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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

The 13th Biennial Conference of the Network of African National Human Rights Institutions (NANHRI)

Theme: Impact of COVID-19 on Human Rights in Africa: The role of National Human Rights Institutions in offering a human rights-based approach to better and sustainable recovery towards development beyond Covid-19

03 November 2021

Video message by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet - 3-5 November 2021

I am pleased to address this important conference of the Network of African National Human Rights Institutions.

I congratulate your incoming Chair, Chief Commissioner of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission and thank the outgoing one, Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission of Egypt, for the fruitful partnership

One year and a half after the outbreak of COVID-19, we are still struggling with the effects of this devastating crisis.

According to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, as of 7 October, the number of COVID-19 related deaths in the continent had past 213 thousand.

Despite the fact that most countries have begun vaccination, the rates remain low. On average only around 4.5% of national populations in the continent are fully vaccinated and less than 7% have received at least one dose. Countries like Burundi and Eritrea have yet to start their vaccination campaign.

I cannot stress it enough: vaccine inequity must be urgently addressed and COVID-19 vaccines treated as a global public good.

The pandemic continues to place a heavy toll on health systems across Africa. Limitations regarding infrastructure, equipment and number of health workers continue to hamper the response and can result in an exponential increase in cases and deaths.

Access constraints further threatens people in hard-to-reach areas, including prisons, refugee and IDP camps, informal urban settlements, and areas controlled by non-state actors. The pandemic has also had a severe impact on vulnerable communities affected by conflict, as well as droughts, floods, desert locust and food insecurity.

We must ensure no one is left behind.

To be effective, the response to the pandemic must be centred in human rights.

In that regard, I welcome your efforts to adapt your work in this challenging context, including through digitalisation, dissemination of public information and human rights promotion and education activities.

For example, the National Human Rights Commission in Nigeria developed an app for the electronic monitoring, documentation and reporting of human rights violations including Sexual and Gender-Based Violence.

In Uganda, the NHRI rolled out a series of radio talk shows to raise awareness on the human rights impacts of COVID-19.

Your institutions also continued advising Governments. You have formulated recommendations on compliance of emergency measures with international standards and monitored COVID-19 responses to ensure vulnerable groups are not excluded.

For example, in Ethiopia you conducted legal analysis of the compliance of the State of Emergency Proclamation with human rights standards and obligations.

In Kenya, the NHRI provided advice on the legality of restrictions imposed during this period and on finance management of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund.

The NHRI of Morocco issued a series of recommendations on the Special Fund to combat COVID and on the need to mainstream human rights

I welcome your efforts and encourage you to continue to strengthen your human rights monitoring capacities, particularly in the area of the rights to health and social security.

At the same time, I know that challenges, such as scarcity of financial resources, have made it difficult for NHRIs in Africa to quickly adapt to the new approach imposed by COVID-19.

Dear friends,

In his Call to Action for Human Rights, the Secretary-General has highlighted the crucial role played by National Human Rights Institutions in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, multilateralism, and in addressing and responding to deprivation and discrimination.

Recovering better from COVID-19 also requires your mobilisation and active participation.

This conference is an important opportunity to enhance the role of NHRIs in securing the rights of present future generations, as well as to look into how we can support and facilitate their work.

In that spirit, I look forward to outcomes of your discussions.

Thank you.