Amnesty International: Policing the pandemic

Amnesty International ha pubblicato recentemente un rapporto nel quale viene apertamente denunciato l’uso illegittimo della violenza da parte delle forze dell’ordine in Europa durante la gestione dell’emergenza da Covid-19, soprattutto ai danni di migranti e minoranze etniche. Amnesty ha analizzato la situazione in 13 paesi europei: ne emerge un quadro allarmante, caratterizzato da numerosi e sistematici casi di abusi di potere, in un contesto nel quale l’attuazione delle misure di contenimento ha messo a nudo numerose disparità strutturali in base all’etnia e allo status socio-economico. Sulla base dei dati raccolti l’organizzazione umanitaria documenta come, dietro alle misure di controllo e di fermo legate al contenimento del virus, si siano nascosti atti discriminatori nei confronti di vari gruppi sociali esposti all’ostilità razziale. Il razzismo istituzionale esiste ed assume forme gravi, dunque, anche in molti paesi europei.

 

On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak a global pandemic and called on states to take urgent measures to tackle it. For over three months now, European states have adopted measures to counter the pandemic and to cope with increasing pressures on their public health systems. These measures, which are referred to in this briefing as “lockdown” measures, restricted human rights and in particular the rights to freedom of movement and to freedom of peaceful assembly. While some of these measures have been eased in many countries, numerous restrictions are still in place. For example, when this report went to press in mid-June, a health-related state of emergency remained in force in France.

This report highlights systemic human rights concerns regarding institutional racism, discrimination in law enforcement and lack of accountability regarding allegations of unlawful use of force by law enforcement officials. The death of George Floyd on 25 May 2020 in police custody in Minneapolis (United States), has spurred protests around the world and highlighted the pervasiveness of discriminatory policing and impunity in Europe as well. According to available data, in 2019, 37 people were reported to have died in custody or following contact with the police in England and Wales (United Kingdom, UK), bringing the number of those who had died in such circumstances in the UK since 1990 to 1,743. In France, 23 people were reported to have died in custody or following contact with police in 2019. In Germany, at least 159 racialized³ individuals have died in police custody since 1990.

In many cases, the families and friends of those who have died in police custody have not obtained justice for the loss of their loved ones. For example, Adama Traoré, a young Black man, died in police custody in France in July 2016 following an arrest in which three law enforcement officials pinned him down to the ground. His family are still waiting for a thorough and impartial investigation into the causes of his death. In a new independent expertise, doctors have certified that Adama Traoré died of suffocation, countering the opposite conclusions of a previous expertise. Judges are to hear two key witnesses in July 2020.

Regrettably, as of early June 2020, further instances of unlawful use of force against protesters have been reported in the context of policing Black Lives Matter protests across Europe organized in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, including for example in the UK or in Belgium

The enforcement of lockdown measures has heightened existing human rights concerns in the region. In 2019, the year before the COVID-19 pandemic, Amnesty International documented violations of the economic, social and cultural rights of Roma and Travellers in 18 out of 35 European countries. In the same year, Amnesty International reported concerns about impunity for unlawful use of force by law enforcement officials in 13 out of 35 countries. The implementation of the lockdown measures to combat the pandemic has laid bare existing structural inequalities and discrimination on grounds of ethnicity, race, migration and socio-economic status. In some cases, the enforcement of lockdown measures has led to further marginalization, stigmatization and violence. Amnesty International is concerned that the implementation of some of these measures has had a disproportionate impact on racialized individuals and groups, who experience stereotyping, discrimination and violence due to race, ethnicity, religion and/or migration status. The enforcement of some lockdown measures, in particular those that have restricted the right to freedom of movement, has also taken a toll on people who are homeless, dozens of whom were fined by law enforcement officials for failing to comply with measures around self-isolation and restrictions on the right to freedom of movement in countries including Italy, Spain and the UK.

