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Comprehensive, inclusive and universal COVID-19 human rights policies urgently needed - UN Treaty Bodies’ statement on Human Rights Day

GENEVA (10 December 2021) – On Human Rights Day, the UN human rights treaty bodies urge States to immediately adopt inclusive, comprehensive and universal policies to deal with the unparalleled socio-economic and health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on everyone, as well as to address the grave rights violations that have occurred around the world in the last two years.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the UN human rights treaty bodies have been monitoring the pandemic’s unprecedented and protracted impacts, including on people’s mental and physical health, work and livelihoods. We observed that the enactment of mandatory lockdowns, border closures, quarantines, social distancing and other measures have escalated discriminations, intensified violence, as well as restricted daily social interactions among people, and their right to freedom of movement and circulation.

In this very difficult situation, the exercise and enjoyment of individual and collective human rights have been critically compromised. The pandemic has further aggravated the pre-existing vulnerability of individuals and communities that related to inequalities, injustice and lack of access to proper health care services, decent conditions of living and other basic human rights. There is an urgent need to combat these challenges with stronger, more comprehensive and universal policies.

The States’ responses to the pandemic and its direct and indirect effects on the population are varied and multilayered. It is, however, certain that sustainable solutions cannot be achieved without a human rights-oriented approach and a new paradigm based on equality, non-discrimination and inclusiveness, as well as international solidarity and cooperation that respect the core UN human rights treaties. This is the only formula to resist a virus that is not restricted by national borders or social status, and to build a safe, equitable and resilient future.

The recent development of the new COVID-19 variant is a consequence of the lack of solidarity and it illustrates the pressing need to address the unequal distribution of vaccines among States. The Human Rights Treaty-Bodies consider that COVID-19 vaccines are global public goods. This implies that States should take concrete steps in vaccine sharing, public-health driven vaccine licensing and technology transfer agreements. States must also envisage voluntary licensing, technology pools, use of TRIPS flexibilities and waivers of certain intellectual property provisions.

States must also develop stronger strategies to make private actors involved in the COVID-19 response such as holding pharmaceutical companies accountable for violations of human rights as a result from the harmful impacts of their pricing and distribution policy. Private companies have human rights due diligence obligations and States must develop a stronger international legal framework to provide a meaning to such obligations.

In addition, the UN human rights treaty bodies call on States to take the opportunity of these unprecedented challenges to build comprehensive public health care system based on the principles of universality, inclusiveness, equality, affordability, and transparency. The pandemic has shown that the right to physical and mental health cannot be ensured without available, affordable, and acceptable health facilities and services that are accessible to everyone without any type of discrimination. In the meantime, States must ensure that the responses to the COVID-19 pandemic do not hinder the access to other health care and facilities, especially mental, as well as sexual and reproductive health services.

The UN human rights treaty bodies call on States to adopt transformative, comprehensive, multilateral and human-rights based strategies when planning reconstruction policies and addressing global and COVID-related issues. By strengthening their commitment to universal human rights, promoting inclusive governance, equality, and social justice, States should be able to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis ultimately.

ENDS

For the advice and recommendations of treaty bodies to States and other national stakeholders on COVID-19 and human rights, please visit this page.

* The statement was endorsed by the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, as well as the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the members of the Working Group on COVID 19 in their individual capacity. The Working Group on COVID 19 was established by the Chairs at their 33rd meeting in 2020 and is composed of: Pansy Tlakula and Chinsung Chung (Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination, CERD), Gertrude Fefoame and Markus Schefer (Committee on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, CRPD), Alvaro Botero (Facilitator) and Fatimata Diallo (Committee on Migrant Workers, CMW), Olivier de Frouville (Committee on Enforced Disappearances CED), Erdogan Iscan (Committee against Torture, CAT), Nora Sveaass and Marina Langfeldt (Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture, SPT), Hynd Ayoubi Idrissi (Committee on the Rights of the Child, CRC), Laura-Maria Craciunean-Tatu and Preeti Saran (Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, CESCR), Hélène Tigroudja (Rapporteur of the Working Group and Member of the Human Rights Committee, CCPR), and Nicole Ameline, Dalia Leinarte (Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women, CEDAW).