In countries across the world, the impoverished are in the paradoxical position of being disproportionately impacted both by COVID-19 and by the police-state measures imposed in response to the pandemic—and consequent economic pain. In Lebanon, which had been in the midst of a national uprising before lockdown orders were imposed in March, protests have been re-ignited just as the lockdown is being eased—and with far greater rage. Violence escalated April 28 in the northern city of Tripoli as residents angered by the country's economic collapse set banks on fire and met volleys of tear-gas from security forces with barrages of pelted stones. The outburst came at the end of a massive funeral procession for a young man who died the previous day, apparently after being shot in a street clash with army troops. Mirroring a similar incident in Venezuela last week, mourners dubbed the deceased "Martyr of the Hunger Revolution." (WaPo, Foreign Policy)
Mounting police-state measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are now resulting in stand-offs between executive and judicial authorities. In El Salvador, President Nayib Bukele, for the third time in 10 days on April 16 publicly dismissed Supreme Court rulings to respect fundamental rights while enforcing quarantine regulations. First, on March 26, the court ordered the government to release individuals who had been detained while grocery shopping. Then on April 8, the court explicitly provided that the government lacked proper statutory backing to detain citizens. After both rulings, Bukele took to Twitter, urging security forces to be strict with the lockdown and reiterating that violators will be placed in a containment facility. The third order states that the Bukele administration must respect the COVID-19-related rulings. Again, Bukele responded on Twitter, declaring that "five people will not decide the death of hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans." Security forces have already arbitrarily detained hundreds of people in the containment centers, where rights observers charge they face an increased risk of spreading COVID-19. (HRW, CISPES, Jurist)
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled April 2 that Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic failed to uphold their obligations regarding refugee quotas as required by law. The countries could face financial penalties for their actions. In 2015 EU leaders established a refugee relocation program in response to the large numbers of asylum-seekers from war-torn Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East. EU countries were supposed to apportion a share of asylum-seekers among those that arrived in Greece and Italy. Poland and the Czech Republic, according to the ECJ, "failed to fulfill their obligations under European Union law" by not accepting the number of refugees they had promised.
The Syrian regime has announced the first case of COVID-19 in the country after weeks of denial, and advocates in the diaspora believe the real number of cases is likely higher. The UK-based Syria Campaign writes that an outbreak in Syria could mean "horror beyond imagination." Thousands of displaced families living in overcrowded camps simply cannot self-isolate. Health infrastructures in the country have collapsed due to the systematic targeting of hospitals and medical workers by the regime and Russia. Especially vulnerable are the nearly 100,000 detainees and forcibly disappeared, many of whom are held in cramped underground centers where they are exposed to horrific conditions including torture and deprivation of proper food, water, hygiene, and medical care. These cells are already perfect breeding grounds for viruses and illnesses, and if coronavirus spreads containment will be impossible.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on March 24 filed a lawsuit against US Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) calling for the immediate release of at-risk immigrant detainees in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak. The suit was brought on behalf of 13 immigrants that are currently held in California detention centers. The suit calls for the immediate release of these immigrants due to their "advanced age and underlying medical conditions" that make them "especially vulnerable to the potentially fatal COVID-19 infection while they are confined in crowded and unsanitary conditions where social distancing is not possible." The plaintiffs suffer from conditions such as diabetes, severe asthma, high blood pressure, gout, hypothyroidism, severe anemia and more.
At least 10 detainees at the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark, NJ, began a hunger strike March 17 and dozens more have agreed to join in, according to detainees, jailhouse advocates and attorneys. They are demanding to be released on bond, possibly with ankle bracelets to track their movements, and some even said they're ready to be deported. Inside the jail, they have been following news reports on the COVID-19 pandemic, and say they'd rather die on the outside with family than locked in cells. They also say that if loved ones die, they want to be with them rather than hearing the bad news later. Essex County has a multi-million dollar contract with ICE to house detainees awaiting immigration proceedings. County officials said they are monitoring the situation. (WNYC)
In Episode 49 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg discusses the grim political implications of the COVID-19 outbreak and resultant hysteria. Even before the outbreak, China had detained perhaps upwards of a million ethnic Uighurs in concentration camps as a "counter-terrorist" measure. Under emergency measures imposed in response to the outbreak, a staggering half-billion people have been placed under lockdown in Hubei and surrounding provinces. Italy has now just imposed a similar lock-down, affecting 16 million people in the country's north. Here in the United States, where Trump is building an incipient concentration camp system for detained migrants, the White House has thus far been trying to downplay the COVID-19 threat—as Xi Jinping did before the depth of the crisis became inescapable. If such a point is reached here as well, the posture of the Trump administration could change fast—with potential for sweeping lockdowns, mass internment of targeted populations, and even exploitation of the crisis as a "Reichstag Fire" to throw or suspend the 2020 elections. The coronavirus hysteria could be a terrifying advance for the global detention state, and progressives must urgently formulate a response. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on March 5 unanimously approved an investigation into allegations of war crimes committed by both sides in the Afghanistan conflict. The investigation will focus on "alleged crimes committed on the territory of Afghanistan in the period since 1 May 2003, as well as other alleged crimes that have a nexus to the armed conflict in Afghanistan." The Pre-Trial Chamber had rejected a request to open an investigation last year, but the prosecutor appealed based on Article 15 of the Rome Statute. The appeal attempts to resolve the apparent disparity between Article 15, mandating investigations when a prosecutor provides a "reasonable basis to proceed," and Article 53, which allows the court discretion in the interest of justice.The Appeals Chamber’s decision overturned the Pre-Trial Chamber's ruling on the grounds that the determination that the investigation "would not serve the interests of justice" and was an abuse of discretion.