Respecting Human Rights in COVID-19 Response by...
Governments should respond to the COVID-19 pandemic by prioritizing the right to health for all and respect for human rights. The way governments decide to respond to this pandemic will impact the human rights of millions of people. Responding to an epidemic is not a question of balancing public health and human rights but rather that a successful and effective response requires us to adhere to human rights principles. “Successful responses to global epidemics are always grounded in a respect for human rights and community leadership,” said Winnie Byanyima, UNAIDS Executive Director.
Human Rights Watch published a report “Human Rights Dimensions of the COVID-19 Response,” which analyzes government obligations and the human rights concerns posed by the coronavirus outbreak along with examples of responses so far. Human Rights Watch proposes recommendations for governments to address the outbreak while respecting fundamental human rights. “The coronavirus knows no borders and has shown that our own health is only strong as that of the person standing next to us. Its rapid spread reminds us of our global connectedness and shared responsibility.” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.
According to Amnesty International , the obligations of governments in relation to the pandemic are listed bellow.
1- The right to health
Most governments have ratified at least one human rights treaty which requires them to guarantee the right to health. Among other things, this means they have an obligation to take all steps necessary for the prevention, treatment and control of diseases. In the context of a spreading epidemic, this means ensuring that preventive care, goods and services are available to everybody.
2- Access to information
This is a key aspect of the right to health, but we have already seen governments ignoring it. Everybody has the right to be informed of the threat COVID-19 poses to their health, the measures to mitigate risks, and information about ongoing response efforts. The failure to guarantee this undermines the public health response and puts everyone’s health at risk.
3- Rights to and at work
People in precarious forms of labour are being disproportionately affected by the pandemic, which is already starting to have a massive impact on people and the economy. Migrant workers, people who work in the “gig” economy, and people in the informal sector are more likely to see their rights to and at work adversely impacted, as a result of COVID-19 and the measures to control it.
Governments must ensure that everyone has access to social security – including sick pay, health care and parental leave – where they are unable to work because of the virus. These measures are also essential to help people stick to the public health measures states put in place. Health workers are at the frontline of this pandemic, continuing to deliver services despite the personal risks to them and their families, and governments must protect them. This includes providing suitable, good quality personal protective equipment, information, training and psycho-social support to all response staff. People in other jobs, including prison staff, are also at higher risk of exposure, and should be protected.
4- Disproportionate impact on certain groups
Anyone can get COVID-19, but certain groups appear to be at greater risk of severe illness and death. This includes older people and people with pre-existing medical conditions. It’s also likely that other marginalized groups, including people living in poverty, people with disabilities and people in detention, including migrants and asylum seekers, will face additional challenges in protecting themselves and accessing treatment. For example, homeless people will find it more difficult to self-isolate, and people who do not have access to adequate sanitation will be at greater risk of contracting the virus. In designing responses to COVID-19, states must ensure that the needs and experiences of specific groups are fully addressed.
5- Stigma and discrimination
According to media reports, people from Wuhan have faced widespread discrimination and harassment in China. This includes being rejected from hotels or barricaded in their own flats, and having their personal information leaked online. There have also been widespread reports of anti-Chinese or anti-Asian xenophobia in other countries, including US President Trump repeatedly calling COVID-19 a “Chinese virus”.
In London, a student from Singapore was badly beaten up in a racially aggravated attack. There is no excuse for racism or discrimination. Governments around the world must take a zero-tolerance approach to the racist targeting of all people. Meanwhile President Trump has used the pandemic to justify racist and discriminatory policies, and is reportedly planning a blanket ban on asylum-seekers crossing from Mexico.
Furthermore, during a public health crisis, governments must act to protect the health of all people and ensure everyone’s access to care and safety, free from discrimination. This includes people on the move, regardless of their immigration status.
The only way the world can fight this outbreak is through solidarity and cooperation across borders. COVID-19 should unite, not divide us.