Marginalized groups such as LGBT people, sex workers, drug users and the homeless have been disproportionately affected by corona measures in the last 2 years. They faced increasing discrimination and other human rights violations. It shows a new report from Amnesty International.
In the report “There is no help for our society” – The impact of states’ Covid-19 reactions on groups affected by unfair criminalization are the results of a survey conducted by Amnesty International among 54 civil society organizations in 28 countries. It shows that excessive enforcement of the corona measures – where people were fined, arrested and imprisoned for non-compliance – led to increased intimidation of marginalized groups and more police brutality against them. The approach also reduced their access to basic necessities such as food, health care and housing.
Disproportionately hard hit
More than two-thirds of respondents (69 percent) said the state’s response to the coronavirus crisis exacerbated the negative impact of existing laws and regulations. Of those, 90 percent reported that corona measures were specifically targeted at the communities they work with or that they were disproportionately affected by them.
“Although corona measures may vary from country to country, there has been too much emphasis on punishing people who do not comply with the rules. It would have been better to support them to better comply with the rules, “said Rajat Khosla of Amnesty International.” When governments use punishment to enforce public health measures, it simply becomes more difficult to enforce. People who could not live by night and people who were homeless were criminalized for not complying with the corona measures. This short-sightedness made these people victims of violent and discriminatory police work. They were pressured to make risky decisions to meet their basic needs. This resulted in preventable diseases, deaths and a wide range of human rights violations. ‘
More often punished by the police
71 percent of the organizations stated that people from the communities they work with have been punished for violating corona measures. Among them were sex workers, LGBT people and people who needed an abortion.
According to the Mexican human rights organization Elementa, in the ‘war on drugs’, police arrested people who used or possessed drugs on the basis of corona measures. For example, a construction worker who was under the influence of drugs was arrested, allegedly for not wearing a face mask. He died while in custody. His body was bruised and he had a gunshot wound to the leg.
In Belize, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Uganda, the Philippines, Tanzania, and the United Kingdom, civil society organizations working for LGBT rights, drug policy reform, the rights of sex workers, and the abolition of homelessness reported that law enforcement officials were marginalized. monitored and intimidated communities even more than before. During the pandemic, these communities were disproportionately arrested, fined and detained.
In Argentina, a sex worker-led organization reported police brutality against transgender sex workers, including “beatings, searches, and arbitrary detentions.” Sex workers were also harassed by police “for violating the quarantine obligation when going to the supermarket or the neighboring pharmacy”.
Stigmas and barriers
State trust in coronavirus sanctions has hampered access to essential services and support, especially for people experiencing poverty and systemic discrimination. People, including officials, often accused marginalized groups of violating corona rules and spreading the virus. This fueled violence against marginalized groups and deterred them from seeking medical attention for fear of being arrested or convicted.
Among those disproportionately affected were those working in the informal sector or in precarious employment. In Nepal, many Dalits, who live below the poverty line and depend on their daily wages, got a huge debt that left them starving. Organizations also reported that stigmatized LGBT people in Indonesia and Zambia, among others, were excluded from food donations.
In some countries, the coronavirus pandemic has been abused to further restrict access to essential health services, such as abortion. In India, Hidden Pockets Collective, which advocates for sexual and reproductive rights, reported that the government did not initially consider abortion to be crucial. As a result, people could not have abortions.
Human rights at the center
“Governments should have focused on protecting human rights for all and ensuring that marginalized communities have access to health care and essential services to protect them,” Rajat Khosla said. This is a crucial lesson for governments to take into account when negotiating a treaty on pandemic prevention under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO). Putting human rights at the heart of a government’s response to a public health emergency is not a choice but an obligation. “
Read more in our comprehensive corona file.