White supremacists and neo-Nazis have exploited the COVID-19 pandemic to stoke the flames of racism, hatred and antisemitism, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Monday.
“Today, these extremist movements represent the No. 1 internal security threat in several countries,” he told a virtual meeting of the Geneva-based Human Rights Council at the opening of its 46th session.
Guterres called for global action against the transnational threat from such extremism.
“White supremacy and neo-Nazi movements are more than domestic terror threats,” he said. “They are becoming a transnational threat.”
“These and other groups have exploited the pandemic to boost their ranks through social polarization and political and cultural manipulation,” Guterres said.
“Far too often, these hate groups are cheered on by people in positions of responsibility in ways that were considered unimaginable not long ago,” he said.
“We need global coordinated action to defeat this grave and growing danger,” he added.
Individual rights have been endangered by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has created the second plague of an “infodemic,” Guterres said. As a result, data has been gathered about individuals, but “we don’t know how this information has been collected, by whom or for what purposes,” he said.
“Governments can exploit that data to control the behavior of their own citizens, violating human rights of individuals or groups,” Guterres said.
Governments have also exploited the pandemic to put in place repressive measures against their citizens, he said.
There is a need for a global solution to the pandemic, Guterres said, adding that this included the equitable distribution of vaccines.
COVID-19 has increased inequality worldwide, and more than three-quarters of the vaccines distributed to date have gone to 10 countries, he said.
“Vaccines must be a global public good, accessible and affordable for all,” he added.
Guterres addressed the importance of gender equity and the need to safeguard the rights of minority communities, citing ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people in Myanmar.
“Today, I call on the Myanmar military to stop the repression immediately,” he said. “Release the prisoners; end the violence. Respect human rights and the will of the people expressed in recent elections.”