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Human rights need protection during humanitarian crises


For two years, the Ebola virus crisis gripped Liberia in a vice of fear and panic. The African nation of 4.6 million people was ill prepared to deal with an unknown virus.

More than 10,000 people contracted the disease, with nearly half of them dying.

Sekou Kanneh contracted the Ebola virus but survived its ravages. He was one of the lucky ones. With their survival a new community –and a challenge-- was born, that of Ebola survivors.

“When I came out, I tried to meet other people, every place I pass [people would say] this is an Ebola survivor. People wanted to stay away from me,” he said.

The UN Human Rights Office in Liberia launched an initiative called the Ebola Human Rights Watch. Producing more than 40 issues, the Office reported on human rights issues arising from Ebola both from a medical and response perspective.

Marcel Akpovo, who heads the Office in Liberia, said the idea was to emphasize the need to uphold and safeguard rights and people’s dignity in a humanitarian crisis.

“When a crisis like this occurs, most of the time the emphasis is put on traditional aspects of humanitarian actions, food distribution, shelter, physical protection, which are most of them material,” he said. “But very little attention is paid to human rights.”

But as a result of the support provided by the Office, through a coordination programme, the government initiated programmes of economic recovery and stabilisation that were sensitive to people’s rights.

The UN Human Rights Office is a unique actor in humanitarian actions, bringing a perspective and analysis that helps to enhance response by including all the individuals affected, without discrimination.

Similar projects are led by the Office in Haiti, following the 2010 earthquake and its aftermath. The Occupied Palestinian Territories and Ukraine are also examples where the Office is working closely to protect human rights amidst humanitarian action.

During the World Humanitarian Summit, taking place from 23-24 May in Istanbul, Turkey, the Office will showcase its cross-cutting work in places like Liberia and elsewhere, through films and an event on protecting human rights in humanitarian crises.

20 May 2016


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