MEXICO CITY – Countries in Latin America have been enforcing coronavirus-triggered lockdowns with punitive measures that unnecessarily curtail human rights, human rights watchdog Amnesty International said Friday.
“Authorities across the Americas must avoid resorting to repressive and overreaching measures that unduly restrict human rights in the name of ‘protecting’ people from COVID-19,” the London-based non-governmental organization said.
AI called attention to the situation after its regional experts and Crisis Evidence Lab reviewed video footage taken over the past seven weeks and found nearly 60 incidents of governments using “arbitrary, punitive and repressive tactics.”
“The footage we have verified from across the Americas since late March provides worrying indications that governments are reverting to the kinds of repression we documented in 2019 and earlier, but this time to enforce pandemic-related public health measures,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, AI’s Americas director.
Many countries across the Americas – a region with more than 1.81 million confirmed coronavirus cases – have declared states of emergency and implemented quarantines and/or curfews with a view to slowing the spread of COVID-19.
“While restrictions have varied, some countries are resorting to coercive approaches to enforce the restrictions, including the use of detention and other penalties as a first rather than last resort in policing these measures,” AI said.
For example, according to National Police reports in the Dominican Republic, where a state of emergency and evening curfew were imposed in March, law enforcement officers made 27,000 detentions between April 8 and May 7 for alleged non-compliance with the curfew.
For their part, authorities in El Salvador have detained thousands of people for purported violations of home quarantine requirements.
In the Dominican Republic, Mexico and the United States commonwealth of Puerto Rico, video footage has shown police appearing “to stop or detain individuals on their way to get food and other basic items.”
AI said that in Honduras the non-governmental organization ACI Participa documented 106 peaceful demonstrations in April in which people demanded food, medicine and water from local and national authorities. It added that, according to those reports, security forces resorted to the use of tear gas and even firearms to repress many of the protests.
In that context, AI noted that the World Food Program warned in April of possible famines of “biblical proportions” due to the economic repercussions of COVID-19 lockdowns and included the crisis-racked countries of Haiti and Venezuela among the 10 nations it said were most at risk.
AI also identified police in countries like Venezuela, Paraguay and the Dominican Republic “making frequent use of humiliating and degrading punishment” against individuals not heeding lockdown orders.
In Argentina, AI verified a video in which police can be seen beating a homeless person, supposedly for being in the street after stay-at-home orders had been instituted.
The rights group also said some measures supposedly taken to protect public health have put people at risk of being infected with the coronavirus.
While AI said authorities may legitimately impose mandatory quarantines in response to COVID-19, it stressed that they must ensure humane and non-discriminatory conditions for people subjected to those measures.
“Instead, in multiple videos that Amnesty International has reviewed, people placed in mandatory quarantines describe being held in centers not equipped for physical distancing,” the rights watchdog said.
Furthermore, “some report having not been tested or not having received the results of their COVID-19 test, meaning people who have not contracted the virus may be being deprived of their liberty arbitrarily in a place where they carry a greater risk of infection.”