UN chief calls for protection of human rights in pandemic response

 UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres

United Nations, (Asian independent) UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stressed the need to protect human rights in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is a public health emergency. But it is far more: it is an economic crisis, a social crisis, and a human crisis that is fast becoming a human rights crisis,” said Guterres in a video message for the launch of a policy brief on the importance of human rights in the response to the pandemic on Thursday, reported Xinhua news agency.

Against the background of rising ethno-nationalism, populism, authoritarianism and a pushback against human rights in some countries, the public health crisis can provide a pretext to adopt repressive measures for purposes unrelated to the pandemic, said Guterres. “This is unacceptable.”

More than ever, governments must be transparent, responsive and accountable. Civic space and press freedom are critical. Civil society organisations and the private sector have essential roles to play, he said. “And in all we do, let’s never forget: the threat is the virus, not people.”

Guterres called for measures to ensure that any emergency measures — including states of emergency — are legal, proportionate, necessary and non-discriminatory, have a specific focus and duration, and take the least intrusive approach possible to protect public health.

“The best response is one that responds proportionately to immediate threats while protecting human rights and the rule of law,” he said.