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COVID-19 and human rights: UN says ‘we are all in this together’

23 Apr 2020


A nurse takes a girl’s temperature at a primary health-care centre in Beirut, Lebanon, 3 April 2020. Credit: UNICEF/Fouad Choufany

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold, the United Nations Secretary-General today emphasized in a new report that the public health emergency is fast becoming a human rights crisis and that people – and their rights – must be front and centre in any response.

“A human rights lens puts everyone in the picture and ensures that no one is left behind,” Secretary-General António Guterres said. “Human rights responses can help beat the pandemic, putting a focus on the imperative of health care for everyone. But they also serve as an essential warning system – highlighting who is suffering most, why, and what can be done about it.”

The new report, COVID-19 and Human Rights: We are all in this together, highlights how human rights can and must guide COVID-19 response and recovery. The report underscores that the best response is one that responds proportionately to immediate threats while protecting human rights and the rule of law.

The UN chief noted that while the virus does not discriminate, its impacts do – exposing deep weaknesses in the delivery of public services and structural inequalities that impede access to them. These inequalities must be properly addressed in the response.

The recovery must also respect the rights of future generations, enhancing climate action aiming at carbon neutrality by 2050 and protecting biodiversity, the Secretary-General said.

“And in all we do, let’s never forget: The threat is the virus, not people,” the Secretary-General said. “We must ensure that any emergency measures – including states of emergency – are legal, proportionate, necessary and non-discriminatory, have a specific focus and duration, and take the least intrusive approach possible to protect public health.