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Amnesty International

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Life may feel like it stands still now - but the advocacy of human rights never stops!

An unprecedented threat like the coronavirus pandemic requires and justifies extreme measures such as those currently being taken by governments around the world. However, each of the measures taken must be proportionate. Governments must protect public health to the best of their ability and assist those who are most at risk of its negative effects.

Over the next few days, weeks and months, we will be closely analyzing the global developments relating to the coronavirus.

We'll keep you up to date with our news blog!

At a distance - and still together!

Human rights position on the opening steps from May 19 in Austria and the equality of vaccinated people with tested and recovered people

Today the COVID-19 Opening Ordinance came into force throughout Austria, which re-opens social coexistence in Austria: For example, the gastronomy will be reopened and cultural and sporting events will be possible again. In addition, a resolution passed in an urgent procedure on May 4 stipulated that vaccinated persons are to be treated on an equal footing with those who have been tested and recovered with regard to access requirements. This is the first step in the direction of the "Green Pass", which is an entry ticket and is intended to make it possible to attend events.

Amnesty International Austria has analyzed the legislative changes from a human rights perspective and drafted a human rights position.

The governments of the world's richest countries must oblige pharmaceutical companies to share their expertise in making COVID-19 vaccines. This is what the People's Vaccine Alliance (PVA) demands on the occasion of the meeting of the foreign and development ministers of the G7 countries in London.

This not only corresponds to the requirements of the United Nations and the World Health Organization (WHO). A clear majority of the population of the G7 states also supports this, as a representative survey on behalf of the PVA, of which Amnesty International is a member, shows: Most people consider it appropriate that the companies are financially compensated for the development of vaccines. At the same time, this is to prevent individual companies from clinging to their patents and making access to the life-saving vaccination against COVID-19 more difficult.

Although a large majority supports this call, the G7 countries still refuse to forego intellectual property on COVID-19 vaccines.

More about the People's Vaccine Alliance survey

Prisoners around the world were forgotten during the COVID-19 pandemic, shows a new report from Amnesty International released today. Failure to prioritize the health of people in custody and incorporate them into vaccination schedules could have disastrous consequences for prisoners, their families and the public health system.

As strategies and plans to distribute COVID-19 vaccines around the world are currently taking shape, many governments are silent about their plans to vaccinate vulnerable prisoners. Amnesty is therefore calling for the current “A Fair Dose” campaign to include the millions of people currently living in overcrowded cells in national vaccination programs.

Exactly a year ago, the state suddenly had an impact on all of our lives in a way that would have been unthinkable before: In Austria - as in many other countries around the world - in response to the spread of COVID-19 and to protect our health Lockdown imposed. Suddenly we were confronted with new forms of surveillance, had to cover our faces with masks in the supermarket and ask ourselves whether it was even allowed to sit on a park bench. The restrictions on our human rights have been far-reaching.

As early as April 2020, we drew up a list of nine demands on how we can get through the crisis stronger with the help of human rights. This list has now been updated again in view of the developments over the past year.

The unyielding stance of pharmaceutical companies and rich countries is currently ensuring that billions of people at risk from COVID-19 may not even receive a first dose of life-saving vaccines this year. Amnesty International is therefore launching the global campaign “A fair dose” on the anniversary of the pandemic and calling for fair, global access to COVID-19 vaccines for all people.

“Global inequality in access to vaccines threatens to spiral out of control. A few rich countries are racing away while the rest of the world is still trying to get started. Everyone has the same right to a vaccine - the right to health cannot be discriminated against, ”said Stephen Cockburn, economic and social justice expert at Amnesty International.

“All governments want their own people to be vaccinated first and the pharmaceutical industry clings to their patents; however, we forget that this is about human life. Nobody is safe until we are all safe, "said Tamaryn Nelson, health expert at Amnesty International.

We have analyzed the planned changes to the Epidemic Act and COVID-19 Measures Act of the Austrian government from a human rights perspective. The changes in the law provide for new regulations that give the Minister of Health more opportunities to take measures against the corona pandemic. This would enable further human rights restrictions, in particular with regard to the right to freedom of movement, the right to freedom of assembly and the right to respect for private life, to be enacted.

