COVID-19 – Virtual briefing with UN Special Procedures mandate holders
On April 30, the Human Rights Council (HRC) held an informal conversation with Special Procedures (SP) mandate holders to discuss their perspectives on the human rights impacts of the COVID-19 crisis.
In her introductory remarks, Ms. Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger, President of the HRC, expressed concern at the impact of covid-19, which is affecting human rights worldwide. She argued that mandate holders have developed tools to assist states in their COVID-19 response and that despite the numerous challenges they are facing, this crisis should be a wake-up call for the revitalisation of human rights principles, which must prevail over the spread of fake news, prejudices, inequalities and discrimination.
Ms. Anita Ramasastry, Chair of the coordination committee of SP, highlighted that the committee has worked on identifying key concerns, notably on how states are responding to recommendations from SP. She stated: « The extraordinary measures adopted to safeguard public health are of particular attention (…) as they should be guided by the purpose of safeguarding life while respecting dignity and integrity », and urged states to act transparently.
Mr. Darius Pūras, member of the Coordination Committee of SP, highlighted that this crisis is showing the need to strengthen coordination between three pillars: peace and security, development, and human rights. Reiterating Ms Ramasastry words, he further argued that Human Rights must remain central to the crisis response and should be mainstreamed in all aspects, calling on states to ensure that all measures are proportionate, nondiscriminatory and limited in time. Moreover, he emphasised that this crisis is « an unprecedented test not to lower human rights standards in the pursuit of economic growth ». Mr Pūras voiced the widespread concern that vulnerable groups are and will suffer disproportionately for this crisis. « We have a common goal to end the pandemic. We should not only implement emergency measures, but also solidarity, respect, cooperation, trust, and social justice. This is key to mitigate pandemic » he noted.
During the interactive dialogue, States took the floor and praised the work of independent mechanisms such as the Special Procedures to guide States through the promotion and protection of human rights amid this unprecedented challenge. Most of them noted that a human rights-centered approach is necessary to ensure that responses to the pandemic do not limit fundamental freedoms.
The Right Livelihood Foundation (RLF) had submitted written questions for consideration, asking precisely how SP ensure that emergency measures are implemented in accordance with the rule of law and the respect of human rights, and how do they address the risk that measures clearly in breach of human rights might remain in place even after the pandemic. Secondly, RLF asked how can the right of privacy be safeguarded in relation to measures adopted to control public health issues.
In the concluding remarks, Mr. Pūras underlined that lessons from this crisis will begin to appear as time goes by. Ms. Ramasastry, on the other hand, emphasised that Special Procedures’ methods of work have been curtailed by this crisis, as they cannot go on any country visit. Nevertheless, they are complementing this gap by using technology and other tools to interact with affected peoples. Answering a question from Australia (on behalf of a group of countries), she also highlighted that while there have not been reprisals against mandate holders at this stage, there is an increasing trend of violence and reprisals against human rights defenders.