UN’s Guterres: During coronavirus, ‘people — and their rights — must be front and center’

UN’s Guterres: During coronavirus, ‘people — and their rights — must be front and center’

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The coronavirus pandemic is “a human crisis that is fast becoming a human rights crisis,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Thursday.

The world’s top diplomat said in a video message that there is discrimination in the delivery of public services to tackle COVID-19 and there are “structural inequalities that impede access to them.”

Guterres said the pandemic has also seen “disproportionate effects on certain communities, the rise of hate speech, the targeting of vulnerable groups, and the risks of heavy-handed security responses undermining the health response.”

He warned that with “rising ethno-nationalism, populism, authoritarianism and a push back against human rights in some countries, the crisis can provide a pretext to adopt repressive measures for purposes unrelated to the pandemic.”

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The disease is unveiling the world’s underlying systems.

Huge lines have formed at food banks from El Paso, Texas, to the Paris suburbs, and food shortages are hitting Africa especially hard.

In Africa, COVID-19 cases surged 43 percent in the past week to 26,000, according to John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The figures underscored a recent warning from the World Health Organization that the virus could kill more than 300,000 people in Africa and push 30 million into desperate poverty.

At a virtual summit, European Union leaders agreed to set up a massive recovery fund to help rebuild the 27-nation bloc’s ravaged economies. While no figure was put on the plan, officials said $1.1 to $1.6 trillion would be needed.

While the health crisis has eased in some global hotspots, experts say it is far from over, and the threat of new outbreaks looms large.

The coronavirus has killed nearly 190,000 people worldwide, including more than 100,000 in Europe and about 47,000 in the United States, according to a tally compiled by John Hopkins University from official government figures.

In February, Guterres issued a call to action to countries, businesses and people to help renew and revive human rights across the globe, laying out a seven-point plan amid concerns about climate change, conflict and repression.

“As I said then, human rights cannot be an afterthought in times of crisis — and we now face the biggest international crisis in generations,” he said.

The secretary-general released a report Thursday on how human rights must guide the response to the virus and recovery from the pandemic. Neither he nor the report name any countries or parties responsible for human rights violations.

Guterres said governments must be “transparent, responsive and accountable,” and stressed that press freedom, civil society organizations, the private sector and “civic space” are essential.

The report said governments also need to take action to mitigate the worst impacts of COVID-19 on jobs, livelihoods, access to basic services and family life.

Guterres said any emergency measures — including states of emergency — must be “legal, proportionate, necessary and non-discriminatory, have a specific focus and duration, and take the least intrusive approach possible to protect public health.”

“Emergency powers may be needed but broad executive powers, swiftly granted with minimal oversight, carry risks,” the report warned. “Heavy-handed security responses undermine the health response and can exacerbate existing threats to peace and security or create new ones.”

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The report said the best response is proportionate to the immediate threat and protects human rights.

“The message is clear: People — and their rights — must be front and center,” Guterres said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Frank Miles is a reporter and editor covering geopolitics, military, crime, technology and sports for FoxNews.com. His email is Frank.Miles@foxnews.com.

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