In view of the far-reaching consequences of the changes in the law for people's rights in Austria, the short review period of just six days is inappropriate. This makes a comprehensive assessment by experts and civil society organizations much more difficult.

In addition, some regulations are questionable in terms of human rights: As with previous changes to the law, this time we criticize the lack of clarity and imprecise design of the regulations and demand that decision-makers make differentiations and provide human rights interventions with an expiration date.

In response to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres' criticism of the failure of global vaccine distribution, Annemarie Schlack, Managing Director of Amnesty International Austria, said:

“The fair distribution of vaccines around the world is clearly a matter of human rights. We at Amnesty International therefore demand a fair dose for everyone - that is, everyone, no matter where in the world they live, must have access to vaccines as quickly as possible. In order for us to do this, states around the world must work together and overcome their vaccine nationalism. But it is just as important that pharmaceutical companies massively accelerate the fight against COVID-19 by sharing their knowledge and technologies with others. "

Our new report shows that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in gender-based violence against women and girls in southern Africa. It has also exacerbated existing structural problems such as poverty, social inequality, crime, high unemployment rates and systematic failure of the criminal justice system.

Amnesty's research also shows that women and girls risk social exclusion by reporting violence and abuse, breaking out of their traditional gender roles - and if they speak out, their complaints will not be taken seriously by the authorities.

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Amnesty International welcomes the United States' return to WHO and calls on the Biden administration to support global initiatives aimed at ensuring fair access to COVID-19 vaccines for all. This includes the COVAX program of the WHO.

"The return to WHO is a much needed first step to re-establish United States cooperation with the international community," said Bob Goodfellow, interim executive director of Amnesty International USA, adding:

“A common, coordinated global response to this pandemic is more important than ever. We call on the Biden administration to support global initiatives aimed at ensuring fair access to vaccines for all. This includes the COVAX program of the WHO. The Biden administration needs to push international efforts to prioritize vaccine distribution for the most vulnerable people - regardless of what country they live in. We call on the administration to put human rights at the center of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic! "

Only if governments meet their human rights obligations and work together can we bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control and ensure that everyone has access to medical care.

Bob Goodfellow, Interim Executive Director of Amnesty International USA

Rich western countries are buying up COVID-19 vaccines. Canada and the UK, for example, bought so many doses of vaccine that they could vaccinate their entire population five times. Tamaryn Nelson, Amnesty Health Expert, calls for global equity for vaccines and explains how we can achieve this together.

Read the entire comment here

The new Amnesty report "COVID-19 Crackdowns: Police Abuse and the Global Pandemic" shows how people have been killed or seriously injured because they are said to have violated the imposed conditions or because they protested against poor detention conditions. Certain human rights restrictions are justifiable during a pandemic if these measures protect public health or are justified by another urgent social emergency. However, restrictions have been imposed in many countries that are far from appropriate or justified. Security forces around the world are violating international law during the Covid-19 pandemic by using disproportionate and unnecessary force to enforce lockdowns and curfews.

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Covid-19 pandemic: no justification for human rights violations

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On Human Rights Day, Amnesty International calls on states around the world to guarantee access to health facilities and care for all people: "The COVID-19 pandemic is a global challenge. If the past few months of the crisis have shown one thing, it is that selfishness and Purely national advances do not get us any further. Vaccines that protect against COVID-19 are not a luxury product, but a prerequisite for survival. Access to these vaccines must not depend on who pays the most. All people, regardless of who whether they can afford it or not, they must have quick and uncomplicated access to these vital health measures, ”says Annemarie Schlack, Managing Director of Amnesty International Austria.

The COVID-19 pandemic was the defining human rights issue in 2020: while the crisis brought out the best in people in many places, it also exacerbated existing human rights problems. COVID-19 highlighted, among other things, serious problems and challenges with access to health: Hundreds of thousands of people died worldwide, millions suffered great losses because they did not have the same health care or the same access to health facilities as others. In the debate about vaccines - under what conditions and at what price people can get access to them - this problem is currently coming to a head.

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Nine out of ten people in poorer countries might not have access to COVID-19 vaccines in the next year. Meanwhile, rich countries have secured enough doses to vaccinate the entire population nearly three times. As part of the People's Vaccine Alliance, Amnesty International advocates fair vaccine distribution worldwide.

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In response to Pfizer-BioNTech's announcement that the COVID-19 vaccine it is developing has been shown to be effective in 90 percent of people, Tamaryn Nelson, researcher at Amnesty International said, “It's good news that Pfizer's vaccine has been developed -BioNTech proves effective against COVID-19. It is worrying, however, that Pfizer-BioNTech has already signed contracts with rich countries for more than a billion doses of the vaccine, leaving less than a quarter of its forecast supply for the rest of the world, "adding," This species bilateral agreements run the risk of undermining the potential benefits of scientific breakthroughs. "

Pfizer-BioNTech urgently needs to clarify how to maximize access to vaccines in low and middle income countries to save lives. "The company should also share vaccine technology with other manufacturers through the WHO's COVID-19 technology access pool so that the billions of vaccines that are needed can be produced as quickly and cheaply as possible. The pandemic will not survive until it is for all people is over, ”says Tamaryn Nelson.

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The profits of pharmaceutical companies must not be put above the health of billions of people.

Tamaryn Nelson, Researcher at Amnesty International

The second lockdown has been in force in Austria since midnight today - and for many people human rights and encroachments on these are once again clearly noticeable. The state is influencing our lives in a way that would have been unthinkable before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the first lockdown in spring.

We at Amnesty International have been monitoring and analyzing developments from a human rights perspective worldwide and in Austria since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our observations and analyzes over the past months have shown: An informed population, dialogue, solidarity and a culture of political mistakes are essential if we are to come through the crisis stronger than before. This also applies eight months after the outbreak of the pandemic. At the same time, it is understandable that many people have now become tired - personal deprivation, painful losses and constant insecurity drain our strengths.

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Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, in particular Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), are using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to further intensify the suppression of freedom of expression that is already in place.

For this assessment, we analyzed official statements from these countries published on social media and media reports from March to date.

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Gulf States: The pandemic is being used to suppress freedom of expression even more

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People are being bullied and intimidated just for discussing the pandemic online. This is a clear violation of their right to freedom of expression.

Lynn Maalouf, Assistant Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International

The COVID-19 pandemic highlights and exacerbates the long-standing lack of health care for refugees and migrants. Amnesty International urges the international community to ensure mental health for all ahead of World Mental Health Day on October 10th.

The effects of the pandemic will be felt for years to come. We call on all governments to ensure that adequate health services are available to those who need them, including refugees and migrants.

Charlotte Phillips, Refugee and Migrant Rights Team Leader at Amnesty International

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Amnesty International documented the catastrophic situation in state quarantines in Venezuela, El Salvador and Paraguay: authorities detained tens of thousands of migrants, refugees and low-income people disproportionately often under unsanitary and sometimes inhuman conditions - without adequate food, water and medical care. In the appalling conditions, people are at even greater risk of contracting COVID-19.

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When states lock up tens of thousands of people without ensuring that all detention is necessary and proportionate, an important measure to protect people's health becomes repression.

Erika Guevara-Rosas, America Region Director at Amnesty International

A new research by Amnesty International shows that at least 7,000 employees in the health sector worldwide have died after being infected with Covid-19. There are 1,320 confirmed deaths in Mexico alone, the highest number in any country. It is a scandal that so many are paying with their lives. Governments must protect the health of healthcare workers, Amnesty urges.

Amnesty also noted a high number of deaths among health workers in the following countries: 1,077 in the US and 634 in Brazil, where infection and death rates have been high since the beginning of the pandemic, and alarming figures in South Africa (240) and India (573) ), the number of infections there has only risen significantly in the past few months.

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That more than 7,000 people die trying to save others is a crisis of frustrating proportions. Everyone working in medicine has a right to safety at work.

Steve Cockburn, director of economic and social justice at Amnesty International

Amnesty International Austria today published a statement on the planned changes to the law in connection with COVID-19 in Austria, the review period for which ends today.

