April 23 (UPI) -- United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Thursday the coronavirus pandemic is "fast becoming a human rights crisis" and warned governments against using it as an excuse to adopt draconian measures.
Guterres made the remarks in a video accompanying a new U.N. report that says human rights should guide the coronavirus response, and stated that people and their rights "must come first."
The U.N. chief said the virus, which has infected more than 2.6 million people worldwide, does not discriminate but its impacts do, exposing weaknesses in the delivery of public services and structural inequalities that impede their access.
"We see the 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 said. "Against the background of rising ethnonationalism, populism, authoritarianism and a pushback against human rights in some countries, the crisis can provide a pretext to adopt repressive measures for purposes unrelated to the pandemic."
According to the report, migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons are particularly vulnerable to human rights violations, as are racial, ethnic and religious minorities, women and health workers who have been ostracized and attacked during the pandemic.
These marginalized and vulnerable populations are subject to discrimination and the pandemic is revealing the structural inequalities that cause certain groups to be disproportionately affected, it said.
The report also warned that the pandemic, through furthering economic hardships, will raise already high tensions and could provoke civil unrest.
Guterres said emergency responses must be legal, proportionate, necessary and non-discriminatory and directed with a specific focus and within a defined time frame. Governments must be transparent, responsive and accountable, he said.
"The best response is one that responds proportionately to immediate threats while protecting human rights and the rule of law"