Human Rights central in pandemic recovery

Human Rights must be forefront and central in responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and our recovery from it, all around the world, says UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

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People need hope for the future, and the Human Rights system would help achieve global stability, solidarity, pluralism and inclusion, leading to concrete action and real impact on people’s lives, he said. 

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at a World Trade Organization Special Session, Geneva, May 2019.
UN photo/ Jean Marc Ferré.
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Governments and people must resist discrimination and inequalities, and dictatorial restrictions.

Mr Guterres outlined his concerns over the Corona virus crisis being used as a pretext for authorities to adopt unrelated repressive measures, alongside already rising forms of racism, nationalism, and populism. 

“The best response is one that responds proportionately to immediate threats while protecting human rights and the rule of law,” said Mr Guterres, launching a new UN report, COVID-19 and Human Rights: We are all in this together

The threat is the virus, not people.

António Guterres

The 22-page report says responses to the pandemic which are ‘shaped by and respect human rights’  would ‘prepare the ground now for emerging from this crisis with more equitable and sustainable societies, development and peace.’

It says instability and fear can grow out of the pandemic, and lead to hate-speech, xenophobia, attacks and forced returns of refugees and asylum-seekers, mistreatment of migrants, and sexual and gender-based violence, as well as limiting access to sexual and reproductive health and rights.

In this new report, the UN’s six key messages for response to the COVID-19 pandemic are:

ONE: Protect lives, protect livelihoods

Exemplary responses include:

  • Provision of emergency water supplies to slum areas
  • Suspension of housing evictions for unpaid rent during the crisis
  • Preserving jobs and wages through targeted economic measures, in some cases providing universal income, and support to employers and businesses
  • Providing or extending paid sick leave to workers, or unemployment benefits
  • Securing emergency shelter for the homeless
  • Expanding domestic violence responses for victims of abuse
  • Providing childcare for essential service workers.

TWO: Discrimination must have no place in the response to the threat posed by the virus

Exemplary responses are shaped by human rights, and include:  

  • Mitigated economic and social impacts on the most vulnerable. Temporary residency rights to migrants and asylum-seekers to give them full access to a country’s health care 
  • Mitigated impact of COVID on prison populations, with some release or furloughing of inmates.

THREE: Participation in open, transparent and accountable responses

The report says good practice shaped by human rights includes:

  • Daily press briefings to inform and ensure that accurate public health information and advice is disseminated and found
  • At government level, opposition-led parliamentary committees, which meet publicly online to scrutinise executive action 
  • Specific opening hours for older persons in stores, community support networks for the vulnerable, postponing rents for those without income.

FOUR: The threat is the virus, not the people

This key message says law enforcement and emergency powers have their roles during this crisis, and States should guarantee rights related to the use of force, arrest and detention, and to fair trial and access to justice and privacy. 

It says many States have imposed time limits on the validity of special emergency powers, or have provided for a period of review on extensions, in line with human rights law.

FIVE: Global solidarity is essential – no country can beat COVID-19 alone

  • The virus will only be beaten through cross-border cooperation and collective action
  • The economically-developed States have a special responsibility and interest to assist the poorer-developing States
  • Richer States need to assist low-income States with realising human rights
  • If and when a vaccine becomes available, it must be accessible to everyone, everywhere.

SIX: Use Human Rights to consider the long term while planning our short-term responses

This key message says our response to the pandemic presents a unique opportunity to course-correct and begin to tackle long-standing public policies and practices that have been harmful for people and their human rights.

Its 15 recommendations include:

  • Global action on healthcare
  • Economic recovery to be people-centred
  • Recovery plans which address the disproportionate impact of the virus on vulnerable people and groups
  • People at the highest levels in society should stand up against discrimination and hatred
  • Emergency powers must not be used to quash dissent and free speech
  • Global moratorium on deportations and other forced return of migrants and refugees
  • Use the lessons learned to refocus action on ending poverty and inequalities 
  • Use the lessons learned on addressing the underlying human rights concerns that have left us vulnerable to the pandemic and greatly exacerbated its effects, with a view to building a more inclusive and sustainable world – including for future generations.

Over to you:  António Guterres says we are all in this together. And that while the virus threatens everyone, Human Rights uplift everyone.  Tell us what you are doing to ‘build back better’; tell us how you are communicating with our leaders to ensure Human Rights are embedded in the global recovery.