UN Secretary-General report puts human rights at centre of COVID-19 response

by Danica Damplo, Universal Rights Group NYC Blog, Blog, Contemporary and emerging human rights issues, New York City

Today the UN Secretary-General (SG) Antonio Guterres launched a report on how human rights can and should guide coronavirus response and recovery. This report is intended to be read in conjunction with the SG’s Call to Action on Human Rights (launched this February) and the SG’s other reports and statements related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including his report ‘Shared responsibility, global solidarity: responding to the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19’, his appeal for governments to ‘make the prevention and redress of violence against women a key part of their national response plans for COVID-19,’ and his appeal for a global ceasefire in the face of the pandemic.

This latest report is entitled: ‘We are all in this Together: Human Rights and COVID-19 Response and Recovery’ and contains the key message that human rights are critical, not just to the efficacy of a State’s immediate response to the pandemic, but also to every States’ short, medium, and long-term recovery.

The SG’s report

The SG’s report includes six key human rights messages (intended to be interconnected and interdependent):

  1. Protecting people’s lives is the priority, protecting livelihoods helps us do it: dealing with the economic and social impact alongside the public health response
  2. The virus does not discriminate, but its impacts do: inclusive responses to a global threat to ensure no one is left behind
  3. Involve everyone in your response: participation in open, transparent and accountable response
  4. The threat is the virus, not the people: emergency and security measures, if needed, must be temporary, proportional and aimed at protecting people
  5. No country can beat this alone: global threats require global response
  6. When we recover, we must be better than we were before: The crisis has revealed weaknesses that human rights can help to fix

The report does not ‘name names’ or call out individual States for response measures that have failed or have been inconsistent with international human rights obligations. Instead, the report highlights good practices, and identifies for States the ways in which human rights can serve as a guide for the effective exercise of power and implementation of policies during the global pandemic. The report notes that human rights obligations are not made irrelevant by the crisis, and in fact are actually key to developing a response that is not only effective but that also lays the groundwork for a holistic recovery. The report does conclude with a series of recommendations for States.

Data from numerous UN agencies fed into report, and the report itself demonstrates the clear overlap between human rights and development and peace and security concerns. It is also welcome to see attention on how the promotion and protection human rights is critical to prevention strategies and building long-term resilience and stability.

The report does not contain a comprehensive list of all rights affected by coronavirus, as it is meant to be concise and read in conjunction with other key UN reports, statements, appeals and initiatives on COVID-19. This is where civil society can play an important role, in bringing more attention and emphasis to different human rights concerns (and possible solutions). Many civil society organizations are publishing reports or launching their own initiatives on the role of human rights in COVID-19 response and recovery.

Right On

The SG’s report in fact highlights many of the same challenges and opportunities identified as part of the  ‘Right On’ initiative. ‘Right On’, a recurring Wednesday webchat series, gathers experts from international organisations, civil society, and academia to discuss global challenges in combatting a global pandemic while ensuring the promotion and protection of human rights, while identifying new paths of dealing with the question of human rights in a digital context.

RightOn has looked hate speech in the context of COVID, the role of inequality during the pandemic, as well as the effects of COVID-19 on democracy, and will over the next few weeks examine the effects of COVID-19 on the following; domestic violence, data and privacy, vulnerable groups such as refugees and IDPS, rights such as freedom of speech, global protection systems, and global efforts to mitigate climate change.

The initiative is led by the Universal Rights Group (URG), the Permanent Mission of Norway to the UN, the Permanent Mission of Denmark to the UN in Geneva, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the Geneva Human Rights Platform (GHRP), the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, the Essex Human Rights Centre, the Geneva Internet Platform (GIP), the Diplo Foundation,   the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and Essex Big Data Project.


Feature photo: Screenshot from accompanying video from ‘We are all in this Together: Human Rights and COVID-19 Response and Recovery’ Announcement, United Nations COVID-19 Response page.

 

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