COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated the vulnerability of the least protected and most marginalized in our societies. Photo Credit: UNDP Bangladesh/Fahad Kaizer


In countries across the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic curtailed a wide range of basic human rights that many people took for granted -- from the right to leave your home or to shop for groceries, to the right to travel or to meet with family or friends. Many of these measures were necessary to tackle the pandemic head-on, yet they can inadvertently affect people’s livelihoods and security, their access to healthcare to food, water and sanitation, work and education. At the same time, we know that responses to the pandemic that respect human rights will result in better outcomes in beating COVID-19. It will also help to help to ensure healthcare for everyone while spurring inclusive, sustainable development.

On Human Rights Day, we are reminded how the COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated the vulnerability of the least protected and most marginalized in our societies. Ongoing crises, especially armed conflict, put human rights and other international legal protections under extra pressure. The world has also witnessed a shadow pandemic of rising gender-based violence. Indeed, women and men, children, youth and older persons, refugees and migrants, the poor, people with disabilities, persons in detention, minorities, LGBTI people, among others, are all being affected differently. Yet not enough is being done. For instance, a Checklist on how to integrate human rights highlights the clear need for countries to further integrate human rights into their socio-economic response to the crisis.

With this in mind, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is taking a human rights-based approach to COVID-19 response that puts people at the centre of the recovery. It is based on the principles of participation and inclusion; accountability and the rule of law; as well as non-discrimination and equality. Our support includes everything from helping to reduce prison overcrowding in Mali to supporting media outlets and youth with the dissemination of accurate information in Cambodia. And to build forward better, we must drive a recovery that also respects the rights of future generations. That includes enhancing climate action and climate justice to work towards carbon neutrality by 2050 -- and ramping-up efforts to restore our natural world. To this end, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is helping governments to insert the “DNA” of a green, low-carbon economy into all recovery and stimulus measures -- for instance through our Climate Promise, which is currently supporting 115 countries. Furthermore, UNDP continues to support National Human Rights Institutions that are playing a pivotal part in providing rights-based responses to the climate crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic -- from Bangladesh to Sierra Leone and beyond.

And given that the successful fight against COVID-19 depends on mass immunization -- we need a “people’s vaccine” that must be seen as a global public good. A group of UN human rights experts has outlined that, “all efforts to prevent, treat and contain COVID-19 must be based on the bedrock human-rights based principles of international solidarity, cooperation and assistance. They argue that, “there is no room for nationalism or profitability in decision-making about access to vaccines, essential tests and treatments…”

At this critical moment, countries across the globe must ensure that all responses to the pandemic are shaped by a respect of human rights. UNDP is committed to stand up for human rights to help the world to beat the pandemic and drive forward progress on the Sustainable Development Goals -- ultimately helping the world to emerge from this crisis with more sustainable and more equal societies.

Achim Steiner, Administrator, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

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