This week’s stories in focus:
China’s National Security Law comes into effect in Hong Kong
Hundreds were arrested in Hong Kong on 1st July as thousands took to the streets to protest against China’s new security law. The National Security Law, which came into effect at 11pm on 30th June, gives China sweeping powers over semi-autonomous Hong Kong. Those suspected of being ‘core members’ of groups deemed to be colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security could face penalties ranging between 10 years to life in prison. British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, accused China of breaking it’s treaty with the UK, saying the new law constitutes a “clear violation” of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, signed in 1984. Johnson vowed to introduce a five-year visa for Hong Kong citizens with British National (overseas) status, offering as many as 2.9 million eligible residents a potential pathway to British citizenship.
Pandemic Politics and Indigenous Extermination: A Spotlight on Brazil’s Response to COVID-19
by Alana Meier
Bolsonaro’s Botched Pandemic Response
With its worst week of COVID-19 numbers, Brazil currently has the world’s second-highest total number of cases and deaths, at over 1.3 million and 58,000 respectively. In response, this week “Stop Bolsonaro” protests took place online and in city streets across Brazil and in over 20 countries, with people demanding the leader resign.
President Jair Bolsonaro has faced great criticism for his cavalier (mis)handling of the pandemic. He has downplayed the virus as ‘a little flu’ and media trick, rejected lockdown guidelines, and threatened to pull Brazil out of the World Health Organization branding it a ‘partisan and political organisation’.
In early June Brazil’s government was accused of totalitarianism and censorship after abruptly removing its cumulative coronavirus numbers from the Health Ministry’s website, claiming city officials were inflating figures to secure more federal funding though offering no evidence. The data was soon restored following a Supreme Court ruling, but under-testing remains a problem in the country of 212 million people.
The crisis has become so intense that some of the country’s military figures are warning of instability and threatening a potential take over that could dismantle Latin America’s largest democracy. Political leaders and analysts believe a military intervention is unlikely, yet amid other ongoing investigations into Bolsonaro and his family concerning disinformation and defamation campaigns and allegations of corruption, the possibility is still there.
Threat Greatest for Vulnerable Indigenous Communities
However, it is the Indigenous peoples of Brazil who face the most immediate risk. Alongside the loss of human lives, fears are raised that as chiefs, elders, and traditional healers are killed the pandemic will also irreparably damage tribal knowledge, history, culture, and medicine.
Rights groups report that among Indigenous people the coronavirus death toll rose from 28 to nearly 200 people in the past month suggesting a mortality rate of 12.6 percent, nearly double the national rate of 6.4 percent. Dr Sofia Mendonça, a researcher at the Federal University of São Paulo, says “There is an incredible risk of the virus spreading across the native communities and wiping them out.”
Many communities live in areas with limited access to healthcare and lack the means needed to reduce the risk of contagion. Brazil’s Congress has passed an emergency plan to provide medical equipment, field, hospitals, potable water, and food supplies in order to allow tribes to isolate themselves. However, the transfer of supplies and medical personnel has exposed vulnerable villages to the virus.
Respiratory illnesses are already the main cause of death among these indigenous communities who have had limited to no contact with the external world and thus have built little immunity to modern diseases. This is especially true for the 107 known indigenous groups already living in voluntary isolation in the Amazon such as the Arara people of the Cachoeria Seca territory who have been revealed as the tribe with the highest known rate of COVID-19 infection in the Amazon of at least 46%. Having only been contacted in 1987, the reserve is one of the most invaded, with hundreds of loggers and land grabbers operating illegally within in borders.
Mendonça explained that some communities are taking matter into their own hands and plan to divide themselves into smaller groups and seek refuge deep in the forest, as they did to avoid extinction during past epidemics.
Twin Threats – COVID-19 and Land Seizures
Brazil’s health crisis is also closely linked to its ongoing environmental crisis. Celebrated chief Raoni Metuktire has proclaimed that Bolsonaro is ‘taking advantage’ of coronavirus as an opportunity to eliminate indigenous people.
