U.N. officials say governments that provide healthcare and social protections to their people, especially to the most vulnerable will be better able to cushion the shock of the devastating coronavirus pandemic. The officials participated in a debate on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on human rights at the U.N. Human Rights Council.
No country has been spared the blows of this global pandemic. But, as is the case with other disasters, UN officials say it is the poorest, most vulnerable and marginalized members of society who suffer most from the impact of COVID-19.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet says some states have responded to this crisis by implementing human rights-based policies. She says States that have enacted policies such as access to healthcare to those who cannot afford it and providing cash grants, emergency food and other essential aid to those who have lost their jobs are better able to weather this calamity.
On the other hand, she warns nations that ignore the needs of the weakest members of society will face a grimmer future.
“To date, some States have demonstrated deep mistrust of their people — repressing criticism, limiting freedom of information and cracking down on the civic space. These and other human rights violations have undermined public health, as well as human rights and the prospect of a strong and sustainable recovery,” said Bachelet.
Lockdown measures aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus have devastated the economies of many countries. They have had a particularly harsh impact on the poor and on the more than two billion people working in the informal sector.
The International Labor Organization reports women are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic in terms of job losses and decrease in hours. It says others who bear the brunt of this unfolding economic and employment crisis include migrant workers, indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities. It says social protection systems are a key element in recovery from COVID-19.
The World Health Organization reports the number of coronavirus cases globally will soon top 29 million, including nearly one million deaths.
Executive Director of WHO Health Emergencies Program, Michael Ryan notes human health and human rights are intrinsically linked. And, yet, he says access to health care in the time of coronavirus has not been fair.
“It has been influenced by gender, by wealth, by age, by social class, by legal status, by ethnicity and by so many other things… WHO supports OHCHR ‘s [Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights] consistent warnings that the COVID-19 pandemic should not be used as an excuse to clamp down on fundamental freedoms,” he said.
Ryan says the international community must work together to develop safe and effective vaccines and therapeutics for COVID-19. He says access to these life-saving products must be shared and distributed rapidly and equitably to rich and poor alike. He says their availability should not be based on the ability to pay for them.