Coronavirus has exposed human rights gaps. We need to fix this

human rights__

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Yoni Ish-Hurwitz, Former Human Rights Officer, UN


  • The COVID-19 crisis is the perfect pretext for some political leaders to advance narrow interests, brushing aside long-held principles of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in the name of emergency.
  • Promoting human rights now will help societies emerge more resilient from this pandemic.
  • Individuals need to know their rights and hold their governments to account on their commitments to international treaties, UN resolutions and public statements.

We are in the midst of a global health emergency, which may not seem like the best time to address human rights. But the issues we see across the board, surfacing as a result of the crisis are all relevant. In some countries doctors and nurses don’t have enough personal protective equipment. Unemployment is skyrocketing and people can’t earn a basic standard of living. Social isolation leaves people with disabilities without care.

These are all challenges that come back to human rights and now is the time to address them. People need to know what constitutes a human right and what rights they are entitled to, and governments need to be reminded of their obligations to protect human rights, especially during the COVID-19 crisis.

 

The pandemic has served as the perfect pretext for some political leaders to advance narrow interests, brushing aside long-held principles of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in the name of emergency. Some are using this opportunity to acquire new powers through emergency decrees, while social distancing helps them enjoy limited public scrutiny.

Consider these examples:

Such unprecedented acts establish the norms that will be very hard to undo long after the coronavirus is eradicated. The UN has recognized this looming problem and urges action. Secretary-General António Guterres launched a report last week to put human rights at the forefront of coronavirus response and recovery.

It is a civil duty to hold governments accountable and to protest (within legitimate social distancing guidelines). Judges, parliamentarians, government civil servants and journalists all need to fulfill their duties to uphold the rule of law. The international community also needs to speak out in solidarity for the rights of all people in every country.

Israelis demonstrate against Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, under strict restrictions made to slow down the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spread, on Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, Israel April 19, 2020 REUTERS/Corinna Kern - RC2V7G9AYP5X
Recent protest in Tel Aviv under strict social distancing rules
Image: REUTERS/Corinna Kern

Stakeholders hold governments to higher standards by quoting the standards that those very governments have committed to. International health regulations, human rights treaties and labour standards contain provisions to guide government policy under any circumstances. These commitments were designed to address emergencies so that they would last well into the future. The unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic neither diminishes the relevance of those commitments, nor justifies unlimited rule by decree, supporting dictatorship over democracy, or enacting surveillance without taking every measure to impose limits or use less invasive alternatives.

Knowledge is power for every individual and all the stakeholders mentioned above. Understanding our human rights and knowing what commitments have been made by our governments in international treaties, UN resolutions or public statements enables compelling critique of government policy.

Mobilising Action for Inclusive Societies

Recent years have witnessed some of the largest protests in human history. People are taking to the streets amid a desire for change, putting pressure on decision-makers for urgent and courageous leadership to find sustainable and inclusive solutions to some of the major challenges ahead of us.

A range of forces are at play. By 2022, some 60% of gross domestic product will be digitized – but current education systems are failing to prepare people for decent work in this future. Based on current trends, it will also take approximately two centuries to close the global economic gender gap. Meanwhile, the world’s richest 1% are on course to control as much as two-thirds of the world’s wealth by 2030.

To tackle these challenges, Mobilising Action for Inclusive Societies is one of the four focus areas at the World Economic Forum’s 2019 Sustainable Development Impact summit. A range of sessions will bring stakeholders together to take action that will bolster local entrepreneurship and innovation, while making growth more equitable.

UN experts and officials have a role to play here. They can help make such information more accessible, clarifying how to respect human rights in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. They have the authority to call out human rights violations or present recommendations to governments.

For example, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights notes that, under international human rights law, emergency legislation and measures should be strictly temporary and must remain subject to meaningful legislative and judicial oversight.

Promoting human rights now will help societies emerge more resilient from this pandemic in the future. The threats are comprehensive. A society that cannot offer equal treatment for all, including healthcare and social security, will lose its social cohesion and more of its people will fall victim to the virus. A society that surrenders separation of powers may lose sovereign rule altogether. Against threats like these, resilient societies can help advance human rights norms in the aftermath of the pandemic.