The president, who is seen by many Indigenous peoples as an enemy of their cause, has made it clear he wants to open the rainforest to business, having encouraged land invasions of indigenous territories. Rights group Survival International says that while already emboldened by lax enforcement, the chaos of the pandemic is creating an opportunity for illegal miners and loggers to further encroach on tribal land.
Rainforest deforestation rates have soared – with an increase of 80.62% in the first trimester of 2020 compared to last year. Even before the breakout of COVID-19, scientists warned that forest loss makes pandemics more likely and experts predict additional devastation for Indigenous communities will occur if the coronavirus pandemic overlaps with forest fire season.
Several Yanomami and Ye’kwana associations launched the “#MinersOutCovidOut” campaign calling on the government to expel miners from their territory which is the largest indigenous territory in Brazil. Yanonami leader and shaman, Davi Kopenawa, warned the UN that uncontacted groups ‘could soon be extermination’ if the Brazilian authorities do not immediately act to remove those working illegally on tribal lands.
China’s Demographic campaign of genocide on Uighurs
A report, released on 29 June, by a German Professor working with Washington non-profit organisation, Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, has prompted calls for an independent UN investigation in human rights abuses towards Uighur people living in Xinjiang province. The report, by Adrian Zenz, shows that the Chinese government has taken its draconian anti-separatist policies to a new level. The birth rate of mostly Uighur regions, Hotan and Kashgar plunged by more than 60 per cent between 2015 and 2018.
The report outlines how the Government has subjected women to pregnancy checks, forced intrauterine devices, abortion or sterilisation. Documents issued by the local government suggest that birth control violations are punishable by extrajudicial internment in training camps. The vast majority of people in detention camps have been sent there for having three or more children and inability to pay fines. People have become terrified to have children as they fear internment. One Former detainee admitted she was injected with pregnancy prevention shots until she stopped having her period and was kicked in the lower stomach during interrogations. Now, she cannot have children and suffers from chronic pain and bleeding from her womb.
The Interparliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), an international cross-party group which includes Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, US Senator Marco Rubio and UK MP Iain Duncan Smith added to the voices calling for an “impartial, independent investigation.” Darren Byler, an expert on Uighurs at the University of Colorado said that even if the intention might not be to eliminate the Uighur population, the goal is to make them easier to assimilate. Joanne Smith Finley of Newcastle University went further “It’s genocide, full stop.”
Other stories making the headlines around the world
- Bring Home ISIS Suspects and Relatives from Syria (Human Rights Watch)
- The Danger of America’s Coronavirus Immigration Bans (The Atlantic)
- UK needs ‘biggest-ever peacetime job creation plan’ to stop mass unemployment (The Guardian)
- France Should Speed Efforts on Workplace Violence (Human Rights Watch)
- Campaign of first openly gay presidential elections candidate shines light on EU’s ‘worst country to be LGBT+’ (The Independent)
- Belarus: Full-scale attack on human rights ahead of presidential election (Amnesty International)
- Iran issues arrest warrant for Trump, asks Interpol to help (Al Jazeera)
- Black Lives Matter movement forces Middle East to reflect on its own racism problem (The Independent)
- Supporting Nepal’s migrants, as overseas work dries up (UN NEWS)
- China forces birth control on Uighurs and other minority Muslims to suppress population (The Independent)
- Philippines Police Crack Down on LGBT Protest (Human Rights Watch)
- In central Mali, community fighting and impunity, ‘overwhelming’ efforts to protect civilians (UN News)
- Egyptian belly-dancer sentenced to three years in prison for stirring up ‘immorality’ (The Independent)
- Global coronavirus death toll exceeds half a million (Al Jazeera)
- Covid-19’s Serious Risks for Economic Rights (Human Rights Watch)