International Human Rights News: Focus on Coronavirus in Conflict Zones

by Amita Dhiman, Lauren Ng, Julia KedziorekPauline CanhamBethany Webb-Strong, Alana Meier

As we all struggle to adjust to a new way of life that includes loss of freedoms, loss of income, food insecurity, healthcare systems under strain, and daily briefings from leaders using the language of lockdowns and death tolls, unknown during peacetime, there are those for whom this, and much worse, is a never-ending daily reality.   An estimated 2 billion people live in areas of conflict and fragility around the world and the ICRC is calling for an immediate response by humanitarian organisations before the virus takes hold in countries ravaged by war.  The UN Secretary General has called for a ‘global ceasefire’  across the world to support efforts in combating the threat of Covid-19.

Our news update this week focuses on five countries most devastated by conflict and least able to confront a new enemy that even the wealthiest of states are struggling with.

Afghanistan

Afghan_healthcentreFollowing decades of war, Afghanistan is not well-placed to contend with an outbreak of covid-19. Many Afghans who had fled to Iran, during the conflict have returned back to their country, creating a burden on the already fragile health care system.  Out of some 200,000 returnees, only 600 had been tested as of March 27 due to inadequate medical staff and equipment.  Afghanistan’s Public Health Ministry have estimated that 25 million could become infected, adding that 100,000 could die, and on 28th March, Kabul, a city of 6 million, went into lockdown.

The UN Deputy Special Representative for the country is urging warring parties to come together to “prioritize national interests”, following in-fighting causing delays in the measures agreed back in February, on American troop withdrawals and Taliban anti-terrorism guarantees.   Human Rights Watch suggested that “The two sides need to work together with the UN and humanitarian agencies to ensure that aid reaches the whole country, or a dire situation will become catastrophic.”

In a country with a 50 percent poverty rate and a resilience that has become a way of life, ordinary Afghans are helping each other by making masks, delivering food and landlords waiving rents to ease the burden on the most vulnerable.

Gaza

GazaLast week saw the first two cases of coronavirus in Gaza.  Its delay has predominantly been attributed to the pre-existing border restrictions placed on the movement of people in Gaza.  The two individuals diagnosed had recently returned from Pakistan and have since moved to isolation.  Hamas, the militant organisation governing Gaza, has since closed its street markets and wedding halls, and urged citizens to practice social distancing in an attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Yet with an overstretched healthcare system following the Israel-Egyptian blockade and decades of cross-border conflicts between Israel and Palestine, an impending outbreak carries a high level of concern in Gaza.  In one of the most densely populated areas in the world, the virus could easily rapidly spread.  Combined with the overcrowded conditions, the chronic shortage of medicines, regular power cuts, scarce resources, and lack of adequate medical care has the potential to lead to a “nightmare scenario” in the event of an outbreak.

Despite these concerns, repression from Israeli authorities has persisted, with raids on Palestinian communities continuing, pleas to release 5,000 Palestinians (including children) currently held in jail being refused following positive Covid-19 tests, and a persistent siege on the Gaza strip with no end in sight.

 

Libya

Libya_fightingWar-torn Libya is one of the latest victims of the international coronavirus pandemic with its first case confirmed on 24th March. While to date, only 8 people have tested positive for COVID-19, testing is limited and the failing health care system will struggle to cope if the virus spreads.

With the country split between two rival governments, there will be issues in implementing safety measures to protect citizens from the deadly virus. Since the civil war erupted in 2011, there has been an ongoing shortage of doctors and lack of central authority responsible for the national healthcare system. All borders have now been closed and foreign nationals are prohibited from entering the country. Schools and cafes are closed and prayers are suspended until further notice.

Despite a humanitarian pause being announced, the UN was “alarmed that hostilities have continued around Tripoli”.  Despite January’s truce, the fighting has killed over 1,000 and displaced 150,000 since April 2019. To relieve pressure on the already strained prison system, The Government of National Acord, the internationally recognised government, has freed just over 450 detainees from overpopulated correctional facilities.

Detainees and people in shelters are at paramount risk of infection, which Human Rights Watch predicts could lead to a humanitarian disaster for the country if the virus spreads.

 

Syria

Syria_hospitalOn Sunday, Syria reported its first COVID 19 fatality, heightening fears of the devastation the virus could wreak.  Ten years of conflict in Syria has led to the displacement of over half the population, 6 million of whom remain internally displaced in camps which are unprepared to respond to the pandemic.

