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[2022 Gwangju Democracy Forum Final Document] The Position of Civil Society on Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic and Threats to Democracy and Human Rights
Date : 2022-06-03     Hit : 112

 

2022 Gwangju Democracy Forum Final Document

The Position of Civil Society on Responding to the COVID19 Pandemic and Threats to Democracy and Human Rights

 

 

TheMay 18 Memorial Foundation held the 2022 Gwangju Democracy Forum from May 17 to May 21, 2022. Under the main title of "An Answer to Global Crisis-Collaboration and Solidarity," the forum had three sub-themes to share a variety of opinions about challenges that human beings currently encounter. Participants adopted the final document as below to maximize the spread of their views on human rights, peace, and democracy.

 

COVID19 was detected in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. It quickly spread throughout the globe. China was slow to report the virus outbreak to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the international community. The WHO declared it a Public Health Emergency, drawing the international concern on 30 January 2020, and later declared COVID19 a pandemic on 11 March 2020. By that time, COVID19 had already spread to several countries around the world. The US and other western countries imposed strict travel bans on those who had recently traveled to China. India, Brazil, Europe, and most countries also imposed border restrictions. The producers of Vaccines and medical equipment, such as the US, France, Germany, and India, restricted the export of vaccines or imposed a ban on them. Hundreds of millions of people were infected, and millions died. Millions lost Jobs. The worst victims were the migrant workers and refugees. The people from the developing and poor countries were doubly victimized. Because of the lack of health facilities, even PCR tests were unavailable in many countries.

 

In such a situation, it was expected that the wealthy countries would cooperate with each other, helping poor countries face the crisis. But the global population witnessed how the powerful countries used the pandemic as a means to self-preserve at the cost of millions of vulnerable people living in the poor countries. Their attitude was guided by their international policy imperatives.

 

 

 1.   COVID-19 and its Impact on Democracy and Human Rights

 

Governments imposed several restrictions targeting the population under the pretext of controlling the pandemic. During the long lockdown period, mostly in the third world countries - people were deprived of their fundamental rights. The Institutions of democracy, such as the legislature, judiciary, and other non-governmental agencies (e.g., National Human Rights Institutions), were virtually closed or prevented from functioning. As a measure to contain the pandemic, 60% of democracies have declared states of emergency. 117 countries have seen their elections affected by COVID19. Restrictions on freedom of expression were linked to the spread of disinformation. Countries like Egypt, Botswana, and India allowed the publication of only official governmental statements about the pandemic to control the spread of false information. South Africa, Indonesia, and Algeria imposed severe prison sentences on those spreading disinformation.

 

Nada Al-Nashif, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the COVID19 pandemic had taken its toll, touching all spheres of life and ending the livelihoods of millions of people. Over 100 million people were pushed into extreme poverty. The International Labor Organization had estimated a rise of 5 to 25 million in global unemployment since the onset of the pandemic.

 

The policy of restriction adopted by the states to contain the pandemic has had severe effects on the Economics, Social, and Cultural Rights of the people at large, particularly the minorities and vulnerable communities. Most Countries closed schools, colleges, and universities for several months, pushing more than 1 billion students at the risk of losing whole academic years. In order to continue the learning process of school children, some countries even implemented remote learning programs. However, hundreds of thousands of children in poor and developing countries do not have Internet access. Many households in Asia and African countries do not have internet networks installed. Many of them do not even have access to radio, TV, and computers. Only 16 percent of schoolchildren could be reached by radio-based learning worldwide. There is a potential risk of the student whose education was interrupted by the pandemic not returning to schools and colleges again.

 

According to Sandra Fredman (2021), globally, 3 out of 4 students whom the remote learning policies cannot reach come from rural areas or belong to the poorest households.

 

 

 

2. The System of "Profit Before Peoples Life" Has to be Addressed 

 

 International Human Rights Law guarantees everyone the right to the highest attainable standard of health and obligates the government to take steps to prevent threats to public health and to provide medical care to those who need it."But the fact that developing countries had faced many more difficulties, greater adversity, and limited resources during the pandemic. The system had shown that profit came before peoples lives, and access to vaccines had been reserved first for a handful of privileged people" (Freddy Mamani, Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Plurinational State of Bolivia).

 

A variety of international instruments, rules, treaties, and organizations are developed to address cross-border or global issues. The UN Charter to Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 and subsequent regulations have been developed, altogether known as International Human Rights Law (IHRL). IHRL lays down a range of enforceable obligations on states regarding how governments should treat their citizens. Enforcement of IHRL is an obligation of signatories at the state level.

