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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Message on Health and Justice

07 July 2021

Berlin forum on chemicals and sustainability
Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

7 July 2021

Human suffering is often rooted in injustice and discrimination. We're seeing this again with COVID-19.

The pandemic hasn't impacted everyone equally. People who live in poverty or who are subjected to discrimination have been more often infected; more likely to die; more likely to suffer severe socio-economic impacts – and less likely to be vaccinated.

It's the same with exposure to hazardous substances.  In fact, many of those who suffer the worst health outcomes from COVID-19 are exposed to high levels of air pollution. They are the poorest and least protected.

Injustice kills. We can no longer deny this reality. COVID-19 – like environmental pollution, or climate change – forces us to acknowledge that inequalities and discrimination harm all of us.

It is time for big changes – now, when we can see the depth of the damage. Tens of millions of people pushed into extreme poverty. Progress in women's equality reversed. Shattered education and health care systems. Broken economic sectors. And the health of our planet at risk.

To recover, we need action to ensure that all people have access to systems that deliver healthcare, social protections and well-being for people and planet.

Among other vital issues, that means effective measures must prevent and remedy exposure to hazardous substances, with a human rights-based approach to the management of  chemicals and wastes.

It is at times of crisis that humanity can demonstrate the strength of our human rights principles.

Times like now.