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Covid-19 and Minorities: A Test for Our Humanity

14 May 2020

By Joshua Castellino, Executive Director at Minority Rights Group International

First, while the virus is potent, its ability to kill is weaponised by poor governance, yielding vastly different outcomes in similar circumstances. Egalitarian societies with the best candidate to govern (many women led) have fared better; societies where ‘strongmen’ seized power based on a rhetoric of fear, find themselves out of their depth in tackling issues that require skill and wisdom.

We know the virus will kill many, disproportionally affecting the vulnerable, and societies have been alert to this, ensuring extra protection for the elderly, and those with underlying health conditions.

The last few years have seen our political space filled with the politics of hate. The formula is straightforward: find someone different, turn the majority against them, claim the levers of power, access the wealth beyond.

If these interests had solutions to climate change and job creation, the hate may be deemed a necessary, if unsavoury collateral. But they seek control for its own sake, making the most of the ‘good times’ while they last, not investing in long-term visions seeking to reorient societies to combat new realities.

Entrenched ossified structural discrimination has kept certain communities within our societies beyond the reach of rights. They may not have shelters to stay home in; may not be able to access life-saving information to prevent spread; may not live in places where social distancing is possible and often live in subsistence conditions where lock-downs will kill them from hunger before the virus.

At Minority Rights Group we have been working hard since the commencement of the pandemic. Our 160 partners globally represent the form of vulnerability I am referring to. They are out of preventative messaging loops due to media reach or language barriers, live in conditions that will not secure containment, are dependent on eking out subsistence from collapsing economies, and are terrified about relying on health systems that will discriminate against them.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier called it right when he said this virus was a test of our humanity. Coming through it while leaving no one behind is the only route to success, even if this goes against the grain of recent hate politics.

The agenda for action is clear

Governments need to safeguard against stigmatization, pay heed to vulnerability in directing health authorities and emergency services to their side, and ensure that health coverage is not dependent on individual status. For many this is a material change from the usual blame game, the hollowness of which emphasizes the poverty of skill. Make no mistake, the death toll caused by this virus will come down to governance decisions. If left festering among scapegoated vulnerable communities, its presence will be prolonged creating systemic economic and social breakdown.

document discrimination against vulnerable groups, so organisations can react swiftly, and spread word about this form of vulnerability so we can collectively protect communities in the short term and become conscious of how steadily we have been programmed to fail this test of humanity.

Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights