Americas: Human rights in the age of COVID-19: Blog #1

As we enter an uncertain and unprecedented period of modern history, Amnesty International in the Americas brings you this blog with some of the most critical threats to human rights linked to the COVID-19 pandemic across the continent. On a constant basis (unless the context overwhelms us), our researchers and campaigners will provide analysis and examples of human rights violations from Alaska to Argentina, as well as details of current and upcoming investigations in this context of upheaval.  

Here are five issues that caught our eye in the last seven days:

  1. Police treatment: A slippery slope toward worsening cruelty

With much of the region in quarantine or curfew, and many countries having declared states of emergency since mid-March as part of their public health approaches to preventing the spread of COVID-19, international media began reporting on police and military forces punishing people who broke curfews by making them assume forced positions, do jumping jacks or recite humiliating phrases on camera.

This week, enforcement of such measures began to turn more sinister. While international human rights law does not prohibit restrictions on personal liberty in times of emergency, it never permits torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and always requires any police or military use of force to be proportional, necessary and reasonable.

We’re currently monitoring the case of a young man in Santiago, Chile, where we verified footage from 24 March of Carabineros (the national police) fatally shooting a young man at point-blank range. Local media reported that the incident was related to lockdown orders and that the young man had taken his dog out in the evening immediately outside his house. This issue did not make major international news. The burden of proof in this case rests with the authorities, and we will be watching to see if the investigation led by the prosecution effectively takes into account all versions of the facts.

On 28 March, Peru also passed a police law which openly flouts international standards and could open the way for police impunity, making it more difficult to trigger legal consequences for police who violate human rights.

  1. Guayaquil, Ecuador becomes a grim symbol of the health crisis

We verified the date and location of at least 15 videos such as this one published online in recent days showing bodies left on the streets of Guayaquil amid the Ecuadorian port city’s devastating health crisis.

In light of this evidence, we want to draw attention to a press release from local human rights organizations calling for authorities to take urgent measures and follow the Pan American Health organization’s recommendations on the management of corpses in this country, which is experiencing of prominent number of cases of COVID-19 deaths.

  1. The rights of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees are under threat

In Mexico, 15 migrants and asylum seekers were injured and one Guatemalan asylum seeker died after a protest broke out in response to the dangers posed by COVID-19 in a migration detention centre in Tenosique, southern Mexico, on 31 MarchOn 2 April we called on authorities across the Americas, including in Canada, the United States, Mexico, Curaçao, and Trinidad and Tobago, among others, to release people in migration detention to avert thousands of preventable deaths. Next week we will publish more in-depth research on the risks the pandemic poses for migrants in detention in the United States.

  1. Restrictions on press freedom and access to information

Journalist Darvinson Rojas was in prison for 12 days for covering the spread of COVID-19 in Venezuela. His release came on Thursday, hours after Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience. Since he is still subject to legal proceedings despite his release, we will continue campaigning on the case until Darvinson and all media workers in Venezuela can carry out their vital work freely and safely.

  1. Seeds of hope and humanity in these dark times

Although it was a bleak week across the Americas and we’re concerned at the trends to come, not everything was gloomy. We confirmed the veracity and location of a Brazilian trumpeter from the Rio de Janeiro firefighters brigade from yesterday, serenading the surrounding neighbourhoods who were under quarantine.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Amnesty International press office: [email protected]


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