Lesvos, the small Greek island notorious as Europe’s primary landing point for forced migrants from Asia and Africa since 2015, confirmed its first COVID-19 related death on 30 March. Testing across the island quickly confirmed 10 cases among the local population, spreading fear of an uncontrollable outbreak in the densely and overcrowded migrant and refugee camps on the island.
We were expecting this news. One of us is a Lesvos native. Both of us have worked on its refugee crisis for several years. We are painfully familiar with the conditions facing the refugee and migrant population on the island, and the particular dangers they currently pose. Although Greece responded more promptly to the pandemic outbreak than other southern European countries, thus controlling the spread of the virus and achieving one of the lowest rates of infection in Europe, this commendable past conduct does not assure a safe and healthy future. In fact, despite the efforts, on 21 April it was revealed that a total of 150 asymptomatic refugees living in an accommodation facility in a small town in southern Greece tested positive for COVID-19.
We interviewed Berthold Beitz Professor in Human Rights and International Affairs, Erica Chenoweth, Senior Carr Fellow Salil Shetty, and Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Fortify Rights, Matthew Smith, to discuss how social movements and civil resistance efforts are changing shape in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, has described the pandemic as one of the most important challenges the United Nations has faced since its creation. Several coordinated multilateral efforts have been put in place between the WHO and the UN, and the UNSC, the body that centralizes all the efforts of the United Nations on international peace and security and addresses global crises like the one we are experiencing. However, today, when the world faces the greatest threat of our time, the Security Council is missing. It is time for the Security Council to rise to this crisis. The Dominican Republic, which currently holds the presidency of the UNSC, has a historic opportunity to lead global efforts against the Coronavirus and mitigate its repercussions on world peace and security. The Dominican Republic should its position to unify the Council around a presidential statement calling for a coordinated global response as the first step in Council action. If the presidential statement is framed in a forward-looking manner, they can perhaps get permanent members on board, making it possible to take stronger action in the future.
There is a need for a decisive declaration that calls for working together could make all the difference: legitimatize recent General Assembly decisions, reinforce the authority of the secretary-general, and strengthen the efforts of specialized UN agencies to save lives. This presidential statement should first endorse Secretary-General Guterres' call for a worldwide ceasefire in all conflicts around the globe. The Coronavirus hit the developed world first, but it can ravage war-torn regions even more. A functioning global ceasefire can help ensure that medical personnel has safe and unhindered access to the sick in these areas. Without it, the disease will exponentially spread. Civil society groups and even some warring parties are responding positively to the Secretary General's proposal, but so far, the Security Council has had nothing to say. Without Security Council backing, other warring parties may not lay down their arms. Now more than ever, we need unity and leadership from the Security Council. The security of the world and the legitimacy of the Security Council depends on the capacity of its members, including the small, to assume the responsibility for our shared future.
This article has been translated from its original text in Spanish.
It is insufficient to ask simply whether the virus is or is not present. Social data about who is infected are crucial for responding to needs now and will allow for better estimation of the likely spread and impact of COVID-19, the toll of which will be measured not only in deaths but also in the second-order, socially disparate spill-over effects on people’s economic well-being and safety. Real-time fast journalistic reporting and advocacy groups in the US and other countries are pointing to the critical importance of racial/ethnic, economic, and gender inequities to shaping COVID-19 risks. In the past week, calls for data on COVID-19 by race/ethnicity have been issued by leading politicians, including Senator Elizabeth Warren and Congresswoman Ayana Pressley, the Congressional Black Caucus, the National Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, and by journalists. Why aren’t the public health data documenting these risks available?
History shows us that seismic events have the potential to unite even politically divided Americans behind common cause. In the U.S., the COVID-19 pandemic has already taken more than seven times the number of lives as terrorists did in the 9/11 attacks, but the outpouring of solidarity Americans have shown for one another has so far not translated into more unity over government’s proper role at home or America’s proper role abroad. Indeed, the virus struck in an era of the most virulent polarization ever recorded—an unprecedented 82-percentage point divide between Republicans’ and Democrats’ average job-approval ratings of President Trump. And so far that gap appears only to be widening, while internationally, political leaders are trading recriminations rather than coordinating the procurement of medical supplies.
But the shared enemy of a future pandemic must bring about a redefinition of national security and generate long overdue increases of federal investments in domestic and global health security preparedness.
In our third Covid-19 Discussion Paper, Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights, Jacqueline Bhabha; Technology and Human Rights Fellows Laurin Leonard and Teresa Hodge; and Carr Center Fellow, Laura Cordisco-Tsai, outline how Covid-19 disproportionately impacts the world's most vulnerable communities. From prison populations to survivors of human trafficking, "Vulnerable communities often are not positioned to ensure their human rights are preserved in times of a crisis—they are often a historical afterthought."
Close to 370,000 infections and nearly 11,000 deaths in the United States. Nearly 10 million Americans filing unemployment claims. Unimaginable heartbreak and hardship, with worse to come. Given this still-developing emergency, and the fatal inadequacy of the U.S. government’s domestic preparedness and response so far, it is very hard to focus on the devastation that is about to strike the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.
But if President Trump doesn’t overcome his go-it-alone mind-set and take immediate steps to mobilize a global coalition to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, its spread will cause a catastrophic loss of life and make it impossible to restore normalcy in the United States in the foreseeable future.
The global pandemic claimed its first democracy on March 30 when Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban won approval from his parliament to rule Hungary indefinitely by decree. Orban’s new powers give him unlimited authority to fight the coronavirus by suspending parliament and all future elections, overriding Hungarian law and imprisoning persons found guilty of the new crimes of “violating a quarantine” and “spreading false information.”
Democratic governments all over the world are undertaking temporary emergency measures to address the pandemic crisis, but none are as sweeping as Hungary’s. Temporarily restricting freedom of movement and prescribing social distancing are reasonable limits on civil liberties aimed at containing the virus. But the Hungarian case demonstrates how the public-health crisis can be used as an excuse to promote authoritarianism far beyond the current emergency.