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Human rights must be ‘front and centre’ of COVID-19 response: Secretary-General

The UN chief made the appeal in his message for Human Rights Day, observed on Thursday. 

“People and their rights must be front and centre of response and recovery. We need universal, rights-based frameworks like health coverage for all, to beat this pandemic and protect us for the future”, he said. 

Violations hurt us all 

The pandemic has reinforced two fundamental truths about human rights, said the Secretary-General, starting with the observation that violations harm us all. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on vulnerable groups including frontline workers, people with disabilities, older people, women and girls, and minorities. It has thrived because poverty, inequality, discrimination, the destruction of our natural environment and other human rights failures, have created enormous fragilities in our societies”, he said.   

“At the same time, the pandemic is undermining human rights, by providing a pretext for heavy-handed security responses and repressive measures that curtail civic space and media freedom.” 

Divisiveness doesn’t work 

The second truth is that human rights are universal and protect everyone, underscoring how effective pandemic response must be based on solidarity and cooperation.  

“Divisive approaches, authoritarianism and nationalism make no sense against a global threat”, he stressed. 

Just prior to the pandemic, the Secretary-General issued his Call to Action for Human Rights.  Described as a seven-point blueprint for positive change, it spells out the central role of human rights in areas such as crisis response, gender equality, public participation and sustainable development. 

 “On Human Rights Day and every day, let’s resolve to act collectively, with human rights front and centre, to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and build a better future for all”, he said. 

Rights Declaration ‘essential’ amid global chaos 

Human Rights Day commemorates the UN General Assembly’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December 1948. 

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More than seven decades on, the milestone document provides an essential framework for the world to “recover better” from the pandemic, the UN’s more than 130 independent rights experts said in a statement, echoing the Secretary-General’s message. 

They underlined “the centrality of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the international human rights protection system” at a time when the world faces not only the pandemic, but also climate change, racism and discrimination. 

Stating that 2020 will be remembered for its “unique existential challenges”, the experts said commemoration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the closing days of the year serves as “an important and powerful message: the global threats to humanity demand global responses that rest on multilateralism, cooperation, and solidarity.” 

Independent voices 

The experts who issued the statement were appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor specific country situations or human rights issues in all regions of the world.  

They are independent of the UN,  and serve in their individual capacity, and do not receive a salary for their work.

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