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COVID-19 fears should not be exploited to attack and exclude minorities – UN expert

30 March 2020

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GENEVA (30 March 2020) –The exploitation of COVID-19-related fears by groups and politicians to scapegoat minorities is leading to an alarming rise in verbal and physical abuses against Chinese and other minorities, with some even being denied access to health care and information about the pandemic, a UN rights expert said.

“COVID-19 is not just a health issue; it can also be a virus that exacerbates xenophobia, hate and exclusion,” said Fernand de Varennes, UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues.

“Reports of Chinese and other Asians being physically attacked; of hate speech blaming minorities including Roma, Hispanics and others for the spread of the virus; and of politicians calling for migrants to be denied access to medical services, all show that States need to urgently emphasise that the human rights of everyone, in particular of the most vulnerable and marginalized, must be protected.”

The UN expert expressed concerns at numerous reports of xenophobia and exclusion of minorities in different parts of the world, ranging from calls to deny access to medical care to undocumented migrants to the absence of information about the pandemic in minority languages, including sign languages.

“Millions of individuals, particularly minorities and indigenous peoples, may not have access to what are arguably the most important public health messages in generations,” de Varennes said.

“The world’s most vulnerable are often the last in line for support. The international community and States must therefore work closely together to inform, help and protect them. That includes communicating with them in their own languages where possible to effectively transmit vital public health information and care, as well as enforcing measures for their protection against physical abuse and hate speech.

“The coronavirus outbreak endangers the health of all of us, with no distinction as to language, religion or ethnicity. But some are more vulnerable than others. All of us can take steps to resist this rise in discriminatory and hate speech against Asian and other minorities in social media, including by joining our voices in messages of support with the hashtags  #IAmNotAVirus or #JeNeSuisPasUnVirus.”

“Combatting the epidemic requires tackling its darker sides. Firm actions by States and all of us to safeguard the human rights of the most vulnerable and marginalised, including minorities, indigenous communities and migrants, are urgent and necessary,” the Special Rapporteur concluded.


Mr. Fernand de Varennes was appointed as the UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues
by the Human Rights Council in June 2017. He is tasked by the UN Human Rights Council, to promote the implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, among other things.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world.Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

Read the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities.

For inquiries and media requests, please contact: Marina Narváez (+41-22 917 9286 / [email protected]) or Jacqui Zalcberg (+41- 22 917 9271/ [email protected])

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact Xabier Celaya (+ 41 22 917 9445 / [email protected])

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