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The Maastricht Diplomat

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COVID-19’s Hidden Death Toll

COVID-19’s Hidden Death Toll

Rhiannon Read – The concern of a toxic lockdown culture growing in some countries has driven the UN to raise the alarm against police and security forces’ excessive use of power, brutality, and intimation in order to maintain lockdowns and curfews across the world. Using COVID-19 prevention as an excuse, the police are on the borderline of creating a wave of human-right offenses and violations. In more than a dozen countries that have declared a state of emergency the police continue to arrest and detain hundreds of thousands of people and even kill others. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet voiced the concern of a growing culture of shootings and detentions without specification –

“Emergency powers should not be a weapon government can wield to quash dissent, control the population, and even perpetuate their time in power,”

She continued “They should be used to cope effectively with the pandemic – nothing more, nothing less.” On April 27th, following on from Michelle Bachelet, a top official from her office stated that around 80 countries have declared emergencies due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including 15 where the allegations of police brutality and human rights violations were deemed highly troubling. Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Peru, Honduras, Jordan, Morocco, Cambodia, Uzbekistan, Iran, and Hungary were amongst the top contenders. Georgette Gagnon, director of field operation, even argued that “there are probably several dozen more we could have highlighted”.

One of several countries notably missing from the UN’s list is France. The country grasped media attention over the past weeks as a series of videos exhibiting violent police beatings, confrontations, and force on those who were breaking confinement rules in low-income areas and neighborhoods across the country surfaced online. Amnesty International vocally condemned the country, after clashes in France’s poorer suburbs, where residents who are struggling with confinement in overcrowded apartments have charged the police with using excessive force and illegal tactics.

Across the border in Belgium, the consequence of security enforcement of lockdown restrictions resulted in 19-year-old Adil’s death. He and his friend were riding their scooters in Brussels as they encountered police officers on patrol. A police-car called in for reinforcement collided with Adil’s scooter as he and his friend rode off in separate directions, resulting in his death. The lack of clear orders given to the police concerning what is permissible under the lockdown measures, alongside the apparent lack of understanding on how to deal with people’s confusion, anxieties, and uncertainty in a humane manner, has resulted in this alarming concern for police authority and human rights violations.

On the other hand, Filipino police officers received very clear, however, terrifying orders from their President Rodrigo Duterte during a late-night televised national address “My orders to the police and the military, if anyone creates trouble, and their lives are in danger: shoot them dead.” His orders came after residents of a slum in Manila’s Quezon City protested along the motorway outside their shanty houses, calling for the food packs and other relief supplies they had not been given since the lockdown that began two weeks prior. The security officers and police broke up the protest and arrested 20 people, according to the report. “Do not intimidate the government. Do not challenge the government. You will lose,” Duterte continued to bully. Countries like the Philippines repudiating the rule of law with the excuse of COVID-19 prevention are now at significant risk of generating a ‘human rights disaster’.

The situation has become increasingly desperate for marginalised groups who often cannot afford to stay at home. In India, even those who are working on the frontline, healthcare workers, suppliers of essential goods, and delivery service agents, have been subjected to undue harassment at the hands of the police while doing their jobs. In South Africa, neighborhoods with low-income and township endure the brunt of the violence inflicted by the police as they prevent people from going out only for essentials, such as buying food and medication which adheres to lockdown measures.

While in Zimbabwe, the continued terror carried-out by the police and the military on women selling vegetables at local vendors and markets has led to a woman being killed after being run over by a vehicle that was chased by police. In Nigeria, the countries Human Rights Commission reported that security forces have killed at least 18 civilians in the name of enforcing the state-imposed lockdown. Leaving more deaths reported at the hands of the police as they brutally enforce the lockdown than at the hands of the virus itself in the first three weeks.

In Greece, asylum seekers and refugees have faced violent assaults and attacks by police claiming to be monitoring the lockdown. While Bolivians, mostly poor or indigenous people, are subjected to violent attacks by soldiers as they try to re-enter the country from Chile. In places in Australia, such as Sydney, in areas with large populations of Indigenous people and immigrants, public health infringement notices have been improperly distributed. Marginalised groups have suffered the hardest at the hands of police in the name of containing the pandemic but this comes as no surprise. Those who are routinely subjected to the police’s heavy-handed tactics are simply going to become the first victims of any expansion of police power. It’s a pattern that is just reinforced by the nature of coronavirus restrictions.

Death at the hands of COVID-19 continues to rise each day but so does the state-issued brutality by security forces. Continued acts of police brutality and killings are a major consequence of the coronavirus lockdown measures. The COVID-19 state-watch meant to monitor the spread of the pandemic and protect citizens, in fact, is instead used to endorse the military’s and police’s power to intimidate, shoot, beat, and kill innocent people. Thus, the coronavirus has subsequently created another death toll; people who are dying at the hands of the police and at the hands of state-issued violence.

Photo by KOBU Agency on Unsplash


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