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Peace and Security
The COVID-19 pandemic is posing an unparalleled threat to the social and economic fabric of countries worldwide. Alarming statistics providing insights into the extent of the damage are routinely being released, including about the number of people infected and of COVID-19 related fatalities. 1 Many States have had to take extraordinary measures to protect the health and well-being of the population, often at great cost to local and national economies. Workplace closure measures have been ubiquitous. Businesses have been facing loss of revenue and bankruptcy at an unprecedented scale, resulting in millions of jobs being lost or employees being furloughed. It is estimated that in the second quarter of 2020 alone, the loss in working hours globally was equivalent to 400 million full-time jobs.
The COVID-19 crisis reveals a clear truth about catastrophic risk in an increasingly globalized world: an effective response requires immediate, ambitious and evidence-based preventive action at the international level. To avert future global threats, including pandemics, we must protect rights to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment upon which we all depend for our health and wellbeing. A human rights-based approach to the COVID-19 crisis is also needed to address its unequal impacts on the poor, vulnerable and marginalized and its underlying drivers, including environmental degradation. The following key messages on human rights, the environment and COVID-19 highlight essential human rights obligations and responsibilities of States and others, including businesses, in addressing and responding to the COVID-19 crisis.
OHCHR aims to put human rights at the heart of the response of States, UN partners, civil society and the private sector to COVID-19. The graph shows recommendations addressed to Myanmar by the UN Human Rights Mechanisms, the Human Rights Council, the Universal Periodic Review, the Special Procedures mandate holders and the Treaty Bodies in the 5 years prior to the pandemic, which OHCHR assesses as particularly relevant in responding to the pandemic in an inclusive and sustainable way. Recommendations addressed to Myanmar can be found at the Universal Human Rights Index at https://uhri.ohchr.org/.
Why does civic space matter during a pandemic? This guidance from UN Human Rights examines the importance of civil society, civic participation, access to accurate information, freedom of expression, privacy and the right to free assembly during a health crisis.
A number of Treaty Bodies have issued recommendations to States on human rights-based responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, consistent with the human rights obligations under international human rights treaties. These recommendations were issued as Guidance notes, advice, statements and press releases. To allow readers to find all recommendations made by treaty bodies in one document, Human Rights Treaty Bodies have published this document.
Stay-at-home restrictions and other measures restricting the movement of people contribute to an increase in gender-based violence, a finding confirmed by media reports, official statements and information received from OHCHR field presences and human rights defenders in many countries. Women and girls already in abusive situations are more exposed to increased control and restrictions by their abusers, with little or no recourse to seek support. Hotlines receive reports of women being threatened with being thrown out of their homes, exposed to the infection, or having financial resources and medical aid withheld.
The current public health crisis caused by COVID-19 disproportionately affects people and communities who are already in vulnerable and marginalised situations. Around the world, migrants can be particularly vulnerable to stigma and discrimination and can be excluded in law, policy and practice from access to rights, including in the context of the public health and recovery response to COVID-19.
COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic and as it is spreading, identified vulnerabilities such as the situation of persons deprived of their liberty in prisons, administrative detention centres, immigration detention centres and drug rehabilitation centres, require a specific focus. Persons deprived of their liberty face higher vulnerabilities as the spread of the virus can expand rapidly due to the usually high concentration of persons deprived of their liberty in confined spaces and to the restricted access to hygiene and health care in some contexts. International standards highlight that states should ensure that persons in detention have access to the same standard of health care as is available in the community, and that this applies to all persons regardless of citizenship, nationality or migration status.
The COVID-19 pandemic vividly illustrates the importance of the indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights. This pandemic is essentially a global health threat. However, it has multiple implications for the enjoyment of civil and political rights because some of the measures taken by States to combat it impose severe restrictions on the freedom of movement and other rights. Thus, it is essential that the measures adopted by States to combat this pandemic are reasonable and proportionate to ensure protection of all human rights.