The Philippines has apprehended 120,000 people for curfew violations in the past 30 days [Aaron Favila/AP]

The United Nations human rights chief has warned that countries flouting the rule of law in the name of fighting the novel coronavirus pandemic risk sparking a “human rights disaster”.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called on countries to refrain from violating fundamental rights “under the guise of exceptional or emergency measures”.

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“Emergency powers should not be a weapon governments can wield to quash dissent, control the population, and even perpetuate their time in power,” she warned in a statement on Monday.

“They should be used to cope effectively with the pandemic – nothing more, nothing less.”

A top official from her office

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