This statement was originally published on hrw.org on 23 April 2020.
Governments in Central Asia have failed to consistently uphold human rights obligations in their responses to the Covid-19 pandemic by limiting access to information about the spread of the virus and implementing restrictions in discriminatory or arbitrary ways, Human Rights Watch said today.
Turkmenistan and Tajikistan have yet to acknowledge the existence of Covid-19 cases in their countries. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan all moved in March to acknowledge cases of Covid-19 and have taken important steps to limit its spread and protect their citizens, including those affected economically by lockdowns and business closures. But these governments have used restrictions put in place in response to the crisis to target journalists, healthcare providers, and activists, and have carried out quarantine measures in ways that have at times proven arbitrary and disproportionate.
“All Central Asian governments have obligations to protect their citizens’ right to health by providing accurate information about Covid-19,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “They should not use restrictions to muzzle journalists, healthcare providers, and others attempting to inform the public or protect against rights violations.”
Central Asian governments should ensure that citizens have access to timely accurate information about how to prevent the spread of Covid-19. They should ensure that restrictions responding to the pandemic are not carried out in ways that violate or undermine protection of rights.
On March 13, 2020, Kazakhstan became the first Central Asian nation to publicly confirm it had Covid-19 cases. The government declared an emergency, closing the border to foreigners, restricting internal travel, and enforcing lockdowns that were eventually extended throughout the country. Soon after, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan also announced confirmed cases and similar emergency measures. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have said current restrictions will remain in place until at least the end of April, while Uzbekistan extended the measures until May 10.
In Kyrgyzstan, neither independent media outlets nor lawyers have been granted permits to pass police checkpoints, interfering with their ability to do their jobs. In Kazakhstan, more than 1,000 people have been placed in custody for violating quarantine, in some cases in ways that clearly violated human rights. Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan have all threatened criminal sanctions or opened investigations into people for spreading “false information” about the virus, including doctors concerned about inadequate protective equipment.
The governments of Turkmenistan and Tajikistan have responded to the global pandemic by limiting entry to the country, closing borders, and forcibly quarantining people arriving from abroad.
While Turkmenistan took steps to raise awareness about handwashing and other hygiene measures, for months state media and high-level government officials were mostly silent about Covid-19. The authorities have sought to silence medical workers and others speaking out about the impact of the virus in the country.
Tajik authorities have provided some information about how to prevent the spread of Covid-19 on government ministry websites, and have visited some schools, universities, and army bases to inform people about the disease. However, they have not imposed a quarantine or encouraged social distancing in any meaningful way. The government did not cancel Nowruz, or New Year, festivities in late March, and schools, businesses, and most public spaces remain open.
Under international law, everyone has the right to the highest attainable standard of health, and governments are obligated to take steps to prevent, treat, and control epidemics and other diseases. Governments are also responsible for providing timely, accurate, and accessible information to the public about the main health concerns in the community, including methods of controlling and preventing them.
“Any restrictions that governments in Central Asia enforce in response to the Covid-19 pandemic should be proportionate and solely aimed at protecting public health during the current pandemic,” Williamson said. “Human rights should be respected while the emergency measures are in place, and during any future responses to the virus.”
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Source: MEDIA FEED