Image: UN Women, from Policy Brief on the Impact of COVID-19 on Women

A number of the challenges that have dogged the pandemic may have been avoidable had human rights been safeguarded and prioritized more judiciously. Universal access to healthcare would have facilitated more widespread testing. Stronger anti-discrimination policy might have avoided minorities being disproportionately affected by the virus. Putting gender equality at the forefront may have diminished the widespread incidents of domestic violence during lockdown.

The pandemic is an opportunity to reset and to learn some lessons that are critical for sustainable development. If not for the sake of individuals, governments should be persuaded by the need to sustain society as a whole and help it heal from the coronavirus.

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

EU: Turkey to shelter Syrian refugees and turn other immigrants back in return of €3 billion

Governments, businesses ‘walk the talk’ for investment in sustainable development: UN forum

Facebook changes its terms and clarify its use of data for consumers following discussions with the European Commission and consumer authorities

Ending the era of dirty textiles

‘Disaster resilient’ farming reduces agriculture risks, yields economic gains, says new UN agriculture agency report

MEPs want to boost energy storage in the EU to help spur decarbonisation

Bold measures needed to protect cross-border and seasonal workers in EU, MEPs say

4 rules to stop governments misusing COVID-19 tech after the crisis

Coronavirus: the truth against all myths

Russia – US in Syria: Selling Afrin to Turkey but facing off ruthlessly for Ghouta

In the United States, there aren’t enough hours in the week to make rent

World Retail Congress announces Dubai 2016 Hall of Fame Inductees

COVID-19 will accelerate the revolution in energy systems

COVID-19 is more deadly for some ethnic groups

Italy should boost spending and strengthen cooperation and integration of employment services to help more people into work

The mental domain in times of a pandemic

We must prevent a post-COVID ‘carmageddon’. Here’s how

Nepal faces a crisis as COVID-19 stems the flow of remittances

Gas pipeline in the European Union. (Copyright: EU, 2012 / Source: EC - Audiovisual Service / Photo: Ferenc Isza)

EU Investment Bank approves € 1.5bn loan for Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP)

The cuts on 2014 Budget will divide deeply the EU

Budget Committee backs €2.3 million worth of aid to help 550 redundant media workers in Greece

COP21 Business update: Companies urge now for carbon pricing as coal is still a big issue

The Great Reset requires FinTechs – and FinTechs require a common approach to cybersecurity

Sudan Prime Minister survives attempted assassination

An economist explains how to go carbon neutral in our lifetime

Whale populations are slowly recovering – this is why

In DR Congo, UN Security Council says December polls are ‘historic opportunity’ for country

West Africa ‘shaken by unprecedented violence’, UN envoy tells Security Council

Texting is a daily source of stress for 1/3 of people – are you one of them?

Antisemitism, intolerance, can be unlearned, Guterres tells New York commemoration

Brussels wins game and match in Ukraine no matter the electoral results

This man is installing 100 trash barriers in Bali’s rivers to stop plastic pollution

Climate change: new rules agreed to determine which investments are green

Mental health and suicide: when the alarm bells are faced with deaf ears

UN pushes for universal health care on International Day

This AI is working with a fleet of drones to help us fight ocean plastic

Hospitals among seven health centres attacked in Syria’s north-east

Geographical Indications – a European treasure worth €75 billion

Why city residents should have a say in what their cities look like

Click and Download: your app is ready to help you save lives

Trump blocks US warmongers from bombing Iran

Tackling pollution and climate change in Europe will improve health and well-being, especially for the most vulnerable

Got the blues? Head for some green spaces

The developing countries keep the world going

COVID-19 and nature are linked. So should be the recovery.

Libya: UN Mission condemns deadly attack against police in country’s south-east

‘Whole spectrum of Afghan society’ must get behind peace talks, UN envoy tells Security Council

It ain’t over until Google says it’s over

More than half a million Rohingya in Bangladesh get ID cards for first time: UN refugee agency

Behind the firewall: a discussion on the evolution of cybersecurity in the utility industry

Crime and drugs in West and Central Africa: Security Council highlights ‘new alarming trends’

More effort needed to improve equity in education

What are we actually working for?

Climate change brings a host of other risks for businesses

The EU heads of State and Government about the result of the European Elections 2019

Commission challenges Council over EU 2014 budget

The Eurogroup+ is born to govern the EU Banking Union

Belgium: Youth Forum takes legal step to ban unpaid internships

No more lead in PVC to protect public health, say MEPs

What Mary Poppins teaches us about behavioural economics

More Stings?

Advertising

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s