“Central role of the State during pandemics and other health emergencies is to mount a robust health response while upholding human rights” says top UN human rights official
At the opening session of today’s UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the UN High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet presented a report on the central role of the State in responding to pandemics. One of the report’s key message is that failure to meet human rights obligations undermined the resilience of health systems as well as health emergency preparedness, response, and recovery efforts.
“The report highlights that the central role of the State during pandemics and other health emergencies is to mount a robust health response while upholding human rights”, said Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. “It also stresses that ‘the resilience of health systems and national economies has been undermined, to a great extent, by the failure to adequately invest in meeting human rights obligations.”
The report offers concrete recommendations on how to recover better with human rights-based recovery efforts.
“The loss and distress have been immense”, said Michelle Bachelet. “As of last week, there had been over 176 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported globally to the World Health Organization with over 3.8 million deaths. The pandemic continues to pose an extraordinary threat to societies worldwide, both as a public health emergency and a socioeconomic crisis with far-reaching consequences”.
In addition to the incalculable loss in human lives, the economic cost of the pandemic has been catastrophic.
“Around 255 million jobs are estimated to have been lost during 2020, nearly four times the figure of the global economic crisis in 2008”, said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Bachelet. “Women have been more severely affected than men in all regions and all income groups. The estimate is that the pandemic may have pushed up to 150 million people into extreme poverty by the beginning of 2021. Global hunger is also on the rise. Over 130 million people became more vulnerable to undernourishment last year”.
Informal sector workers, most of whom are women, have been hit particularly hard. In some regions they have lost up to 81 per cent of their income in the first months of the crisis. According to the report, marginalized groups have been affected the most by the pandemic.
“The impact on women and girls, older people, people with disabilities, LGBTIQ+, people deprived of liberty, among other groups, has been particularly severe”, said Ms. Bachelet. “Overall, the pandemic has either disrupted or reversed hard-won progress on achieving many of the Sustainable Development Goals”.
Vaccines had become a new frontier on the road to equality as developing countries had received only 0.2 per cent of doses of all administered COVID-19 vaccines, taking the world further away from achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
Ms Bachelet reminded that ”vaccines against COVID-19 must be considered as a global public good. The universal and equitable access and distribution of vaccines is likely the strongest determinant of whether and how soon we can control the pandemic”. She added that “if radical steps are not taken to protect economic, social and cultural rights and support low-income countries, the outlook remains bleak”.
In the interactive discussion that followed the report presentation, speakers emphasized that COVID-19 impacted not only the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, but also civil and political rights - the pandemic must not be used as a pretense by governments to create undue restrictions on democracy or commit human rights violations.