Human Rights Violations Against COVID-19 Victims Emerge as a Global Dilemma

Ahmedabad

The coronavirus, which allegedly began in December 2019, in Hubei Province in Wuhan, has spread to about 18 million confirmed cases worldwide as of August 2020, and about 690,000 people have died. During the COVID-19 pandemic, human rights violations – including censorship, discrimination and xenophobia – have been reported in different parts of the world.

India has quarantined tens of thousands of people in their homes due to COVID-19, but various kinds of issues have occurred such as the leaking of personal phone numbers and addresses, and rumors have been spread via social media. This has resulted in the release of personal data and discrimination. Bharat Dhingra’s family of six has been in “home quarantine” in India’s capital, New Delhi since his family members returned from the US. Officials posted a sticker outside their house that read: “Do not visit. Home under quarantine” to ensure that people abided by the rules. Mr. Dhingra told BBC News, “This sign has caused stress and psychological pressure” and has even led to an invasion of privacy: neighbors ask them to go inside even when they step onto their balcony, and some people shared a picture of the house on WhatsApp groups. Also, the personal data of at least 19 people who were quarantined at home – including their telephone numbers – was leaked in Hyderabad and this resulted in phone calls at odd hours.

Earlier this year, there was an outcry when a French newspaper, “Le Courier Picard”, used the inflammatory headline “Alerte Jaune (Yellow alert)” complete with an image of a Chinese woman wearing a protective mask. It was criticized as obvious racial discrimination and the paper apologized with an explanation. A Chinese teacher at a prestigious Parisian high school explained that she had not traveled to China for several years to visit her parents. In France, to fight against Asian discrimination, the hashtag #JeNeSuisPasUnVirus (I am not a virus) became popular on Twitter. Lou Chengwang, who resides in France, hashtagged with a message: “I’m Chinese, but I’m not a virus! I know everyone’s scared of the virus but no prejudice, please.”

A quarantine system to prevent the secondary spread of damage from corona infections has extended to personal information leakage problems. According to “The Conversation” a New Zealand news outlet, an official inquiry into the leaking of COVID-19 patient data in New Zealand found the breach was “deliberate and politically motivated” by the Health Ministry. Hamish Walker, a member of congress, and influential party figure Michelle Boag admitted their intention to leak the confidential personal information of COVID-19 patients. Criticism from the public on this issue is ongoing, but experts believe that the laws on privacy and the privileges granted to members of congress are ambiguous. Because of this, cries for the revision of the law for personal information protection are increasing.

In a poll of 1,000 adults done nationwide by the National Human Rights Commission, 91.1 percent said they agree that they could be a target of social discrimination or become a minority group in the aftermath of COVID-19. Asked to name multiple groups subject to COVID-19-related discrimination and hate, 59.2 percent cited religious people, followed by people from specific regions (36.7 percent) and foreigners and immigrants (36.5 percent), the survey showed.

On January 20, 2020, the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in South Korea was a Chinese woman who came from Wuhan to Seoul. The Korean government encouraged people to continue social activities as usual, stating that COVID-19 would end about a month thereafter. In February, members of Shinchoenji Church, exposed to defenseless collective infection in the Daegu region, were announced as the direct cause of the COVID-19 spread. Eventually, Shincheonji became a target of hatred and discrimination across Korean society due to the leak of personal information: a list of members’ names, workplaces, addresses and so on. As of August 2020, 5,510 human rights related damages have occurred. Among these were the deaths of two people who died because of persecution from their families. Expert analysis suggests that these violations of human rights come at the urging of the politically influential denomination, the Conservative Fundamental Protestants, who wish to eliminate the rapidly growing Shincheonji.

Also, on July 20, a webinar entitled “COVID-19 and Religious Freedom: the Scapegoating of Shincheonji in South Korea” was held with experts in the field of religious and international law, and human rights. The webinar topic was political, religious, and social outcomes for a new religious movement in the recent COVID-19 crisis. A leading South Korean TV network, MBC, reported: “the epicenter of the COVID-19 major outbreak within South Korea added weight to the failure of the initial response by the government to contain the virus”. The report, citing analysis from a local university hospital, inferred that more than 180,000 of Daegu’s 2.4 million people were infected with COVID-19. This is 27 times the 6,800 confirmed cases officially mentioned. Over 5,000 of the confirmed cases are members of Shincheonji Church and their personal information was collected by the government, while the remaining 180,000 potential infections have not been investigated.

A recent statement issued by the “families of the deceased and victims of COVID-19” wrote that “the numerous damages and thousands of deaths of Koreans reflect the failure of the initial response to contain the virus by the government.” It added that the Minister of Justice Choo Mi-ae “allowed COVID-19 patients from China to enter Korea, leading to a widespread outbreak of the virus across the country, which resulted in the deaths of the Korean people.” It also stated that she is trying to avoid her responsibility for the damage by “giving direct orders to prosecutors for a raid and arrests against Shincheonji Church”. 

The East Asia Director of Amnesty International, Nicholas Bequelin, has mentioned that “the human rights violation interferes with and decreases efficiency, rather than facilitating responses to public health emergencies.” He emphasized being alert to the occurrence of human rights violations when responding to the spread of COVID-19. In a press briefing last April, The World Health Organization stated that stay-at-home measures for slowing down the pandemic must not be done at the expense of human rights. Numerous experts reported that the COVID-19 pandemic is a situation when numerous issues are being experienced simultaneously, and thus, it is no longer an issue of only one category.