 

Article12 of the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESR) mentions the responsibility of the state to protect against all forms of contagion. The prevention, treatment, and control of epidemic, endemic, occupational, and other diseases; The creation of conditions that would assure the citizens of all medical services and medical attention in the event of sickness (Art. 12 c & d ICESR). Thus, the state and all UN agencies must work together to prevent and treat vulnerable and infectious diseases, including the health of women and children and nutrition and sanitation. The very purpose of establishing the World Health Organization (WHO) is to coordinate health affairs, mainly within the United Nations system.

 

Though UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, sums up, "global solidarity is not only a moral imperative, it is in everyone’s interests". The UN also launched the COVID19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan, asking governments to support the global efforts to stop the spread of the new coronavirus financially and politically. However, the response from the international community was not as expected. Most nations, including the worlds most powerful countries - the US, China, UK, European Union, and other regional powers - have turned inward, adopting travel bans, implementing export control, hoarding or obscuring information, and marginalizing the WHO and other multilateral institutions. WHO struggled at the initial stages of the outbreak. The multilateral coordination and cooperation, such as the G-7, the G-20, and the UN Security Council, failed to rise to the occasion. The pandemic seems to have exposed the international community as selfish. The Governments also forsook opportunities for consultation, joint planning, and collaboration, opting instead for a nationalist stance that created a near collapse of global policy coherence. The nationalist stance was of two forms "COVIDNationalism" and Vaccine Nationalism."

 

The COVID19 Vaccine-producing countries used it as another tool for expanding their sphere of influence and Nationalism. On top of that, the COVID19 Vaccineis under patent rights. The developing countries have repeatedly demanded lifting patents.

 


3. Civil Societys Response and Demand

 

The global population has learned an important lesson that international cooperation is vital for combating the pandemic.

-Strengthening the international organization, such as WHO, by enhancing their capacity and ensuring their financial autonomy so that they are not dependent on a couple of rich countries.

-UN and other international organizations should provide a permanent framework for countries to cooperate.

-The preexisting international mechanisms and tools should be activated to ensure their accountability.

-International Institutions should have jurisdiction over cross-border cooperation.

-The International Humanitarian Law (IHL) must apply in the affected countries. Similarly, International Human Rights Law should be respected and implemented in each place so that the rights of the people are not curtailed under the pretext of combating the pandemic.

-COVAX(COVID19 Vaccines Global Access) facilities should be available to each country in an equitable manner. The hoarding of vaccines by any country should be taken as a severe violation of international rule.

-The patents must be lifted. Poor countries, especially the third world and developing nations, should develop a sustainable public health policy with an institutional and legal framework as a lesson learned from the COVID19 pandemic.

 


4. Democratic Backsliding in Asia

 

The 2022 Gwangju Democracy Forum provided a space to discuss specific solidarity problems of Asia countries experiencing democratic backsliding together with each countrys civil society. The sub-divided sessions for each country led to plans for practice as below.

 

4-1.Myanmar

-Following the attempted coup in February 2021, and the concerted efforts to dismantle and delegitimize the military junta since, we declare that 2022 is the year for responding to the crisis of democracy in Myanmar; and further, we shall put more active interest in Myanmar.

-We shall honor the Spring Revolution and Civil Disobedience (CDM) in a move of solidarity that rejects the military rule and supports the fight for democracy in Myanmar.

-We shall designate August 8th as a commemorative day for the 8888 Uprising in1988; the civil society of South Korea, Myanmar, and other Asia countries shall hold and engage in simultaneous campaigns.

-The current status of immigrants and displaced people since the 2021 Myanmarcoup shall be reported. Furthermore, documents focusing on the immigrants and IDPs shall be made.

 

4-2.Thailand

-Civil society of Thailand shall request support for having diverse opportunities for Thailand participants to learn about transitional justice, democratization, and human rights in South Korea.

-We shall hope to facilitate projects for political and cultural art exhibitions and exchange programs between South Korea and Thailand.

 

4-3.Cambodia

-We shall cooperate to promote labor rights in Cambodia.

-The May 18 Memorial Foundation shall put a variety of efforts into human rights improvement in Cambodia.

 

 

The 2022 Gwangju Democracy Forum participants shall express deep solidarity to the civil society of the Philippines, which has put efforts to respond to the election result, and the Hong Kong civil society, which has been deprived of all capabilities after the Hong Kong national security law.

 


 

May 21, 2022

 

All Participants of the 2022 Gwangju DemocracyForum

(* We sincerely appreciate Mr. Sushil Pyakurel, the laureate of the 2010 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights, assisting in making this final document.)

 


 

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