Given the extent to which COVID 19 has overwhelmed western healthcare systems, the potential catastrophic risk it poses to Syria is almost unfathomable. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has warned that access to healthcare is extremely poor in Syria given bombing of civilian areas and destruction of over 50% of hospitals. The London School of Economics released a research paper on Syria’s healthcare capacity last week stating that the maximum number of cases that can be ‘adequately treated’ is 6,500.

The World Health Organisation has mobilised an urgent response, delivering tests and protective gear.  However, aid agencies have been unable to deliver supplies given closure of the border with Iraq.  Human Rights Watch has reported that Turkish authorities are failing to supply water to north eastern areas of Syria, hindering the ability of agencies to protect against an outbreak of the virus.

Mr Pederson, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, has called for a nationwide ceasefire to allow for a ‘common effort’ against COVID 19. This has sparked hopes that a coordinated fight against the new coronavirus could unite forces and encourage a political settlement to end the conflict.   However, the situation remains dire as the already vulnerable population of war-torn Syria faces the new threat of a COVID 19 crisis.

 

Yemen

Yemen_Hospital_facemask_2How can Yemen, a country described already as experiencing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, possibly cope with the looming threat of coronavirus?   80 percent of the population is at risk of hunger and disease, 17.8 million are without safe water and sanitation, 19.7 million are without adequate health care and the country has suffered the worst cholera epidemic ever recorded, at 2.3 million infected since 2015.

Last week, Yemen entered a 6th year of war, and with fighting continuing to rage, the UN Secretary General’s call for a ceasefire, to focus on the fight against coronavirus, appears to have fallen on deaf ears.  Despite lulls in the fighting during 2019, recent weeks have seen an alarming re-escalation in the conflict between Houthi rebels and the Saudi led coalition, which includes the US and UK.  A group of UN regional experts have called for warring parties to release political prisoners on both sides, to mitigate the risks of the spread of Covid-19 due to the overcrowded and squalid conditions in detention centres.

Yemen is the only country in the Middle East yet to record a case of coronavirus, due largely to having been placed under siege since the start of the war, with airports closed to commercial airlines and movement in and out of the country severely restricted.  However, the healthcare system in Yemen is already close to total collapse, and with news this week that the US is intending to cut aid funding for the poorest country in the Middle East, officials are warning of disastrous consequences, should an outbreak take hold.

 

Other stories making the news around the world

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South and South-east Asia

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International Human Rights News: Weekly Roundup

by Julia Kedziorek and Amita Dhiman

Each week students at the University of Essex Human Rights Centre prepare an overview of the past week’s human rights related news stories from around the world.  This summary contains news articles from 5th March to 11th March 2020.

This week’s stories in focus

International Women’s Day Protests around the world

Women took to the streets around the world on the 8th March to protest against inequality and gender violence…

Mexican women: “This is our feminist spring”

80,000 people took the streets of Mexico on 8th March, protesting against gender-based violence. Women went on strike for a day, across areas of both professional and domestic life, to highlight the impact of their absence. Mexico has the highest number of murders of women, averaging more than 10 a day,  320 in January 2020 alone.

The aim of the protests was to challenge the misogynistic view of women held in Mexico’s masculine culture. “Mexico is a country of rights, but only on paper” said  Ana Pe cova, Director of EQUIS Justice for Women.

Female protestors in Kyrgyzstan arrested

In Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, dozens of women were arrested for ‘public order offences’ as they protested against gender violence and inequality, while masked men attacked them, injuring some and tearing up their placards

 

Stop the executions of tortured detainees!

Death_penaltyBahrain
Human Rights Watch is calling for the Bahraini authorities to overturn the death sentences of two men who allege they were tortured during detention.  Their original convictions were reversed in Oct 2018 when evidence emerged to support their torture allegations but was reinstated by the High Court of Appeal in 2020.

Egypt
UN human rights experts have called for the release of 4 minors, among those facing death sentences in a mass trial in Egypt.   British MPs are urging the Foreign Secretary to intervene on human rights grounds, and Amnesty International’s MENA Research and Advocacy Director, Philip Luther said “The death penalty can never deliver justice” particularly when the defendants have alleged that they were subject to torture.

‘LGBT+ free zones’ in Poland 

LGBTFreezonesOver 100 municipalities in the south-east of Poland have declared themselves as “LGBT ideology free” zones.  There has been a rise of right-wing rhetoric from the ‘Law and Justice’ ruling party, declaring the LGBT community a threat to traditional Catholic based Polish morality.  The anti-LGBT movement’s aim is to stop the “rainbow plague” (a term coined by the Archbishop of Krakow), destroying the morality of Poland’s youth.  Although the zones have no basis in law, they are a clear example of encouraging discrimination.

