Human Rights Watch is out of line

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
UNESCO has placed Cambodia among the 17 countries in the world to prioritise vaccination for teachers. Hean Rangsey

Since the second quarter of 2020 until today, schools have been periodically closed and opened, hospitals have been overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients, causing public health crises in many parts of the globe, global economies have been severely impacted, and lives have been lost.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has poured its resources in all fronts to handle the global pandemic. Countries around the world have been trying their best to cope with Covid-19 and to contain the pandemic.

Overall, 2020 has been a great year for Cambodia in terms of coping with and managing the pandemic. However, the third wave of the pandemic, which started in the beginning of the first quarter of 2021, particularly on February 20, has hit Cambodia hard. The third wave has forced the government to take various necessary and proportionate measures, including targeted regional lockdown, travel restrictions, and imposing curfew in the capital.

Among these measures, the government, through the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications, has rolled out a contact tracing app called StopCovid (stopcovid.gov.kh).

Data is important for making the right decisions. The government highly values digitalisation and its effectiveness. This app has been very effective in assisting the government to contain the spread of Covid-19. It does not completely stop the pandemic, but it is one of the government’s effective tools, in addition to other measures.

Unfortunately, in the midst of the public health crisis in the country, Human Right Watch (HRW) has decided to politicise the situation and demonise the StopCovid app through an article on its website on April 6.

This is absolutely out of line.

Many countries in the world have implemented similar digital strategies via such contact tracing apps.

For instance, Canada has ArriveCan, Thailand has MorChana, and Singapore has TraceTogether.

More than that, the UN Department of Economics and Social Affairs, in its publication called “Compendium of Digital Government Initiatives in response to the Covid-19 Pandemic 2020”, has praised a long list of countries, including many from Southeast Asia, for leveraging digitalisation in response to the pandemic.

These countries are using similar apps, if not exactly the same, to the StopCovid app that the Cambodian telecoms ministry has implemented. The government is striving every single day to serve and protect the Cambodian people against this deadly disease.

UNESCO, on April 6 placed Cambodia among the 17 countries in the world to prioritise vaccination for teachers. But Cambodian people continue to suffer directly and indirectly from Covid-19 as we speak.

Through its Press Release on April 10, WHO warned of impending disaster, unless people act responsibly. The country is in need of any support it can get. The government respects WHO recommendations and follows best practices and adopts effective measures implemented in other countries.

If HRW wants to support the Cambodian people’s right to life and right to health, it must stop its malicious political acts and start doing the right thing. For instance, Cambodia needs vaccines. HRW should appeal to companies to donate to COVAX so that the vaccines can be provided to developing countries as soon as possible, in order to save lives and to quickly stop this pandemic. There is so much more that HRW can do to help. So stop playing political theater and start saving lives.

Sothea Nim is adviser to the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications