United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says the coronavirus pandemic keeps unleashing a tsunami of hate and xenophobia, scapegoating and scare-mongering and has appealed for an all-out effort to end hate speech globally.
The UN chief said "anti-foreigner sentiment has surged online and in the streets, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories have spread and COVID-19-related anti-Muslim attacks have occurred".
Guterres said migrants and refugees "have been vilified as a source of the virus - and then denied access to medical treatment.
"With older persons among the most vulnerable, contemptible memes have emerged suggesting they are also the most expendable," he said. "And journalists, whistleblowers, health professionals, aid workers and human rights defenders are being targeted simply for doing their jobs."
Guterres called on political leaders to show solidarity with all people, on educational institutions to focus on "digital literacy" at a time when "extremists are seeking to prey on captive and potentially despairing audiences".
He called on the media, especially social media, to "remove racist, misogynist and other harmful content," on civil society to strengthen their outreach to vulnerable people, and on religious figures to serve as "models of mutual respect".
"And I ask everyone, everywhere, to stand up against hate, treat each other with dignity and take every opportunity to spread kindness," Guterres said.
The secretary-general stressed COVID-19 "does not care who we are, where we live, what we believe or about any other distinction."
His global appeal to address and counter COVID-19-related hate speech follows his April 23 message, calling the pandemic "a human crisis that is fast becoming a human rights crisis".
Guterres said the pandemic had resulted in "disproportionate effects on certain communities, the rise of hate speech, the targeting of vulnerable groups and the risks of heavy-handed security responses undermining the health response".
With "rising ethno-nationalism, populism, authoritarianism and a push back against human rights in some countries, the crisis can provide a pretext to adopt repressive measures for purposes unrelated to the pandemic", he warned.
In February, Guterres issued a call to action to countries, businesses and people to help renew and revive human rights across the globe, laying out a seven-point plan amid concerns about climate change, conflict and repression.
Australian Associated Press