Bart Staszewski (pictured), an LGBT activist and film-maker, has created “Military zone-do not enter”-style road signs as part of a project to highlight the discrimination.  Adam Bodnar, Poland’s independent Commissioner for Human Rights, stated the Government is increasingly homophobic in its sentiments and questioned the allocation of EU funds in areas that allow discrimination to flourish. The European Parliament adopted a convention condemning the so called  “LGBTI-free zones” in December 2019.

The abduction of the daughter of Dubai ruler from a UK street

Shamza_AlMaktoumThe lapsed investigation into the disappearance of Sheikha Shamsa, the daughter of the ruler of Dubai, from the streets of Cambridge 20 years ago is to be reviewed by police.   Human Rights Watch is pressing for the release of the ruler’s 2 daughters, who are said to be held captive in the UAE.  Shamsa was abducted in 2000 and her sister, Latifa, was kidnapped and forced back to Dubai, after fleeing on a boat to India in 2018.  Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum is the Emir of Dubai and the Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates.  Sheikh Mohammed has strong ties with the UK, creating the largest horse racing team in the world and is a regular at Ascot, often photographed with the Queen.

 

Other stories making the news around the world

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Latin America and the Caribbean

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South and South-East Asia

West and Central Asia

International Human Rights News: Weekly Roundup

By Bethany Webb-Strong

Each week students at the University of Essex Human Rights Centre prepare an overview of the past week’s human rights related news stories from around the world. This summary contains news articles from 27th February – 4th March 2020.

 

This week’s stories in focus

Women in this week’s news – International Women’s Day 8th March

IntWomensdayThis week, a new UN report shines a light on the continuing prevalence of violence against women and girls. Despite advancements such as access to education for girls since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action twenty-five years ago, sexual violence and exploitation remain rife. As stated in the UN report, 70 percent of detected trafficking victims globally were female in 2016. This report has been released alongside the Gender Equality campaign, a movement convened by UN Women with the aim of fostering conversation and action for change.

The UN Secretary General, António Guterres, has declared that the 21st century must be the century of women’s equality.  With International Women’s Day on 8th March,  see how you can get involved and find events in your local area.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the adoption by the United Nations Security Council of resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security

 

Developments on the coronavirus COVID-19 epidemic

The Defense Department is making plans to combat the coronavirus, DOD leaders said today during a news conference. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army)With over 90,000 cases and 3000 deaths worldwide, COVID-19 is causing increased concern. Many states, particularly Gulf countries, have cancelled events and imposed travel restrictions in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus.

On Sunday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) released US$15 million from the Central Emergency Relief Fund to help countries particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 in their attempts to contain its spread. The WHO has upgraded the global risk assessment of the coronavirus to ‘very high’.

Whilst the UK considers calling for retired doctors and nurses to return to help tackle the outbreak, the UN warns that shortages of equipment leave health workers at risk. New ways of treating the virus, designed to lower transmission risk, are being trialled across the globe, including treating patients by video or with AI and robotic technologies.

Amnesty International demand a stop to censorship and harassment in China, declaring that the suppression of information concerning the virus continues to pose an obstacle to efforts to contain COVID-19.

A student from Singapore suffered a racially aggravated attack, linked to the Coronavirus as he walked along Oxford Street in London on 24th February.  The student from University College, London was attacked by four men, one shouting ‘I don’t want your coronavirus in my country’.

 

Mark Cutts: ‘now is not the time to take our eyes off Syria’

Idlib_refugeesThe war in Syria may have left news headlines, but the crisis is far from resolved, Mark Cutts, the UN’s deputy regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria, calling it “a crisis of monumental scale“.  Over one million people have been displaced in the Idlib region since December, many fleeing freezing conditions and air strikes by Syrian government forces. This week, Turkish forces struck down two Syrian warplanes and a military airport, marking a moment of extreme tension as the two nations teeter on the verge of direct confrontation.

The growing crisis can also be seen on the Greece-Turkey border as thousands of refugees continue in their perilous journeys to seek safety and asylum. As Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erogan opened the borders last week, more than 10,000 migrants attempted to enter Greece. The Greek authorities have responded with tear gas and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitostakis announced on Sunday that Greece would stop taking new asylum cases. 

