COVID-19 and the Right to Development: We Are All in This Together
45th session of the Human Rights Council Biennial Panel discussion on the Right to Development


17 September 2020


Statement by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet


Beyond the health emergency, COVID-19 is a profound human crisis, deeply rooted in discrimination and inequalities.

Constantly washing your hands, working from home and physical distancing are new routines.  

But not for all.

Around 2.2 billion people lack access to safe water and sanitation; millions are homeless and, for many, distancing is beyond reach.

While the virus poses a risk to all, its burden is not equally shared.

People in vulnerable situations, whose voices have been systematically silenced and whose interests are rarely served, tend to suffer the worst from the health and socio-economic impacts of COVID 19.

People living in poverty. People of African descent and members of racial, ethnic and religious minorities, whose rights have for too long been denied by structural racism. Indigenous peoples. People with disabilities. Older people, especially those in care-homes. Migrants and refugees. Women, who are heavily concentrated in the informal sector and disproportionately hit by job-losses while still caring for their families. Children who are out of school with no access to online education. 

Coupled with the climate emergency, the pandemic is the gravest global threat in generations.

The Secretary-General warned “we face the deepest global recession since World War II, and the broadest collapse in incomes since 1870”.
The World Food Programme has warned of famines "of biblical proportions".

And as we begin this Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, we may witness the first rise in global poverty since 1998, undoing decades of progress and pushing well over 100 million people into extreme poverty.

COVID-19 has, indeed, shaken the 2030 Agenda “to its very core”. 

At the heart of every story, every statistic, there is a human being – a person with inalienable rights, including to participate in, contribute to and enjoy her right to development.

The pandemic has exposed global social injustices, exacerbating intersecting and deep-rooted inequalities within countries -- and asymmetries among them.

Poorer nations face collapsing trade, falling remittances, capital flight and currency depreciation.

For many low and middle-income countries, debt burdens deny ‘breathing space’ undermining their ability to respond, and reducing their fiscal space to deliver on economic and social rights including food and water, health and education.

We must close gaps in health and social protection systems - building resilience to future crises.

We must address inequalities, institutional weaknesses and structural human rights violations, as well as environmental degradation and the climate emergency.

For that, we need to uphold universal principles and ensure everyone’s participation.

We need human rights, shared responsibility and global solidarity.

And solidarity goes to the soul of the right to development.

Born of the common aspirations of newly independent nations, the Declaration on the Right to Development made development a right for all individuals and peoples, with active, free and meaningful participation in its process and fair distribution of its benefits. Locally and globally. For present and future generations.

As the Secretary-General emphasized, fighting the pandemic does require “heightened solidarity” with the world’s people, especially the most vulnerable.

It demands renewed multilateralism, political will and strong leadership at all levels.

And it calls for bold policies, financial and technical support to countries and communities in need including through urgent debt relief.

Everyone must benefit from response and recovery efforts, including scientific and technological progress. A vaccine against COVID-19 must be a global public good. I call on the international community to agree on measures to enable poor and vulnerable countries to mobilize resources to fulfil their peoples’ basic needs.

We must renew global partnership and international cooperation, including South-South initiatives, with equal voice for all countries.

All human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated – They should be integral to countries’ plans, programmes and policies in implementing the SDGs. The right to development is no exception.


Recovering from COVID-19 is a chance to reverse longstanding cycles of poverty and inequality.
Build back better means stop looking the other way.

I echo the Secretary-General’s call for a “New Social Contract and a New Global Deal that create equal opportunities for all and respect the rights and freedoms of all.”

Let us recommit to the principles that made ‘We the Peoples’ unite 75 years ago, to advance justice and peace, human rights and development.

Together we can make them work for all. By joining efforts; sharing good practices and standing up for all human rights for all.

Thank you.