People's Stories Freedom

Ease sanctions against countries fighting COVID-19: UN human rights chief
by UN News, OHCHR, Deutsche Welle, COE, agencies
Mar. 2020
The shock of coronavirus, by Christoph Strack. (DW)
The pictures from northern Italy are appalling. They make an uncanny impression: military vehicles transporting coffins with victims of the coronavirus epidemic away from Bergamo, ground zero for the horrors experienced in recent days. Some of them are driving hundreds of kilometers to other cities, because the local crematorium can no longer manage all the dead. Even death has overstrained the region.
Day after day, new, dreadful victim statistics come from Italy: 427, 627, 793. Day after day, hundreds of lives that have perished. Entire old-age care homes have been emptied by death; villages in the valleys of the Alpine foothills have been decimated.
Doctors and carers have died, as have dozens of priests who stayed at bedsides. Death is raging in a country that is a summer idyll for many Europeans. And those Europeans sense or fear that this death will move further afield. What is happening in Italy is like a portent.
Italy is fighting a deadly struggle; Europe and the world are shocked and fearful. We are seeing media images and experiencing things ourselves that we would have thought completely impossible just one or two weeks ago. There are few historical comparisons that come to mind, but one of them is the tsunami in Southeast Asia in 2004, with its at least 230,000 victims.
Perhaps the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, with its death toll of some 60,000 people, is also comparable by virtue of how eerie that event seemed at the time. Although the world continued its path toward modernity in the aftermath, the belief in progress was gone; the optimism of that era gave way to despair. The question of "Why?" tormented many forever after. Lisbon was an epochal turning point for many historians, philosophers, literary scholars and theologians.
And as people did in 1755, we today will also have to take stock of ourselves, of our principles and the things we considered self-evident up to now, of our notions of solidarity, of our limits. And anyone who speaks of these horrors as being a divine punishment is reverting to mere tradition — indeed, to fundamentalism.
The military trucks in the Italian night create an image that is hard to shake off. Everyone is horrified. And it is understandable that Italian doctors and German politicians say similar things: #StayHome! #FlattenTheCurve! Make space for each other! Put a freeze on your everyday life! Delay the infections!
The images and scenes we see serve as a warning: Take these appeals seriously! They are right. And they are the most important things for as long as medicine remains helpless.
But all this talk quickly distracts from the drama itself (which, as no one is ready to deny, can follow a similar path in Spain or any other European country, in Iran or the US).
Death has arrived among us. That death that we in the West have pushed into the background in an era without limits, an era of golden facades and ever-new records.
The army trucks evoke the fact that here is a country that seems to be at war against an invisible enemy. People who know life in Italy think of friendly, open faces full of joy and life, and of history, sometimes painful history. Even the smallest village there has its cemetery and celebrates death and remembrance both in a religious and a family context.
Now, people are dying and being buried alone, with barely their names mentioned. The memory — if the coronavirus crisis ever passes — will haunt the country with a pain that may even be unbearable. And, depending on how things turn out, this memory will haunt all of Europe.
The statistics: 427, 627, 793. Each of them an essential life. Things will go on like this, in many countries, for weeks. We will have to bear it together and protect one another together. We must relearn the value of life. We sense that when there is talk these days of jobs deemed "essential," sometimes in a medical, sometimes in an economic regard.
Carers, doctors, bakers, shop assistants — these are people whose lives are essential, but whose jobs are often jeopardized by the free-market apostles. We shouldn''t forget this during and after the shock this world is undergoing at present.
* On April 1st, people across Italy observed a minute of silence for more than 11,500 coronavirus fatalities. More than 100,000 people have been infected in the country. The number of cases of coronavirus in Spain has surpassed 100,000, with over 9,000 fatalities. French health authorities reported 509 new deaths overnight. There are now over 200,000 cases of coronavirus in the United States:
Mar. 2020
In Africa, social distancing is a privilege few can afford, writes Karsten Noko. (Al Jazeera)
If you live in a township, make a living in the informal sector, or travel on a crowded bus, how do you self-quarantine?