Amnesty International has documented several cases in which law enforcement officials resorted to the unlawful use of force to impose lockdown measures on people who did not offer any resistance or constitute a significant threat. These cases often occurred in the context of police identity checks. Indeed, existing data regarding police stops, searches and identity checks suggest that the enforcement of these powers has a disproportionate impact on racialized groups. For example, in the UK, one of the few European countries that collect disaggregated data on law enforcement, the Metropolitan Police registered a 22% rise in stop and searches in London between March and April 2020, the period when the authorities introduced exceptional measures to counter the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, the number of Black people who were searched increased significantly; in March 2020, 7.2 out of 1,000 Black people were subjected to stop and search, rising in April to 9.3 out of 1,000. In France, the number of police checks in the department of Seine-Saint-Denis (Paris region), a working class neighbourhood with a high percentage of Black residents and residents of North African descent, was more than double the national average and the number of fines three times higher than in the rest of the country. According to local authorities, respect of lockdown measures in Seine-Saint-Denis was comparable to other departments in France, the high numbers of fines and identity checks, therefore, indicate that the department was disproportionally policed compared to others in the country.

Roma living in informal settlements, and refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants living in camps, have also experienced disproportionate and discriminatory implementation of measures to counter the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of ensuring adequate access to water and sanitation and the alternative accommodation necessary to enable people to comply with recommended individual quarantine measures, the authorities in some countries have imposed mandatory quarantines on entire settlements.

Informal settlements and migrant camps in countries such as Bulgaria, France and Slovakia have been heavily policed, including the deployment of the army, and subject to mandatory testing. In several instances, Amnesty International obtained information about the unlawful use of force by law enforcement officials against the residents.

Sometimes a precursor to these measures was discriminatory and inflammatory speech by members of the government. For example, the Bulgarian National Movement (VMRO) party, a junior coalition partner in the Bulgarian government, described Roma as a collective threat to the general population that needs to be “controlled and contained”. The country’s Minister of the Interior, Mladen Marinov, threatened further coercive measures “to protect the general population” if Roma failed to comply with strict physical distancing measures.

The use of coercive measures to protect public health in Europe has had a disproportionate impact on racialized groups already subject to discriminatory identity checks and unlawful use of force prior to the pandemic. Coercive approaches contradict evidence-based public health best practice, and often target disadvantaged communities which are marginalized, impoverished or at risk of discrimination, resulting in stigma and fear, and thwarting trust in authorities. In contrast, an effective response to a health crisis is rooted in the respect of human rights and emphasises empowerment and community engagement, including policies that build trust and solidarity.

To be considered necessary, penalties must be a last resort after other alternatives have proven unsuccessful or if it becomes clear that the objective cannot be achieved by those other means. In that sense, states must implement less restrictive measures to ensure compliance with the restrictions, including a sufficiently robust public information campaign to inform the public about why it is important to comply with the restrictions. If no other measures are in place and states rely only on the imposition of penalties, the test of necessity will not be met as, in the first instance, less intrusive means of achieving the same aim were not implemented.

In view of the systemic human rights concerns relating to law enforcement in Europe as well as the lack of evidence regarding the effectiveness of coercive approaches in public health, conferring additional powers to the police and focusing on the coercive enforcement of lockdown measures should be considered only as last resort. States should avoid the enforcement of lockdown measures through the use of criminal sanctions. Given the elevated risks of transmission of COVID-19 in certain prisons and other places of detention, enforcement of prison sentences is likely to further compound the public health problems caused by the pandemic and would fail to meet the test of necessity and proportionality.

 

Fonte: Amnesty International, Report 2020.

 

Note

1 The term “racialization” refers to processes through which racial meanings are constructed by powerful institutions and groups and used to justify discrimination, stereotyping, violence and othering of ethnic and religious groups such as Roma, Muslims, Black people, as well as of migrants. Michael Omi and Howard Winant employ the term racialization to “signify the extension of racial meaning to a previously racially unclassified relationship, social practice or group. Racialization is an ideological process, a historically specific one. Racial ideology is constructed from pre-existing conceptual (or, if one prefers, “discursive”) elements and emerges from the struggles of competing political projects and ideas seeking to articulate similar elements differently.” Omi, M. & and Winant, H. (eds., 2015). Racial Formation in the United States. 3rd ed. New York: Routledge. For an overview of the use and meaning of the term, see Adam Hochman (2019) ‘Racialization: a defense of the concept’, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 42:8, 1245-1262.

² https://twitter.com/bav_ka/status/1269707603929595908

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