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UN: Flu quarantine on nationality discrimination

Quarantining people for suspected swine flu on the basis of their nationality is a "clear-cut case of discrimination," a spokesman for the United Nations human rights commissioner said Friday.

"No one should be put in quarantine solely on the basis of their nationality," said Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN's top human rights official.

"That would be an unacceptable and clearcut case of discrimination with tangible negative effects on the rights of the person in question, including possible economic losses for example with business men on business trips," he said.

China isolated a large number of Mexican citizens this week amid the influenza A(H1N1) scare which the World Health Organisation says has infected 2,384 people, some 1,112 of whom are in Mexico.

Some of these Mexicans have allegedly been placed in quarantine purely because of their nationality.

China has denied targeting Mexicans with its flu measures, saying they were "not directed at Mexican citizens and are not discriminatory."

Colville noted that Mexicans who showed no flu symptoms and who have not been in Mexico in the past week are "clearly no more likely to be carrying the H1N1 flu virus than any other resident of the country they are currently present in."

He stressed that discrimination based on nationality was a violation of an international human rights treaty.

Meanwhile, Mexico's ambassador said Friday the country wanted to open a debate during an upcoming World Health Assembly on measures which should be deemed unjustifiable in dealing with disease outbreaks such as the current swine flu outbreak.

"What we need to do is to debate what is considered as appropriate," Mexico ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Luis Alfonso de Alba told journalists.

"Nobody intends to limit the sovereignty of a state, but at the same time we need to be certain that there is a common understanding on what are justifiable measures," he said.

Top health officials are scheduled to meet from May 18 during the World Health Organisation's annual meeting in Geneva.

De Alba said the occasion is an opportunity to broach the subject with member states.

"It's not a question on what kind of measure, whether to have a quarantine or to take other specific action. It is also how it is done, the way it is done.

"This is a debate that needs to take place.. at the next World Health Assembly," he said.

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Publication:AFP Global Edition
Date:May 8, 2009
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