The COVID-19 pandemic has already permeated all aspects of life. While optimists hope it will force us to rethink inequality and global access to healthcare, the realists believe the net effect of the pandemic will be to further entrench the divides that already exist.
In Africa, the crisis has not yet reached epic proportions. But the cracks caused by existing inequalities are already showing.
In South Africa - which declared a national state of disaster because of the pandemic last week - the working classes are navigating how to avoid contamination on cramped public transport on their way to meagre-paying jobs that often only help them live hand-to-mouth, while the more affluent classes empty large chain stores to stockpile as much food and toilet paper as they can.
In South Africa, the government only declared a disaster after more than 60 cases appeared. But Rwanda and Kenya declared decisive measures - including travel restrictions and bans on public gatherings - just after the first positive case was reported.
The option of closing borders to deal with the crisis, which some countries have already adopted, is undoubtedly a vexed one. South Africa, for example, has said it will build a 40km (25 miles) fence along its border with Zimbabwe. Although closing borders contributes positively to the social distancing recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), the question is how practical such a measure will be for African countries.
National borders were arbitrarily drawn during the colonial era and, for many communities living along these boundaries, they exist only in theory. We see them on Google maps. But trade and family ties have been established since way before colonialism - and they endure. It may be possible to close an official border post, but so-called "irregular crossing points" - dotted across hundreds of kilometres and even over rivers and lakes - abound.
As we saw in the West Africa Ebola outbreak - where the first case was recorded in Guinea before spreading to Liberia and Sierra Leone - and the cholera outbreaks that began in Zimbabwe before spreading to South Africa, Botswana and Mozambique, diseases can easily spread across these essentially imaginary lines that nation-states carve out.
COVID-19 is not novel in this sense. Knowing the realities on the ground, it is curious that the WHO and ministries of health in different African countries are recommending that people self-quarantine if they could have been exposed to the coronavirus.
In Rwanda, for example, a man travelling from the US has potentially infected his wife and brother, accounting for three of the seven cases. Which raises the question: how are people in shared accommodation expected to self isolate?
Slums and informal settlements are also part of the physical infrastructures of many African cities. All of them were overcrowded and lacked services even before the threat of a global health crisis emerged.
Think of Alexandra in Johannesburg, where over 700,000 people are estimated to live in less than 5 square kilometres (1.9 square miles), Mbare in Harare with some 800,000 people, Kibera in Nairobi with at least 250,000, and Makoko in Lagos with over 300,000 whose homes are built on stilts in a lagoon.
Our big cities also pose a conundrum to people who must commute to work. Anyone who has been stuck in a traffic jam in a "matatu" (bus) in Nairobi or in a taxi in Johannesburg - often filled with 12 to 14 people - knows too well that the idea of social distancing on your way to work is a myth.
Not only are these overcrowded, but the commute and queues to use them require significant amounts of time that could potentially expose more people to the coronavirus.
It is more practical for people who work in offices to "work from home" but if your only means of livelihood is selling tomatoes or second-hand clothes at an informal market in a big city, how do you begin to do this "online"?
The choice before you is often to stay home and fail to provide the evening meal for your family, or to brave it out into the city and try and fend for your family. If I was that person selling at a market, I know what choice I would make. It is not social distancing.
For those concerned about the risk of exposure to the virus, the WHO recommends self-quarantining. This has so far included advice for people not to share bathrooms, living space and even bedrooms, if they can. But what if you live in a house where the bedroom doubles as a kitchen and living space - all shared with your (sometimes extended) family? Such recommendations are even more absurd if your source of water is a community tap or borehole, or if your toilet is one you share with a dozen other families. For many people forced to live on the margins of our societies, this is unfortunately a reality.
Even in the well-to-do parts of many African cities, getting access to water is a challenge. Harare''s taps have been nearly dry for almost 10 years now - and yet we recommend that residents not only self-isolate but also regularly wash their hands.
