Americas: The COVID-19 pandemic must not be a pretext for human rights violations

States in the Americas must prioritize a human rights-based approach to combating the COVID-19 pandemic, which has exposed widespread inequality and discrimination in the region, Amnesty International said in an open letter to the heads of state attending the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS).

“The strategy to combat the COVID-19 pandemic has, in many countries of the Americas, been characterized by repressive measures and the unnecessary use of force. Added to the structural challenges and massive social and economic divides present prior to the pandemic, these measures only combine to perpetuate inequality and discrimination across the continent,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.

In countries such as El Salvador, Paraguay and Venezuela, among others, the strict measures taken to combat COVID-19 have included confining tens of thousands of people in state-run quarantine facilities under police or military control. The imposition of compulsory state-controlled quarantine, without knowledge of its duration, in environments that lack the most minimum measures of infection prevention and control, and without guarantees of independent procedures in accordance with international human rights law, could constitute arbitrary detention. Moreover, if quarantine centres promote discriminatory situations and the authorities do not provide adequate water, food and medical care, these conditions could constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and a violation of the right to health.

In addition, in countries such as Chile and Nicaragua, where human rights violations and even crimes under international law, such as torture, have been committed in recent years, it is essential, by virtue of their shared duty to guarantee human rights, that OAS member states urge the competent national authorities to investigate such situations seriously and thoroughly.

In the particular case of Nicaragua, it is imperative that measures are taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the country, that people detained simply for exercising their rights are released, and that actions are implemented to protect those working in the Nicaraguan health system from the intimidation they are suffering for disagreeing with government policies.

Cooperation among the states of the Americas must furthermore ensure that medical treatments to combat COVID-19, plus any eventual vaccine, are made available and accessible without discrimination, establishing special measures to support specific groups at most risk from the virus or whose marginalized position means they could be disadvantaged when accessing vaccines or treatments.

“The States of the Americas should seek to avoid exclusively national approaches to the allocation of treatment and any eventual vaccine against COVID-19. The efforts of international cooperation should be focused on avoiding the imposition of bilateral agreements over and above the regional needs of the continent’s population as a whole; it is these needs that must form the guiding criteria in this allocation, always in accordance with human rights norms and standards,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.

Amnesty International also believes that a strengthened Inter-American human rights system is essential at this historic moment. In this regard, the organization urges OAS member states and its Secretary General to respect the autonomy and independence of the bodies of the Inter-American human rights system. In addition, the organization is calling for independent channels of investigation to be established that will allow for adequate follow-up of any complaints that may have arisen within the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), thus ensuring compliance with all guarantees for the parties and transparency of public management, and possibly, if appropriate, establishing responsibilities and reparation measures.

An Amnesty International delegation will be present at the 50th General Assembly of the Organization of American States, and spokespeople will be available for interview.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Lucy Scholey, Media Relations, Amnesty International Canada (English branch), 613-853-2142,

Read more:

Open letter to Heads of State of the Americas on the occasion of the 50th Ordinary Session of the OAS General Assembly (Letter, 15 October 2020)

When protection becomes repression: Mandatory quarantines under COVID-19 in the Americas (Research, 17 September 2020)

Americas: Organizations of the continent reiterate the need to strengthen the autonomy and independence of the IACHR (News, 28 August 2020)