Coronavirus: People who break curfew held in dog cages in Philippines as human rights group warns against ‘cruel’ mistreatment

Detainees subject to ‘degrading’ abuse by officers during pandemic lockdown, says Human Rights Watch

Samuel Lovett
Thursday 26 March 2020 15:01
Countries must isolate, test, treat and trace to reduce coronavirus epidemics, says WHO

Quarantine violators in the Philippines are being abused and subject to “cruel” mistreatment, Human Rights Watch has warned, pointing to the recent example of five men who were arrested and placed into a dog cage.

The main Philippine island of Luzon, where half the country’s population lives, has entered into a month-long “enhanced community” lockdown aimed at halting the spread of coronavirus.

Under the emergency measure, mass gatherings have been prohibited, travel to and from Luzon suspended and all nonessential shops ordered to close.

Since the lockdown, police have arrested hundreds of people in the capital of Manila and other parts of the country for violating curfew and social distancing regulations, according to Human Rights Watch.

Reports of abuse against detainees in areas such as Santa Cruz, in Laguna province just south of Manila, have subsequently emerged.

One image shared on Facebook last week appeared to show five men huddled together in a cage, with a security officer standing close by in the street.

Human Rights Watch says the arresting officials sought to justify their actions by claiming the men had violated the curfew and been verbally abusive.

Elsewhere, in Paranaque, a city within Metro Manila, curfew violators were reportedly forced to sit in the intense midday sun after their arrest.

“Police and local officials should respect the rights of those they arrest for violating curfew and other public health regulations, which can be done while still allowing the Philippines government to take appropriate measures to combat Covid-19,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“Any mistreatment should be immediately investigated, and the authorities responsible held accountable.”

The Philippine’s containment measures are set to tighten after president Rodrigo Duterte signed a new bill on Wednesday that will grant his administration further emergency powers in dealing with the coronavirus outbreak.

But concern has been raised that an increased crackdown on curfew violations will be counter-productive if offenders are placed into crowded detention centres where the virus could spread easily.

In accordance with international human rights law, restrictions such as mandatory quarantine or isolation of symptomatic people must remain respectful of “human dignity”.

“While the Philippines government needs to protect the health and welfare of the people, any interventions must be in line with international human rights standard, including the prohibition against cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of people in custody,” Mr Robertson said.

On Thursday, the Philippine health ministry on Thursday reported seven further deaths from coronavirus and 71 new confirmed infections.

It brings the country’s death toll to 45 while 707 cases have been confirmed. Health secretary Francisco Duque has said infection numbers will continue to rise in the coming days as more tests are carried out.

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