The Obligation to Provide Special Protection to the Most Vulnerable in this Emergency

By Celia Medrano*

Emergency measures to prevent the spread of COVID19 have covered the news headlines in recent weeks. Much has been said about actions to protect the population from possible contagion and actions to deal with the inevitable economic and social consequences of maintaining a long quarantine. However, little is known about specific measures in favor of particularly vulnerable populations whose protection requires specific attention and protection.

For example, what extraordinary measures have been taken to guarantee and protect women, girls, boys and adolescents with a record, notice or complaint of domestic or sexual violence? These people are suffering or are at risk of suffering serious violations of their rights within their own homes and their possibilities of seeking help are even more limited at present. Similar situations are faced by elderly people or people with disabilities.

Another group at high risk is that of people displaced by widespread violence in countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico. These people do not have their home address on their identity documents because they are in other municipalities fleeing from their aggressors before a national emergency, state of calamity, state of siege or regimes of restriction or suspension of rights is declared. Internally displaced persons (IDPs) suffer confinement long before the home quarantine that we are now all obliged to respect. They are confined within their own homes to safeguard their lives and integrity and can hardly be given immediate and targeted assistance because there is no national registry as mandated by international and national regulations.

IDPs had already lost their jobs or livelihoods before the COVID-19 threat, some were just starting small enterprising initiatives with support from solidarity organizations that depend on social dynamics, such as trade, which have been drastically affected. The head of a family of a group of people displaced in this condition for more than a year in El Salvador tried to find out if he could receive the US$ 300 assistance offered by the government to those affected by the home-confinement measures. However, he does not have a telephone or a computer to be able to consult virtual media available and neither does he have the resources to mobilize himself to the facilities that have been announced will assist him to obtain this benefit.

Also in many countries of destination or transit, migrants have been identified as carriers of the virus and stigmatized, and cases of migrants being victims of xenophobia and hate speech have intensified. Many migrants prefer to hide the fact that they suffer from respiratory ailments and even possible symptoms of COVID19 for fear of being assaulted, detained and deported if they seek health services. In El Salvador, although the airport was closed several weeks ago by executive order, flights continue to be received with migrants deported from the United States, the current epicenter of the pandemic. The same is happening in Guatemala, Mexico and in the case of Honduras, there are cases of Honduran deportees who have been infected.

El Salvador’s “Special Law for the Attention and Integral Protection of Persons in Conditions of Forced Internal Displacement” requires the provision of humanitarian aid to internally displaced persons. This obligation is mainly centralized in the Directorate for Assistance to Victims of Violence and Forced Migration, which reports to the Ministry of Justice and Public Security of El Salvador.

The International Convention on the Rights of the Child, the “Belem Do Para” Convention, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Inter-American Convention on the Protection of the Human Rights of Older Persons also establish the obligation of States to provide priority protection and attention to these specific groups in emergency or calamity situations. With regard to persons deprived of their liberty, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called on governments to take urgent measures to protect the health and safety of persons who are detained or imprisoned, as part of the overall efforts to curb the COVID-19 pandemic.

The fight against COVID19 represents a huge challenge for small Central American countries. These are times when solidarity is key to moving forward, leaving no one behind, guaranteeing help to those who need it most.

*Celia Medrano is a Salvadoran journalist who specializes in Human Rights, approach to Education for Peace and Public Management.

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