Where are the human rights defenders in the time of COVID-19?


Faheem Al-Hamid

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages across borders, continents and races, forcing nearly a third of the world's population into quarantine, lockdown and social distancing, Saudi Arabia has raised the bar on human rights by caring for all in the country — Saudi citizens, residents, stranded visitors as well as each and every one of all those living in the Kingdom in violation of residency regulations.

Urgently facing up to the pandemic on purely humanitarian grounds, without populist rhetoric or nationalist hyperbole, the Saudi government announced a series of painful but well studied precautionary measures that did not differentiate between citizen and resident.

The leadership’s resolve to save lives without discrimination saw all health facilities activated to guarantee everyone access to the necessary services in a safe medical environment.

The Saudi leadership has remained committed, since the first Saudi state, to protecting human rights through jurisprudence and legal institutions that uphold the finest conduct for delivering justice in protecting individual and society. The approach is firm and straightforward.

As such, it is pertinent to note that Dr. Awad Al-Awwad, chairman of the Human Rights Commission (HRC), has cautioned that, “human rights are not slogans that are launched, but rather practices on the ground, and in crises there will be no value other than working to address what affects human rights.”

This precisely is the value that Saudi Arabia upholds foremost in the ongoing pandemic, as demonstrated by the prompt actions taken on the ground to treat all equally for access to medical care and protection against COVID-19.

In this context, the statement of the British Embassy in Kuwait telling its citizens to manage their affairs on their own and borrow money from their friends and families to get by if need be, is utterly shocking.

Equally haunting are the images and videos widely circulated of the human tragedy unfolding in other countries as ethnic Chinese people, religious minorities, immigrant labor, the poor and helpless are hounded, beaten or abandoned in clear violation of their human rights.

Covid-19 had thrown up unprecedented human rights violations and challenges across the world. Yet, ironically against this backdrop, false allegations of human rights violations continue to be hurled against Saudi Arabia, which has, on the contrary, taken the lead in trying to mitigate the impact of this worst pandemic ever facing mankind by hosting the G20 summit that has led to unprecedented measures supporting human health worldwide, including the Kingdom’s transparent actions guaranteeing care for all.

The question is, have the Human Rights Commission, the international community and the Western analysts who control and propagate a false human rights narrative abandoned human rights in the time of COVID-19, when it really matters for all?