BEIRUT: While the coronavirus pandemic is not only a critical public health danger, it is also a human, economic and social emergency that is “fast becoming a human rights crisis”, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, warned on Thursday.
Prior to releasing a new policy brief on shaping an effective and inclusive response to the COVID-19 pandemic, U.N. chief said that there is discrimination in the delivery of public services to tackle COVID-19 and there are “structural inequalities that impede access to them.”
Guterres emphasized that the pandemic has seen disproportionate effects on certain communities, the rise of hate speech, the targeting of vulnerable groups, and the risks of heavy-handed security responses undermining the health response, and warned that with the ongoing “rising ethnonationalism, populism, authoritarianism, and push back against human rights in some countries, the crisis can provide a pretext to adopt repressive measures for purposes unrelated to the pandemic.”
In February, Guterres issued a call to action to countries, businesses, and people to help renew and revive human rights across the globe, laying out a seven-point plan amid concerns about climate change, conflict, and repression. “As I said then, human rights cannot be an afterthought in times of crisis — and we now face the biggest international crisis in generations,” he said.
One of the report’s key messages is that as a global threat, the COVID-19 response needs to be inclusive, equitable, and universal to effectively beat the virus. “We have seen how the virus does not discriminate, but its impacts do; exposing deep weaknesses in the delivery of public services and structural inequalities that impede access to them”, Guterres stated. “We must make sure they are properly addressed in the response”.
All hands on deck
The report underlines that everyone, across the entire globe, should be involved in the response. Advocating for “transparent, responsive and accountable” government during the pandemic, the UN chief upheld that civil society organizations and the private sector, also have “essential roles to play” and that civic space and press freedom are “critical”.
Threat: Virus, not people
The report underscores that the virus is the threat, not the people, and emphasized that any emergency and security measures be temporary, proportional, and aimed at protecting individuals. Heavy-handed security responses will undermine everyone’s ability to stay healthy and can exacerbate existing threats to peace and security, or even create new ones, which is simply “unacceptable”.
No country alone
The report recognized that the world cannot afford to leave any nation behind, and as some countries are better equipped to respond than others, international solidarity is essential.
Although the crisis has uncovered weaknesses in public service deliveries and inequalities that impede access to them, today’s response can help to shape that future – for better or worse, according to the report. While examining the immediate crisis, the report holds that it is also critical to consider the long-term – with a human rights focus for both the priorities at hand and in developing future prevention strategies.
“The message is clear: People — and their rights — must be front and center,” Guterres said.
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