With coronavirus on our doorsteps, suddenly the importance of access to water is staring all of us in the face. But the governments and the WHO giving advice know only too well the conditions and challenges these communities have always faced.
A lot has been said about the health systems of many African countries and how they would struggle to cope with a fast-spreading virus like the coronavirus. Indeed, after many years of conflict, in countries like South Sudan and Somalia, the health system has almost collapsed.
In some countries around the Sahel - Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali - people continue to be displaced by conflict and live in squalid conditions in displaced peoples camps.
Even in countries not in conflict, like Uganda and Zimbabwe, structural adjustment programmes proffered by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank have seen a continuous decrease in funding available for healthcare.
The Abuja declaration of 2001, requiring each country to set aside at least 15 percent of its national budget for healthcare, is still gathering dust in health authorities offices. None of the parties to the declaration has managed to achieve its goals.
It clearly does not require a pandemic to expose the gaps in the health system. If developed systems like in northern Italy can buckle under pressure from COVID-19, one can only imagine the impact this will have on front-line health staff who are without adequate training, protective equipment and even basic drugs.
No one knows how the pandemic will spread across Africa. But we know it is a matter of time. One can not help but wonder if it is not time for African governments, with support from the WHO, to develop recommendations that take all these environmental conditions into account.
Social distancing could probably work in China and in Europe - but in many African countries, it is a privilege only a minority can afford.
The WHO has done well since the onset of the outbreak to provide leadership and access to information about a virus that virtually nothing was known about just several weeks ago. But now, more must be done to reimagine our governance systems, especially because healthcare is intrinsically linked to everything else.
And in Africa - likely the next battlefield for the virus - tackling COVID-19 will need more imagination and alternative solutions from all of us.
* Karsten Noko is a Zimbabwean lawyer and humanitarian working across sub-Saharan Africa. Over one billion people live in slums and informal settlements.
24 March 2020
Ease sanctions against countries fighting COVID-19: UN human rights chief. (UN News)
As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Tuesday called for an easing of sanctions against countries such as Iran to allow their medical systems to fight the disease and limit its global spread.
Michelle Bachelet said humanitarian exemptions to sanctions measures should be authorized for essential medical equipment and supplies to avoid the collapse of any national healthcare system.
“At this crucial time, both for global public health reasons, and to support the rights and lives of millions of people in these countries, sectoral sanctions should be eased or suspended. In a context of global pandemic, impeding medical efforts in one country heightens the risk for all of us”, she stated.
COVID-19 has affected nearly 190 countries, with more than 330,000 cases reported globally as of Monday, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO).
At least 1,800 people in Iran have died from the disease, including 50 doctors. Human rights reports on the country have repeatedly highlighted the impact of sanctions on access to essential medicines and equipment, such as respirators and protective equipment for healthcare workers.
Ms. Bachelet feared sanctions could also impact medical efforts in Cuba, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Venezuela and Zimbabwe.
“The majority of these states have frail or weak health systems. Progress in upholding human rights is essential to improve those systems – but obstacles to the import of vital medical supplies, including over-compliance with sanctions by banks, will create long-lasting harm to vulnerable communities”, she said.
“The populations in these countries are in no way responsible for the policies being targeted by sanctions, and to varying degrees have already been living in a precarious situation for prolonged periods”.
The UN rights chief underscored the need to protect health workers in these countries, who are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis, while authorities should not punish professionals who point out any deficiencies in response. Ms. Bachelet urged world leaders to come together at this time as no country can combat the pandemic alone.
"The continued imposition of crippling economic sanctions on Syria, Venezuela, Iran, Cuba, and, to a lesser degree, Zimbabwe, to name the most prominent instances, severely undermines the ordinary citizens fundamental right to sufficient and adequate food," said Hilal Elver, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.
"These countries are already under stress and cannot handle the additional burden of sanctions. As the world exhibits new bonds of solidarity in response to the pandemic, it is now a matter of humanitarian and practical urgency to lift unilateral economic sanctions immediately.
"With connectivity among States more apparent than ever, it is clearly in the interest of all States, even those imposing sanctions, to immediately terminate such aggressive policies that weaken our institutional capacity to cope with the spreading pandemic," Elver said.
The UN expert reminded that sanctions often cause significant societal disruptions that are exacerbated in the midst of this global health crisis. "History has shown that unilateral economic sanctions generally have dramatic and detrimental impacts on economic, social and cultural rights. As a result, the wellbeing of the civilian populations becomes severely compromised."
The Special Rapporteur also urged the international community to pay particular attention to the situation of civilians trapped in conflict settings, and notably those already experiencing acute violations of their rights to food, such as in Yemen, South Sudan, Gaza, Syria and in refugee camps worldwide.
"Food assistance must reach the population in conflict zones without discrimination and to the maximum available resources," Elver said. "If the international community is serious about the fight against COVID-19 and the eradication of food and nutrition insecurity, States need to refrain at all times from direct and indirect interference with access to food," the expert concluded.
17 Mar. 2020
Iran faces potentially a catastrophic death toll from coronavirus, writes Shabnam von Hein for Deutsche Welle.
Researchers at the respected Sharif University of Technology in Tehran have created a computer simulator to test different scenarios for the further spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, across Iran.
They concluded that in a best-case scenario — in which the government quarantines all high-risk areas, people strictly obey quarantine rules, and access to sufficient medical supplies is guaranteed — the country would reach the peak of the epidemic in roughly one week, and the death toll would exceed 12,000.
Yet that scenario is unrealistic in all three instances: The government can''t impose quarantine, people will not obey quarantine rules, and the medical supply situation is catastrophic thanks to US sanctions and chronic mismanagement.
Accounting for those realities, the researchers estimate Iran will not reach the peak of the epidemic until late May, and they estimate as many as 3.5 million people could die as a result.
Official statistics already paint a grim picture: More than 16,000 COVID-19 infections had been registered as of Tuesday evening, with 988 deaths.
Iran currently has the third-highest number of coronavirus deaths worldwide, though many suspect the true number of corona-related illnesses and deaths there is far higher than currently known. The World Health Organization (WHO) said Tuesday it believes the actual numbers could be five times higher.
In the city of Qom, where Iran''s first death was registered on February 19, workers have been busy digging graves. On March 12, the The Washington Post newspaper published satellite images showing hastily expanded cemeteries, with masses of graves being dug on acres of adjacent land.
The city is also a gathering place for religious devotees who refuse to acknowledge the severity of the situation. After weeks of hesitation, authorities in Qom finally decided to close a shrine devoted to Fatima Masumeh, the great-granddaughter of the prophet Mohammed. But on Monday evening worshippers broke through the barricades of the Shiite pilgrimage site to congregate and pray. It was religious opposition that prevented the national government from putting Qom, just 130 kilometers (81 miles) south of the capital, under quarantine.
Tehran, which has the highest number of reported coronavirus deaths in the country, is the scene of government incompetence. On Sunday the country''s supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ordered the army to follow instructions from President Hassan Rouhani and his government. Yet, just days earlier Khamenei had instructed the Iranian military, of which he is the commander-in-chief, to take the lead in the fight against COVID-19. It is unclear who is in charge and responsible.
Mohammad Bagheri, the chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, has said he intends to bring the situation under control within 10 days; there had been rumors of curfews in Tehran. But on Sunday Rouhani sought to dispel them by informing citizens that decisions such as imposing quarantine would be made by a crisis management group within his administration and not outside the government.
However, as of yet Rouhani has neither declared a state of emergency nor attempted to put the capital on lockdown.
"We have neither the capacity nor the ability to put Tehran under quarantine," Tehran''s mayor, Pirouz Hanachi, was forced to admit. "We can''t take care of quarantined people. That is in part because of the sanctions."
Sanctions halt medical help
Last Thursday, Iran''s government applied for a $5 billion (€4.6 billion) loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to fight the epidemic — the first time it has asked the IMF for assistance in over 50 years. Yet, even if it gets the loan, the administration won''t be able to shop for much-needed medical supplies: US sanctions make the banking transactions required to secure even medical supplies and humanitarian goods virtually impossible.
* In August 2019, Jan Egeland Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council called for governments to enable humanitarian organisations to reach vulnerable people in Iran with humanitarian aid, blocked by U.S economic sanctions.
“As humanitarians on the ground, it is our responsibility to draw attention to this neglected, but devastating collateral damage of the US-Iranian tension that appears to escalate every day. The U.S. and European donor governments must find ways to enable humanitarian organisations to operate. We need clear arrangements that will assure banks that they can move donor money into Iran for humanitarian purposes without fear of legal penalties. We need a solution that will prevent millions of vulnerable people from slipping deeper into emergency levels of poverty and hardship.”
The provision of medical and humanitarian assistance to populations in need is a fundamental principle of the Red Cross, Red Crescent Movement and the Human Right to Health. In view of the grave threat posed by the coronavirus to the Iranian population immediate action must be undertaken to facilitate the necessary access to critical medical supplies.
U.S Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders: ''Iran is facing a catastrophic toll from the coronavirus pandemic. U.S. sanctions should not be contributing to this humanitarian disaster. As a caring nation, we must lift any sanctions hurting Iran’s ability to address this crisis, including financial sanctions''.
''The US government should immediately lift economic sanctions against Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, and other countries to avoid unnecessary deaths and more extensive propagation of the pandemic'', said Jeffrey Sachs, professor and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University.
''The lethal toll during the novel coronavirus pandemic will be made far worse in countries where imports of medications, medical equipment, and the maintenance of water, sanitation, and health care infrastructure are restricted due to the impact of US sanctions. These restrictions will also make it harder for health authorities to control the spread of the disease within their countries. It is imperative that the US lift these sanctions to enable Iran and Venezuela to confront the epidemic as effectively and rapidly as possible''.
“Americans are among the most generous people in the world in per capita giving to charity. In the midst of a global pandemic, I believe most Americans want to put politics aside and do everything possible to ensure that every one, wherever we happen to live on this planet, has the best possible chance to obtain food, clean water, good hygiene and medical care,” Linda Bilmes, Daniel Patrick Moynihan Senior Lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard University, said. “Removing sanctions is the right thing to do on humanitarian grounds and it is also in our own best interests.”


Time for a rights-based global economic stimulus to tackle COVID-19
by HRW, Amnesty, CESR, Transparency International
Coronavirus - Human Rights Watch
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that an outbreak of COVID-19 had reached global pandemic levels. In a number of countries, the outbreak exposed shortcomings in public health and social welfare protection systems, making it harder to protect at-risk populations and reduce disease transmission.
In responding to this crisis, governments should prioritize the right to health for all, as well as human rights. This means prioritizing science over politics, caring for those most at risk, avoiding censorship, and limiting lockdowns.
Governments should also address the special concerns of people in prisons, jails, and migrant detention centers, older people, and people with disabilities in institutions.
27 Mar. 2020
Time for a rights-based global economic stimulus to tackle COVID-19, writes Ignacio Saiz - Director of the Center for Economic & Social Rights
Governments around the world are scrambling to address the economic fallout of the COVID-19 crisis—with glaring differences in their responses.
First, there is a stark contrast in their approaches to government-funded rescue interventions and whom these should benefit. Second, they have widely divergent capacities to put such interventions in place at all. Human rights obligations have rarely been mentioned in debates about these interventions.
Yet, they are crucial in determining what governments ought to do, individually and collectively, to protect those most at risk from the social and economic impacts of the crisis.
Common to all interventions is the welcome embrace – even by the staunchest deficit hawks—of expansionary fiscal policy (i.e. stimulus). The spread of COVID-19 has laid bare the catastrophic consequences of contractionary fiscal policy (i.e. austerity) pursued aggressively since the global financial crisis, which has left health systems around the world strapped for resources necessary to tackle the disease.
Even comparatively robust public health systems in wealthy countries such as Spain and Italy have been pushed to the brink—their resilience eroded through years of budget cuts.
Some bailouts are more equal than others
A number of countries currently at the epicenter of the pandemic are introducing comprehensive stimulus packages to mitigate the effects of the virus and the economic standstill it has prompted. While most of these “bailouts” include protections for workers and companies, their different emphases are striking. These differences largely correlate with how countries have integrated social rights commitments into their legal and policy frameworks.
Spain, for example, has assigned € 200 million to a “Social Shield” package. This enables a moratorium on mortgage payments and public utility bills and expands unemployment benefits, social services, and other protections for those most at risk for reasons such as age, disability or income status. The program, overseen by Spain’s Ministry for Social Rights and Agenda 2030, is explicitly grounded in social rights guarantees in the Spanish constitution. In other countries with strong social rights traditions, such as France and Denmark, the government has effectively stepped in as “payer of last resort” to stave off lay-offs or liquidations.
In the US, by contrast, a US$ 2 trillion economic relief package includes US$ 500 billion in assistance to the airline industry and other large corporations, with limited conditions for ensuring the protection of workers rights or the reduction of carbon emissions. The plan includes important steps to cushion the economic impact of the crisis, such as increasing worker protections, extending unemployment insurance to those in the gig economy, and providing cash assistance to individuals.
But other proposed social protection measures, such as expanding paid sick leave provision, were not included, leading to criticism that the bill is tilted more towards corporations than working families.
Legacies of austerity in the Global South
In less resourced countries, where health systems have been debilitated by IMF-backed austerity cuts, what comes next is terrifying to consider.
Scores of countries in the Global South are now bracing for the spread of the disease.
Prospects for containment are far bleaker where hospitals are already overburdened, where much of the population lacks adequate access to hand-washing facilities, and where crowded conditions in informal settlements make “social distancing” difficult.
In many countries, successive waves of fiscal adjustment have included reforms curtailing labor rights, weakening social protection schemes, and exacerbating already precarious work. These measures have left millions even more vulnerable to the economic effects of the pandemic—particularly women, who are heavily concentrated in the informal and service sectors.
Unlike rich countries, the fiscal space for low- and middle-income countries to mitigate the impacts of the virus is more constrained, frequently because of the policy choices of wealthier countries and international financial institutions (IFIs).
These countries must urgently expand public spending on health and social protection. But this is an extremely challenging task amidst a cascade of associated shocks—including an economic recession, drops in commodities prices, devaluation of their currencies, significant capital flight, and the consequent increase in borrowing costs—and in a context of high levels of debt.
Both the IMF and World Bank have announced plans to mobilize significant resources to address the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on poorer countries. But they have also called for “structural reforms” to “create confidence” and “foster markets.”
This reluctance to depart from the dogmas of austerity suggests lessons have not been learned about how the failures of structural adjustment have exacerbated the current crisis.
Further, nationalistic responses from rich countries are hindering poorer countries’ capacities to protect people from the impact of the pandemic. For example, EU countries have adopted emergency export curbs on US$ 12.1 billion of hospital supplies. This could have a devastating impact on the right to health in poorer countries reliant on those imports.
The crisis of multilateralism has only hastened the spread of the disease. It’s time for rich countries, IFIs, and other economic actors to stop undermining the capacities of other countries to protect the socioeconomic rights of those most at risk in the COVID-19 crisis.
This is not only a question of international solidarity—as the IMF has termed it—but an international obligation under human rights law.
All governments have a duty to ensure their actions do not cause foreseeable harm beyond their borders, nor hamper the ability of other countries to honor their human rights obligations. Individually, and as members of IFIs, they are also obliged to cooperate internationally to safeguard the rights of those most at risk in contexts such as this.
Global stimulus as a matter of rights
Governments and IFIs should fulfill these obligations by immediately agreeing to a range of new instruments that would enable poorer countries to mobilize "maximum available resources" to protect those at risk during the pandemic. A number of promising measures have been proposed, including:
• Debt restructuring and debt forgiveness: the IMF and World Bank-proposed debt moratorium for the poorest countries on all interest payments is a first step, but this call should be extended to all low and middle-income countries. The IMF should also extend its recent offer to Argentina to facilitate debt restructuring negotiations to more countries. Creditors should contribute to debt relief and forgiveness.
• Issuing additional IMF Special Drawing Rights (SDR) and extending swap lines: the IMF has urged the G-20 to work together to boost global liquidity through a sizable SDR allocation. Experts have called for at least US$ 500 billion to be provided, combined with coordinated capital controls. This would expand the availability of IMF resources and alleviate pressure on the currencies of low- and middle-income countries.
• Directing G20 financial support to the Global South: the G20 leaders’ recent US$ 5 trillion pledge to fight COVID-19 should be directed to massively boosting health infrastructure and ensuring that vaccines and treatments are widely available as soon as possible, as the OECD Secretary General has advised.
• Contributing to the UN multi-donor fund: the Norwegian government has proposed a fund, similar to the Ebola response fund, to better equip the UN in assisting developing countries fight COVID-19.
• Refraining from defensive trade and intellectual property measures and eliminating restrictions on the use of health technologies in the Global South: the Costa Rican government has asked the World Health Organization to create an intellectual property pool for sharing patents to develop COVID-19 drugs, vaccines and diagnostics.
• Enabling low and middle income countries to adopt emergency tax measures: OECD guidelines should be complemented with assistance on expanding fiscal space in equalizing ways, including digital economy taxation and wealth taxation, as well as reviewing unnecessary tax incentives. Countries must exclude tax avoiders from bailout benefits and accelerate long-overdue reforms on corporate taxation to tackle tax abuse.
Beyond immediate relief, international cooperation must also include ambitious measures for transforming the global economy. The COVID-19 crisis has given renewed urgency to international cooperation on key rights-advancing initiatives.
In particular, the need for prolonged stimulus is an opportunity to accelerate the transition to sustainable economies by advancing a Global Green New Deal. This would reduce the vulnerability of low- and middle-income countries to shocks due to heavy reliance on commodities and help diversify production.
As we learned from the Global Financial Crisis, moments of economic disruption can present a rare opportunity to tackle the status quo. But, they are often used by those with vested interests to entrench it. This time around, we must hold governments and international institutions accountable for the kind of recovery they pursue: either a just recovery that tackles the disparities the crisis has made manifest—within and between countries—or a “just-about” recovery that merely papers over the cracks.
Mar. 2020
The G20 must put human rights and the public interest at the heart of its response to COVID-19 - Amnesty, Transparency International, Civicus
A joint statement from Amnesty International, CIVICUS and Transparency International - Issued by Transparency International Secretariat
In the COVID-19 outbreak, the global community is facing one of the most challenging crises for decades. As of mid-March 2020 more than 250,000 people have been infected and over 10,000 people have lost their lives. The economic impact is only starting to be felt, and will likely affect the livelihoods of millions worldwide.
This is a global crisis that needs to be addressed with clear, fair, coordinated and concrete measures - measures that the G20 can and should implement.
The policy response to the previous global financial crisis a little over a decade ago was widely seen to have been lopsided and to have led to socially unfair outcomes, including increasing poverty, the loss of millions of jobs, and stagnating or dropping incomes for workers.
Economic and social rights
The indications are that the coming economic downturn will be even swifter and more severe than in the previous crisis. In addition to dealing with the public health crisis, a decisive policy response from governments will be essential to provide social security – including sick pay, health care and parental leave – to all members of society, including those in insecure forms of labour who are suffering the brunt of many of the control measures introduced to date.