 

Other stories making the news around the world

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Europe

 

Latin America and the Caribbean

 

 Middle East

 

North America

 

Oceania

 

South and South-East Asia

International Human Rights News: Weekly Roundup

By Floriane Borel and Mitch Paquette

Each week students at the University of Essex Human Rights Centre prepare an overview of the past week’s human rights related news stories from around the world. This summary contains news articles from 1-7 April 2019.

This week’s story in focus

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UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

On Wednesday, the country of Brunei implemented a new Sharia Penal Code which introduces cruel punishments including death by stoning for homosexual acts, adultery, and abortion as well as amputation of limbs for stealing. Children who have reached puberty and are convicted of these offences may also be subjected to the same punishment as adults under the new penal code. Human rights groups including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the UN have all criticized both the crimes and brutal punishments included in Brunei’s penal code for violating basic human rights and have called for its repeal.

The move by Brunei to implement these new laws has led to international public outcry and multiple company boycotts of the country and properties owned by the Brunei’s leader, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah. Celebrities including George Clooney, Ellen DeGeneres, and Sir Elton John have all contributed to calls for boycotts until the laws are repealed. The new penal code violates many of Brunei’s human rights obligations including the right to life, freedom from torture and other ill-treatment, expression, privacy, non-discrimination, among others.

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International Human Rights News: Weekly Roundup

By Floriane Borel, Anene Negeri, and Mitch Paquette

Each week students at the University of Essex Human Rights Centre prepare an overview of the past week’s human rights related news stories from around the world. This summary contains news articles from 25-31 March 2019.

This week’s story in focus

Massive protests took place in Algeria this week against the regime of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika demanding that he end his two decades-long rule and resign immediately. In response to the protests, with crowds estimated in the hundreds of thousands, army chief Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaid Salah stated publicly that it is time for the country to invoke Article 102 of the constitution, which could allow Algeria’s Constitutional Council to remove the president on account of his failing health. However, demonstrations continue with participants asserting that they will accept nothing less than a complete change in government and a wholesale removal of the current ruling class from public office. On Sunday, Bouteflika named a caretaker cabinet, replacing 21 of the country’s 27 ministers, before announcing on Monday that he would step down as President before his mandate ends on April 28th.

Bouteflika is credited by his supporters for his role in the fight for Algerian independence against colonial France as well as ending the 1990s civil war, but after 20 years as head of state, Algerians appear ready for a change. Mass protests began in February when the president announced he would seek a fifth term, despite his ailing health after suffering a debilitating stroke in 2013, which has largely kept him from appearing in public. In response to these early protests, internet shutdowns took place across the country while human rights groups reported cases of arbitrary arrests and issued calls for the government to exercise restraint in quelling the demonstrations.

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International Human Rights News: Weekly Roundup

By Floriane Borel, Anene Negeri, and Mitch Paquette

Each week students at the University of Essex Human Rights Centre prepare an overview of the past week’s human rights related news stories from around the world.

International

Survivors’ needs must be at the forefront of efforts to tackle sexual violence in conflict – ICRC

Brazilian officer a ‘stellar example’ of why more women are needed in UN peacekeeping – UN News

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International Human Rights News: Weekly Roundup

By Floriane Borel, Anene Negeri, and Mitch Paquette

Each week students at the University of Essex Human Rights Centre prepare an overview of the past week’s human rights related news stories from around the world.

This week’s story in focus

D1s0d5DXgAETr39On March 15, 2019, a group of international experts launched a new tool developed to ensure  human rights compliance in drug policy. The International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy provide insight into how states’ approach to drug control has had negative impacts on the safety, security, and well-being of many communities, and set out key human rights principles to guide reforms of global drug policy. The International Centre for Human Rights and Drug Policy, based at the University of Essex, played a lead role in the development of the guidelines.
These guidelines are a significant contribution to the ongoing debate concerning the inadequacy of harsh punitive approaches to drug control that have dominated this field for over a century. Particularly in the context of drug use and possession, state strategies that privilege punitive approaches and criminalization while rejecting harm reduction programs have been shown to result in harmful public health outcomes and negatively impact a range of human rights.

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International Human Rights News: Weekly Roundup

By Besir OzbekFloriane Borel, and Anene Negeri

Each week students at the University of Essex Human Rights Centre prepare an overview of the past week’s human rights related news stories from around the world.

International

Universal Jurisdiction Annual Review 2019 – International Federation for Human Rights

Only Six Countries In the World Have Full Gender Equality in the Work Place – UN Dispatch

International Women’s Day: Empowering more women decision-makers ‘essential’, says Guterres – UN News

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