chinese government frequently targets human rights lawyers and journalists. Moreover, the citizens are unable to tell a different story than the government is trying to promote, and the doctors who initially spoke out about the Corona virus face harassment or sanctions because it may cause embarrassments to the government. On top of that,the government has deeply violated privacy, as it has developed an app with 90% facial recognition that enables it to deny people who merely pose risks to enter certain areas. Quarantines are an incredibly delicate issue to deal with in terms of human rights, but it is irresponsible to quarantine people without access to proper health care, food, and other necessities, as has extensively been the case in China.
Aside from these concerns, there are many other social dimensions in which Corona offers challenges. Not only are people severely restricted in freedom of movement and privacy, but they are subjected to all kinds of prejudice, inequalities, and abuses. In an earlier blog post, we talked about the enormous problems of discrimination towards people of Asian descent. Not too long ago, there was a hideous case of racial violence in the Netherlands, as an Asian woman was violently abused when she asked her to-be assailants to stop singing a racist chant.
In China, domestic violence has been increasing as many people are forced to stay at home. Many of the women who face domestic violence are also unable to escape, due to the tight restrictions on movement. And all over the world, not everyone has the same access to Corona tests. Widespread inequality in nations like the United Kingdom and the United States violates the universal right to health care, as many people who face risks are simply not covered or are unable to acquire tests. A 2019 Human Rights Watch report found the problematic lack of social care assessments in England, while the United States bungles its handling of the virus as tests are widely inaccessible, especially not for those without substantial financial means. Although neither nation violates Human Rights as directly as China, their negligence infringes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on a different level.
There are major problems to be tackled, including the universal right to health care regardless of income or status, the right to be quarantined in a human fashion with access to health care, food, and other necessities, and the continuous fight against such things as domestic abuse, racism, and xenophobia. Nevertheless, as Rutger Bregman pointed out, disasters and crises bring out the best of us. In general terms, we become more emphatic and more considerate. In China, people tell each other jiayou, ‘do not give up,’ and in Italy, they chant songs from their balconies to encourage one another. In these times, a climate of cooperation and solidarity does emerge.
What does it mean for us, as human rights activists? Even though we can’t gather, we can surf the current of increasing social solidarity. We have to mobilize people’s friendliness and willingness to help one another to further fight human rights. Although our physical meetings have been cancelled, we are now facing new opportunities to increase human solidarity, and it is this message of hope that we should embrace.