UN sounds alarm on PH's 'highly militarized' lockdown response

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 29) — The United Nations has raised concern over some countries' repressive measures to implement lockdowns, citing the Philippines' "highly militarized response" to contain the coronvirus spread.

The UN specifically named the Philippines, China, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and El Salvador as countries with alleged human rights violations in the guise of coronavirus restrictions.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that police and security forces in some countries have used unnecessary force to make people abide by lockdown and curfew rules — with the victims mostly coming from the poor and vulnerable sectors.

She said force should only be used when strictly necessary and lethal force should only be carried out when there is an imminent risk to life.

"Shooting, detaining, or abusing someone for breaking a curfew because they are desperately searching for food is clearly an unacceptable and unlawful response," Bachelet said in a speech in Geneva on April 27.

In the Philippines, there are several reports of police abuse in checkpoints nationwide. A police officer was charged with homicide after shooting a retired Army veteran in Quezon City who violated the city's quarantine protocols. In Caloocan City, violators were ordered by authorities to walk along EDSA center island at around 10 p.m., while tugging a rope with them. In Antipolo, Rizal, 39 violators were asked to stay inside a detention court for eight to ten hours without giving them food or drink. Five youths were also locked inside a dog cage after breaking curfew in Laguna.

Related: PNP says it's better to parade quarantine violators rather than imprison them

Thousands of police officers, Special Action Force troopers, and Army personnel are manning checkpoints. Police officials said violators will now be arrested without warning following President Rodrigo Duterte's order on April 16. Duterte warned of a "martial law-like" enforcement if Filipinos continue to violate quarantine rules.

The UN said the Philippines' "highly militarized response" to the pandemic has led to the arrest of over a hundred thousand people for violating curfew ordinances.

Over 152,000 quarantine violators have been reported nationwide following the implementation of the enhanced community quarantine over Luzon and other provinces in mid-March, according to recent police data. Of this number, at least 38,000 have been arrested.

Bachelet said detaining them may even be worse for containing the spread of COVID-19 as they are kept in a small space with other violators.

“In some countries, thousands have also been detained for curfew violations, a practice that is both unnecessary and unsafe. Jails and prisons are high risk environments,” the UN official said.

With over 3 million COVID-19 cases recorded globally, world leaders have placed their countries under lockdown to prevent the spread of the deadly disease.

Bachelet called on world leaders to ensure human rights are not violated under the guise of exceptional or emergency measures.

"Emergency powers should not be a weapon governments can wield to quash dissent, control the population, and even perpetuate their time in power. They should be used to cope effectively with the pandemic – nothing more, nothing less," Bachelet warned.