GENEVA — The challenge of preventing abuses worldwide is rising sharply as racism, discrimination and social inequalities accelerate the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, the U.N. human rights chief said on Tuesday.
Michelle Bachelet, head of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, or OHCHR, said that six months since COVID-19 was first detected, it is clear this epidemic threatens peace and development and calls for nations to protect their citizens’ civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.
“The pandemic should spur us to adopt strong, transformative measures to heighten the powerful protections that human rights based-policies can provide — by promoting public health, public confidence in official guidance, and greater social and economic resilience,” she told the opening of a new monthlong session of the U.N. Human Rights Council.
“It urgently calls for leadership grounded in clarity, evidence and principle to protect the most vulnerable members of society, and to address the profound inequalities that are accelerating the pandemic’s incidence and impact,” said Bachelet.
While donning face masks and socially distancing themselves in a cavernous U.N. assembly hall, Bachelet and other human rights officials began examining global violations and abuses, including the systemic racism and police brutality that have drawn global protests and will be subjected to a special debate later in the session.
We must acknowledge that #HumanRights are critical to #COVID19 recovery. We need to be able to count on steady, predictable resources and firm political will. Your engagement can and will make the difference – @mbachelet.
— UN Human Rights (@UNHumanRights) June 30, 2020
Bachelet said disaggregated data indicates members of racial and ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples are more likely to die of COVID-19 and are hardest hit by its socio-economic consequences, but Australia, Costa Rica, Panama and Russia offer examples of sound efforts to protect indigenous peoples from the virus.
Similarly, COVID-19 aggravates the exclusion and discrimination suffered by women and girls, she said, while older people suffer the highest death tolls and worst medical harms, and children suffer profound and likely long-lasting consequences. Youth under the age of 25 are reeling from losses in training, education and jobs.
The coronavirus is being used to limit free speech rights in China, Kosovo, Nicaragua and Russia, according to OHCHR, and the spread of COVID-19 is intensifying dangers in conflicts ranging from South Sudan to Syria to Yemen.
“Discrimination kills. Depriving people of their social and economic rights, kills. And these deaths and harms damage all of society,” she said. “COVID-19 is like a heat-seeking device that exposes, and is fueled by, systemic failures to uphold human rights.”