“Transparency and a culture of political error are particularly important in times of crisis. We have been monitoring the human rights impact of COVID-19 on people in Austria from the start and demand clarity from decision-makers regarding the COVID-19 regulations. Everyone in Austria must be able to rely on the fact that what is allowed and what is not and what powers the authorities have is clearly regulated, "says Heinz Patzelt, Secretary General of Amnesty International Austria, and continues:

“At the beginning of the pandemic, it was understandable that action had to be taken quickly to prevent the virus from spreading. But now there is no obvious reason for rush, inaccuracy and lack of transparency. Nevertheless, the planned changes to the law are still formulated imprecisely and in some cases contradictingly. "

"We repeatedly call on the government to readjust, to review every measure for its legality and to subject it to a consistent human rights check."

Heinz Patzelt, Secretary General of Amnesty International Austria

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Amendment to COVID-19 regulations: lack of clarity, imprecise design

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Police officers in Angola killed at least seven people while enforcing COVID-19 exit restrictions between May and July 2020. This is shown by the joint investigation by Amnesty International and the Angolan human rights organization OMUNGA.

The victims were boys and young men, the youngest was only 14 years old. The organizations assume that the actual death toll is much higher.

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Angola: Shocking police killings of teenagers

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A state of emergency is no justification for such scandalous human rights violations.

Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International's Regional Director for Southern Africa

The number of COVID-19 cases reported in Venezuela is increasing rapidly every day. The authorities fail to take measures to protect the population - especially doctors, nurses and hospital staff. Amnesty International criticizes that even those who talk about their terrible working conditions are arrested. The human rights organization calls on the government in Venezuela to take concrete measures so that people can do their jobs safely and raise their voices without reprisals.

The Venezuelan authorities either deny the number of health care workers who have died from COVID-19, or they do not have accurate information about the precarious conditions in the hospitals. In any case, the government is acting completely irresponsible.

Erika Guevara-Rosasas, America Region Director at Amnesty International
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Venezuela & COVID-19: repression and lack of protection for health workers

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In countries like Egypt, India, Iran or Turkey, the governments deliberately exclude human rights defenders from pandemic prison amnesties. By leaving prisoners of conscience defenseless in prisons, they are using the virus as an additional weapon against critical voices.

In the new report Daring to Stand up for Human Rights in a Pandemic Amnesty International documents how governments in 46 countries acted against human rights defenders or denied them any protection during the COVID-19 pandemic. The focus is on countries in which journalists, human rights lawyers, activists and critics are exposed to the pandemic under sometimes disastrous sanitary and humanitarian conditions in prison and are excluded from pandemic-related amnesties to relieve the prisons.

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COVID-19 means additional punishment for human rights defenders who have been wrongly detained and has also been used as an excuse for further harassment, law enforcement and even killings.

Lisa Maracani, researcher for human rights defenders at Amnesty International

Reports of violence against women and girls have increased across the world. The reason was the lockdowns and other restrictions in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic: Many women and girls were trapped with their abusers or had no unhindered access to safety and support services. The restrictions may be necessary to control the spread of the virus, but the countries must equally guarantee the safety of women and girls, urges Nils Muižnieks, Europe director at Amnesty International, in his comment.

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What measures does the state have to take to protect our human rights even in times of crisis? What are the effects of the measures to combat COVID-19 and on whom? How can we generally claim and defend our human rights? Moritz Birk, Head of Advocacy & Research at Amnesty International Austria, discussed these and other questions in an online lecture for the series "At home with ..."at Ars Electronica in Linz.

Film footage shows widespread violence against demonstrators in Serbia's capital, Belgrade, and other major cities in the country. Dozens of people protesting new COVID-19 curfews were injured.

"While the authorities have a responsibility to maintain public order and to respond to individual violent incidents, the disproportionate use of force against entire demonstrations is not justified," says Jelena Sesar, Balkans researcher at Amnesty International.

Amnesty International calls on the Serbian authorities to show restraint in any further protests. The government must guarantee the safety of protesters and ensure that people can exercise their right to demonstrate peacefully and without fear of reprisals.

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Serbia: Police crackdown on COVID-19 protests must stop

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Tough measures like the one we have seen over the past two days violate the rights of people protesting peacefully and will only add to tensions. The situation could escalate further.

Jelena Sesar, Balkans Researcher at Amnesty International