Oral Update on the High Commissioner’s report on the central role of the State in responding to pandemics and other health emergencies, and the socioeconomic consequences thereof, in advancing sustainable development and the realization of all human rights
In this third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, divergent economic recoveries, intersecting with other challenges such as climate change, growing inequalities and raging conflict, continue to have devastating impacts.
The need for international solidarity to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines remains pressing. While more than 11.8 billion COVID-19 vaccines have been administered globally, just under 18% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose.
Several countries are experiencing or are just coming out of a COVID-19 resurgence and restrictions to civil and political rights remain in many others.
Many low- and middle-income countries are still in the throes of severe debt distress – unable to prioritise the protection of rights and the provision of public services due to escalating debt and debt repayments.
The International Labour Organization reports that only 46.9 per cent of the global population were effectively covered by at least one social protection benefit, while the remaining 53.1 per cent – as many as 4.1 billion people – were left completely unprotected. Only 26.4 per cent of children globally receive social protection benefits, with the great majority lacking effective coverage.
My report presented to you at the 47th session, pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 44/2, responded to a request for a needs assessment, particularly for developing countries, to support their efforts to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms in responding to pandemics and other health emergencies, and the socioeconomic consequences thereof, in advancing sustainable development and the realization of all human rights.
Among the report’s key recommendations are better resourcing of economic, social and cultural rights; upholding the rule of law and civil and political rights; strengthening health systems; ensuring access to vaccines without discrimination; protecting the marginalised; and ensuring universal health coverage and universal social protection.
Across the globe, I welcome the positive developments we are starting to see in some of these areas. For instance, Malawi, Peru, the Philippines, Thailand and the United States expanded their social assistance programmes by introducing cash transfers targeting those who are typically excluded, such as informal workers, freelancers and the self-employed, including people working in the gig economy.
Some countries have also changed eligibility rules for social protection programmes with a view to extend their coverage. Brazil expanded eligibility criteria regarding minimum income thresholds, to include the number of children and the members’ health status. For its part, Lesotho increased the amount provided through its child grant programme, which is an unconditional cash transfer given to households living in vulnerable situations.
Other countries, such as Argentina and Bolivia have moved towards more progressive taxation systems thereby expanding the fiscal space available to respond to the pandemic.
And the ongoing negotiation of a WHO instrument on pandemic preparedness, response and recovery is another opportunity. With the lessons of the pandemic fresh in our minds, I encourage the International Negotiating Body and the World Health Assembly to ensure the meaningful contribution of rights holders to that process, as well as civil society, community-led organisations, and other human rights advocates.
My Office has also strengthened its cooperation with Member States, United Nations Resident Coordinators and country teams, National Human Rights Institutions and civil society to provide advice on human rights-based socioeconomic responses. We contributed human rights analysis and advice to UN Common Country Analyses and Cooperation Frameworks and contributed to National Development Processes.
My Office has also been advocating for effective measures that comply with international human rights standards to advance the Sustainable Development Goals, reduce inequalities and provide non-discriminatory access to public health services.
And through the Surge Initiative, my Office has analysed international and national economic policies and measures, including the impact of sanctions and debt distress, stimulus packages and sectoral interventions. From Chile to Guinea Buissau, Sudan, Tanzania and Timor Leste, among others, we have worked on building disaggregated datasets and methodologies to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on those who are left behind.
OHCHR field presences worldwide have also supported Member States, civil society and National Human Rights Institutions in implementing the country-specific guidance provided by the human rights mechanisms, relating to a number of the issues reflected in the recommendations of the Report.
We also continue monitoring, reporting and addressing emerging human rights challenges during the pandemic, including states of emergency, restrictions on public freedom, new forms of surveillance and data collection, women’s rights, and incidents of racism, discrimination and xenophobia, with a particular focus on people in vulnerable situations.
Full and equitable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is still far from the reality for the majority of people around the world.
As we emerge from the devastating consequences of a global emergency, one of the most crucial lessons we have is that we need to put people at the centre of our efforts. Let’s all commit to doing that.