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COVID-19 and minority rights

OHCHR and minorities

COVID-19 has disproportionate and adverse impacts upon national, ethnic, religious and linguistic minority communities. For example, some minority groups:

  • have suffered death rates several times higher than other groups;  
  • are more likely, in certain areas or countries, to live in over-crowded housing, making physical distancing and self-isolation more challenging;
  • are on the front lines with at-risk and low-paid jobs, such as cleaning, transport, or other services that leave them more exposed to COVID-19;
  • are confronted with intensified discrimination and abuse in many places; 
  • have more difficulty getting information on COVID-19 prevention and on health services because it is not readily available in minority languages. 

Minority women, in particular, face compounded hardships given the intersecting burdens of gender discrimination and inequality. School and day-care centre closures mean that women more often carry the responsibility of child care. 

Statement by the UN Network on Racial Discrimination and the Protection of Minorities: Leave no one behind

The UN Network on Racial Discrimination and the Protection of Minorities released a statement calling for “everyone to stand up against discrimination! 

Racism and discrimination against racial, ethnic and religious minorities are increasingly widespread during the COVID-19 crisis. 

Now is not the time for division, but to reach out and include those left behind…

Governments urgently need to reach these people, and include them in their response plans. Their basic human rights must be ensured including food, shelter, medicine and water.” 

Furthermore the Network calls on governments to ensure that: "#COVID19" information, guidance and care is available in minority languages, including sign languages, and is age-, disability- and gender-appropriate. 

Emergency measures should not be used by law enforcement officials to ethnically profile or to discriminate against minorities through arrest or detention or other measures!” 

Promising practices

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a heightened risk of discrimination and exclusion of marginalized peoples and groups. At the same time, opportunities abound for strengthening solidarity, commitments to human rights and the inclusion of those potentially left behind. 

A number of states have taken proactive measures to address the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on members of minority communities, such as: 

  • Emergency aid and provision of services 
  • Data collection to monitor and track disparities 
  • Providing outreach, including in minority languages and sign language, on how to prevent and address COVID-19, and on availability of services 
  • Measures to address the socio-economic impact on minorities
  • Preventing and addressing discrimination and hate speech against minorities 

Related documents and statements