Amid the coronavirus outbreak, Amnesty International yesterday called upon the authorities in Bangladesh and other South Asian countries to put human rights at the heart of their responses.
Issuing a statement on its website, the global rights group urged the region's leaders to intensify efforts to protect marginalised and vulnerable groups at higher risk, including daily wage-earners, displaced people, health workers and prisoners.
"As the number of covid-19 cases in South Asia soars, the region's leaders must pay special attention to the most vulnerable and marginalised [communities] in this crisis," said the statement.
"They need to protect the workers for whom staying at home means losing their livelihoods, people who lost their homes in conflicts and now languish in overcrowded camps, prisoners squeezed into cells with several others, and, not least, the valiant doctors and nurses who have never had the resources they need and are now putting their own health at risk to save others," said Biraj Patnaik, South Asia director at Amnesty.
People living in rural areas, where literacy rates are low and access to healthcare severely limited, are particularly affected by a lack of reliable information about covid-19, the organisation said in the statement.
"States have a responsibility to provide information about covid-19 that is accurate and evidence-based... At the same time, there must be a concerted effort to counter misinformation about the virus that could harm people and to protect marginalised communities from stigmatisation," said Patnaik.
Amnesty International said authorities across South Asia have a responsibility towards not just their own citizens, but all individuals within their jurisdiction -- including refugees and asylum-seekers.
"There are limited medical facilities at the [Rohingya] camps [in Bangladesh] and no emergency services available nearby," it added.
It also said there is a need for specific measures aimed at people working in the informal sector in line with the right to social security.
"No one should be forced to make the pernicious choice between starvation and infection… States must protect their livelihoods as best as they can during this crisis…," said Patnaik.
Every one of South Asia's eight countries has one of the lowest numbers of physicians per capita, the statement mentioned, citing World Bank data.
At the best of times, there are too few healthcare workers with too few resources, it said.
"Frontline health workers are the heroes we depend on in this crisis…The very least they can expect is to be given protective equipment."
"States have an obligation to ensure they are protected -- including appropriate training and psychosocial support, for them and their families," said Patnaik in the statement.
The organisation also raised concern over South Asia's prisons, saying those are notoriously overcrowded. Bangladeshi prisons are holding twice their capacity at the moment.
"Under international human rights law and standards, the authorities must ensure prisoners have prompt access to medical care and enjoy the same standards that are available in the community," said the statement.