While governments put in place measures to curtail the spread of the COVID-19 virus, such as states of emergency, lockdown and quarantine, societies are facing increased socio-economic challenges and inequalities. This is disproportionately affecting the most marginalized and vulnerable, and making the immediate human rights consequences of the pandemic more apparent.
To address the human rights challenges of COVID-19, National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) have an essential role in securing the social contract in societies, working to promote accountability, trust, justice and inclusion.
UNDP supports over 15 NHRIs across all regions to strengthen their capacity to defend and protect human rights in view of the pandemic. UNDP commissioned a study in October 2020 under the auspices of the Tri-Partite Partnership, to better understand how NHRIs are responding to the human rights consequences of COVID-19.
The study indicates that NHRIs are primarily addressing human rights that are directly affected by government responses to COVID-19. These include access to information, the ability to vote when your movement is limited by a lockdown, and the right for everyone to have health services. It also includes taking concrete action to protect and address the needs of groups who are most at risk; women, children, people on the move, and those with disabilities.
NHRIs have in many cases focused their efforts to address the vulnerability of migrants, the internally displaced, and asylum seekers, by urging that their needs are protected by authorities. In Armenia, the NHRI developed guidance material on COVID-19 in a number of local languages to ensure that everyone has correct and factual information. In Iraq initiatives were developed to stop the discriminatory treatment of migrants.
Another group severely affected are persons deprived of their liberty, who have difficulties in getting adequate healthcare and protection from the virus while in detention. In Mali, UNDP worked to support the NHRI to monitor places of detention, resulting in reduced prison overcrowding. Some 1,300 people were released, including 200 women.
NHRIs have developed solutions to address the negative impact of the pandemic on women and girls, including an increase in gender-based violence. The NHRI in Nigeria developed a mobile app for electronic monitoring, documentation and reporting. In Myanmar, UNDP supported the NHRI to develop a media campaign to raise awareness of stigma and discrimination to COVID-19 and encourage people to file complaints.
While NHRIs respond to these human rights implications and numerous others, their own work and functions have also been affected by the pandemic. At the same time, they have maintained their capacity to strengthen recovery and preparedness for this and future outbreaks.
As many countries face a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictive measures, human rights cannot be an afterthought. UNDP remains committed to support those who mitigate the numerous human rights challenges that will continue to arise as the pandemic lasts.