Annual report 2020: Human rights at the heart of COVID-19 response and recovery

Annual Report 2020

Discrimination and inequalities increased enormously in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic spread, said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, when presenting the Annual Report of the work of her Office.

“2020 was a harrowing year for people around the world,” she said. “The pandemic raced across pre-existing fault lines in every society, exploiting and enlarging human rights gaps.”

In the face of the pandemic, UN Human Rights adjusted its working methods and implemented a number of innovative measures to continue its operations. Nearly 60 percent of human rights training was delivered online, and staff also provided support to the international human rights mechanisms - such as the Human Rights Council - to continue working remotely or in hybrid format.

“I am proud of the speed and efficacy with which we shifted to pandemic operations so that we could continue implementing almost all of our planned work, while also addressing the many new challenges posed by the pandemic with respect to human rights,” continued Bachelet.

Throughout 2020, as the pandemic surged forward, UN Human Rights ramped up its support to embed effective, human rights-based policies in pandemic responses by States, UN partners, UN Country Teams and other stakeholders.

The organization enhanced its monitoring, reporting and advocacy efforts to address human rights concerns during the crisis.
One key example was the call for immediate action to prevent COVID-19 sweeping through places of detention and confinement, resulting in at least 267,500 people benefitting from urgent releases or alternatives to detention.

UN Human Rights also developed a set of ten indicators to assess the human rights impacts of COVID-19 on different population groups.  The COVID-19 Tracker - an  information management tool to analyse trends, gather good practices and inform effective policy solutions – was also created.

Additionally, UN Human Rights provided technical advice on laws and policies, issued 12 thematic guidance notes and delivered virtual training across all regions.

Some crucial areas of focus for UN Human Rights in 2020 included the protection of the right to access information on COVID-19 and its impacts; the protection of civic space and freedom of expression; and advocacy to ensure pandemic emergency measures were necessary, proportionate and fairly applied, with attention to safeguarding public health. 

A record total of US$224.3 million was received in voluntary contributions in 2020, providing much-needed resources to the human rights response to the pandemic. Bachelet noted however, that the regular budget allocation of $US116.8 million to the Office did not keep pace with the growth in the number and scope of mandated activities.

“We still have a long way to go to reach an income level that is commensurate with the real needs for human rights work,” said Bachelet. “In 2020, our extrabudgetary requirements were US$375.5 million, meaning that we had a funding gap of 151.2 million.”

Acknowledging the continuing funding gap and the plethora of challenges that came to the fore in 2020, Bachelet reiterated that human rights must continue to be a core component of COVID-19 response and recovery.

“Now more than ever, our priorities remain relevant and our message is unequivocal: in order to recover better, human rights must be placed at the centre of all recovery efforts, so that no one is left behind,” she said.

10 June 2021

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