Coordinated international cooperation and assistance is also vital to ensure that states with fewer resources are also able to respond effectively to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In this context, we welcome the announcement of a G20 extraordinary virtual Summit and urge G20 leaders to urgently adopt and implement concrete and measurable policies and plans in order to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic at home and abroad, protect people’s health, and reduce its economic impacts, while ensuring a just and human rights-centred transition to a zero-carbon economy.
Such measures must guarantee access for all to preventive care and good quality and affordable treatment, including those most at risk or less able to implement preventive measures through poverty, homelessness, or living and working in environments where they are more exposed to the virus. In doing so, G20 Leaders should guarantee:
Access to information
All affected individuals and communities are entitled to easy, accessible, timely and meaningful information concerning the nature and level of the health threat, possible measures to mitigate risks, early warning information of possible future consequences and information on ongoing response efforts.
Information should be available in the languages necessary to meet the various needs of those affected, and through media and in formats that can be easily understood and accessed, so that those affected can take informed decisions and fully participate in the response efforts.
As has already been recognized by the G7, public access to reliable and real-time information is key to prevent and mitigate public health crises. G20 leaders should commit to real-time information sharing and to publish gender-disaggregated data on how the virus is impacting women, and ensure access to protection from domestic violence and to sexual and reproductive health services.
Civic space and media freedom
Both the human rights of individuals and media freedom are essential in times of crisis. Responsible journalism can help arrest the spread of misinformation and thereby shore up public trust in government, which is key to effective crisis responses. Input and oversight by civil society organizations is also critical, both to strengthen overall accountability and to boost the quality and inclusiveness of public decision-making.
We are already seeing international battles for control of the narrative around the virus, in particular between the world’s two largest national economies - the USA and China. Such attempts to “compete” over the truth have to stop.
It is vital that the media, domestic and foreign, are able to report freely on the crisis, to present the public with facts – even if these facts are uncomfortable to those in power. For lessons to be learned from this crisis and applied to the prevention and mitigation of the next, the public must remain informed of the truth throughout.
Transparency around decision-making
In an environment of unprecedented pressure and uncertainty, there is a high risk that public decisions will be captured or distorted by vested private interests for their own gain. Governments must provide reasoned justification for the choices they make, both to contain the pandemic and to boost their economies. A public health emergency should not be taken as an opportunity to bypass accountability.
Now, more than ever, government decisions must be “open by default”. As the Council of Europe has affirmed, “fundamental safeguards to the rule of law, parliamentary oversight, independent judicial control, and effective domestic remedies, must be maintained even during a state of emergency.”
Already before the current crisis, it was clear that governments must strengthen checks and balances, limit the influence of big money in politics and ensure inclusive and broad input in political decision-making. Public policies and the allocation of resources should not be determined by economic power or political influence, but by fair consultation and impartial budget allocation.
That is why governments must urgently tackle the channels through which private interests can gain undue leverage over public decision-making.
Over the years, G20 countries have committed to put in place a wide range of policies, from tackling conflicts of interest to protecting whistleblowers. What they have not yet done is adequately implement these in practice.
If implemented in an effective and complementary way, existing commitments can address many aspects of the challenge that undue influence will pose to an effective and sustainable long-term response to the current crisis.
In addition, parliaments, governments and international organizations should postpone any ongoing non-emergency related measures that require public consultation, until they have put in place effective alternative measures to ensure public participation in the decision-making process.
Furthermore, to avoid abuses of power, any state of emergency declared by national governments should be limited in duration and scope, and emergency powers should be exercised only for the purposes for which they were granted.
We call on all governments and other actors involved to ensure that all responses to the COVID-19 outbreak are in compliance with international human rights law and standards, taking into account the specific needs of marginalized groups and people and those most at risk, and that the specific human rights risks associated with any particular response are addressed and mitigated.

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