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UN Urges Cambodians to End Hate Speech Amid Worsening Coronavirus Outbreak

2021-03-16 -- Discrimination against people who have contracted COVID-19 can often prove more dangerous than the disease itself, a United Nations body in Cambodia warned Tuesday, following a rash of hate speech on social media targeting perceived "superspreaders" amid a coronavirus outbreak in the country.

In a post to Facebook, The United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner in Cambodia (OHCHR Cambodia) said that "hate speech spreads faster than [the coronavirus] and makes those targeted more vulnerable to violence, exclusion, isolation and stigmatization."

Such messaging "also deters them from accessing medical services, increasing the risks for everyone."

Instead, the OHCHR said, the public should condemn COVID-19 related hate speech and discrimination, and instead promote messages of kindness, inclusion and solidarity. The post ends by asking netizens to share their experiences with acts of compassion during the pandemic.

The OHCHR's message came after several social media users took to Facebook to attack people, including film stars, for allegedly spreading the coronavirus amid an outbreak that led to Cambodia's first COVID-19 death last week, one year to the day after the World Health Organization warned of a pandemic.

Cambodia reported a daily record of 105 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, bringing the country's total number of infections to 1,430—nearly triple that of a month ago when the latest outbreak was first detected.

Am Sam Ath, senior investigator for local rights group Licadho, told RFA's Khmer Service Tuesday that nongovernmental organizations in Cambodia are particularly concerned about the trend of discrimination against COVID-19 patients on social media and elsewhere in society.

He warned that such treatment can alienate patients and drive them into depression, making it more difficult for them to get help, and he called for their rights to be upheld.

"We don't need any form of discrimination," he said. "This will prevent them from getting better soon."

Running out of beds

Authorities have urged people in Cambodia not to travel between regions amid the sharp rise in cases and last week passed a law—panned by rights groups as overly broad and prone to abuse—that punishes people who break self-quarantine with three years in prison and those who leave treatment facilities while infected or "intentionally spread" the coronavirus with a 10-year jail term.

RFA was unable to reach Ministry of Health spokesperson Or Vandin for comment on the status of the outbreak, but she told a press conference on Monday that Cambodia is fast approaching an inability to care for the country's growing number of patients.

"At this point, we are seeing a daily increase of COVID-19 cases and soon we won't have enough hospital space for patients if we continue to add 60 to 80 cases a day because people aren't implementing safety measures," she said.

Cambodia implemented a vaccination program in February and plans to immunize up to two-thirds of the country's 16 million people by the end of the year.

Reported by RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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