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No exceptions with COVID-19: “Everyone has the right to life-saving interventions” – UN experts say

26 March 2020

GENEVA (26 March 2020) – The COVID-19 crisis cannot be solved with public health and emergency measures only; all other human rights must be addressed too, UN human rights experts* said today.

“Everyone, without exception, has the right to life-saving interventions and this responsibility lies with the government. The scarcity of resources or the use of public or private insurance schemes should never be a justification to discriminate against certain groups of patients,” the experts said. “Everybody has the right to health.

“People with disabilities, older persons, minority communities, indigenous peoples, internally displaced people, people affected by extreme poverty and living in overcrowded settings, people who live in residential institutions, people in detention, homeless people, migrants and refugees, people who use drugs, LGBT and gender diverse persons – these and other groups need to receive support from governments.

“Advances in biomedical sciences are very important to realize the right to health. But equally important are all human rights. The principles of non-discrimination, participation, empowerment and accountability need to be applied to all health-related policies.”

The UN experts supported the measures recommended by the WHO to defeat the pandemic. They called on States to act with determination to provide the needed resources to all sectors of public health systems – from prevention and detection to treatment and recovery.

“But addressing this crisis is more than that. States must take additional social protection measures so that their support reaches those who are at most risk of being disproportionately affected by the crisis,” they stressed.

“That includes women, who are already at a disadvantaged socio-economic position, bear an even heavier care burden, and live with a heightened risk of gender-based violence.”

The group of experts expressed their gratitude and admiration to health workers around the world who heroically battle the outbreak. “They face huge workloads, risk their own lives and are forced to face painful ethical dilemmas when resources are too scarce. Healthcare workers need to have all possible support from States, business, media and the public at large.

“COVID-19 is a serious global challenge,” the experts said. “But it is also a wake-up call for the revitalization of universal human rights principles. These principles and trust in scientific knowledge must prevail over the spread of fake news, prejudice, discrimination, inequalities and violence.

“We all together face this unprecedented challenge. The business sector in particular continues to have human rights responsibilities in this crisis. Only with concerted multilateral efforts, solidarity and mutual trust, will we defeat the pandemic while becoming more resilient, mature and united.

“When the vaccine for COVID-19 comes, it should be provided without discrimination. Meanwhile, as it is still to come, the human rights-based approach is already known as another effective pathway in the prevention of major public health threats,” the experts concluded.


(*) The experts: Dainius Pūras, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health; Dubravka Šimonović, Special Rapporteur on violence against women; Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Victor Madrigal-Borloz, Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity; Javaid Rehman, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran; Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons; Léo Heller, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to water and sanitation; Fabian Salvioli, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence; Alioune Tine, Independent Expert on the situation of Human Rights in Mali; Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues; Obiora Okafor, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity; Aristide Nononsi,Independent Expert on the situation of Human Rights in Sudan; David R. BoydSpecial Rapporteur on human rights and the environment; Urmila Bhoola, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery; Ahmed Reid (Chair), Dominique Day, Michal  Balcerzak, Ricardo A. Sunga III, and Sabelo Gumedze, Working Group of experts on people of African descent; Saad Alfarargi, Special Rapporteur on the right to development; Victoria Tauli Corpuz, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples; Livingstone Sewanyanan, Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order; Catalina Devandas Aguilar, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities; Yanghee Lee, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar; Elizabeth Broderick (Vice Chair), Alda Facio, Ms. Ivana Radačić, Meskerem Geset Techane (Chair), Melissa Upreti, Working Group on discrimination against women and girls; Yao Agbetse, Independent Expert on the situation of Human Rights in the Central African Republic; S. Michael Lynkthe, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967; Alice Cruz, Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members, Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; David R. Boyd,Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment; Rhona Smith, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia; Ikponwosa EroIndependent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism; Daniela Kravetz, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea; David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Anais Marin, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus; Githu Muigai (Chair), Anita Ramasastry (Vice-chair), Dante Pesce, Elzbieta Karska, and Surya Deva, Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises; Clément Voule, Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association; Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, Special rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons; José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez (Chair), Leigh Toomey (Vice-Chair on Communications), Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair on Follow-up), Seong-Phil Hong and Sètondji Adjovi, Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Diego García-Sayán, Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers; Luciano A. Hazan (Chair), Tae-Ung Baik (Vice-chair), Houria Es-Slami, Henrikas Mickevičius, Bernard Duhaime, Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; E. Tendayi Achiume, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; Karima Bennoune, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; Bahame Nyanduga, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia; and Maud de Boer-Buquicchio Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children.

The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures' experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

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