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Urgent action needed to heighten resilience and protect people's rights
by OHCHR, UN Human Rights Council, agencies
8:34am 13th Aug, 2020
Sep. 2020
45th session of the Human Rights Council, update on the human rights impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner to Human Rights:
The world has rarely experienced a simultaneous, global shock as complex as COVID-19. No country has been spared, yet the pandemic's medical, social and economic consequences vary widely. I am convinced that for countries across the income spectrum, human rights-based policies can help to shift these impacts from devastating, to manageable; and contribute to a recovery with better protection and greater resilience.
Although COVID-19 continues to spread, temporary furlough arrangements and other income-support measures are coming to an end in several States, as they struggle to re-open schools, training programmes, and entire sectors of the economy.
But while some countries seem to be emerging out of at least the first stage of the pandemic, ready to begin building back, others have been far worse hit – and their prospects for recovery are not the same. A number are living through something like a second wave.
A number of States were able to count on adaptable human rights based systems for key services, such as healthcare and social protections. I cannot overstate the importance of these pre-existing systems for the delivery of fundamental rights, shielding people from the worst impacts of temporary crises; and helping them get back on their feet.
To learn from what went right, we must look at what went wrong. Today’s multifaceted crisis has unmasked the strong link between race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and health outcomes.
Pre-existing inequalities should be contextualized within historical, political, social and economic spaces, and be effectively addressed to build back better with equality and quality.
In today’s context, social protection represents a critical tool for facilitating access to health care, protecting people against poverty and ensuring the satisfaction of basic economic and social rights. In 2017, ILO showed that a universal social protection scheme that includes allowances for all children; maternity benefits for all women with newborns; benefits for all persons with severe disabilities; and universal old-age pensions will cost an average 1.6 per cent of a developing country's GDP.
The facts are clear, and lives – everywhere – are on the line. States should be encouraged and assisted to provide universal systems to deliver quality healthcare and social protection to all.
International cooperation and support can be extended to facilitate the expansion of fiscal space for States, by extending stimulus packages to save lives and livelihoods.
This is building capacity at the national level, to enable countries to build back by financing their healthcare and social protection systems with public funds.
Fiscal space can be further expanded by pursuing progressive taxation and ruling out austerity policies and privatization of public services.
Women are being severely impacted by this crisis. Earlier this month, a study by UNWOMEN and UNDP estimated that by 2021, around 435 million women and girls will be living on less than US$1.90 a day — including 47 million who have been pushed into poverty by COVID-19.
According to the report, differences in vulnerability to the socio-economic consequences of the pandemic could mean that next year, there will be 118 women in poverty for every 100 men. The very sharp rise in domestic violence which has been reported across every region is also profoundly alarming.
No country has been spared the blows of this pandemic. And as the Secretary-General has noted, "at a time when we desperately need to leap ahead, COVID-19 could set us back years, and even decades".
There is an enormous range of work ahead, and much of it will rest on global solidarity and cooperation. We all share an interest in ensuring that everyone has access to a safe and affordable vaccine, universal health coverage, social protection and other fundamental rights.
To date, some States have demonstrated deep mistrust of their people – repressing criticism, limiting freedom of information and cracking down on the civic space. These and other human rights violations have undermined public health, as well as human rights and the prospect of a strong and sustainable recovery.
As we have learned from experience in many other viral epidemics – from HIV to Zika and Ebola – measures to support and promote human rights make for much more effective policies for public health. They are also the most powerful drivers of peace, security, social stability, healthy environment and the continuation of sustainable development.
Sep. 2020
A rights-based approach to social protection in the post-COVID-19 economic recovery, report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty:
As the world faces the deepest economic recession since the 1929 Great Depression, social protection is again on the top of the international agenda, years after the adoption in 2012 of Recommendation No.202 on National Social Protection Floors within the International Labour Organization. As countries rush to issue cash transfers, unemployment benefits, and in-kind support for their citizens, the Special Rapporteur assesses the responses governments are providing, examines the global state of public services and human rights before the pandemic, and reflects on the challenges that lie ahead.
In this report, submitted in response to resolution 44/13 of the Human Rights Council, the Special Rapporteur argues that the world was ill-equipped to deal with the socioeconomic impacts of this pandemic because it never recovered from the austerity measures imposed in the aftermath of the global financial crisis of 2008-2011. The legacy of austerity measures is severely underfunded public healthcare systems, undervalued and precarious care work, sustained declines in global labour income shares, and high inequality rates coupled with average decreases in statutory corporate tax rates. With public services in dire straits, one-off cash transfers are a drop in the bucket for people living in poverty, whether in developed, developing, or least developed countries.
Maladapted, short-term, reactive, and inattentive to the realities of people in poverty, the new wave of social protection hype must hold up to human rights scrutiny. This report identifies eight challenges that must be addressed in order to bring social protection in line with human rights standards.
In total, over 1,400 social protection measures have been adopted by 208 jurisdictions to cushion the shock. While a remarkable number in itself, the intended beneficiaries of these schemes must often face systemic obstacle courses to access them. Many of the programs are short-term, temporary measures, that either are being phased out, or can only be renewed through parliamentary processes with uncertain outcomes.
Many provide allowances that are grossly insufficient to guarantee an adequate standard of living. Although some schemes have been designed to cover workers in the informal sector and in precarious forms of employment (respectively 1.6 billion and 0.4 billion worldwide, both categories representing 61.2% of the global workforce), many are inattentive to the realities of the different groups that make up this category of workers.
Migrants, especially undocumented migrants, often are not covered. Indigenous Peoples, despite being overrepresented among people in poverty, remain invisible to public databases and face distinct obstacles in accessing benefits.
Many schemes are not gender-sensitive because they do not take into account the fact that women are overrepresented among part-time workers and workers in precarious employment, as well as among workers with an interrupted career, and that women shoulder the burden when schools close or when the healthcare sector is overwhelmed.
Many schemes also require forms to be completed online, which de facto excludes large groups of the population who have no internet access or have little digital literacy. Finally, although transparency and participation should ensure that schemes are designed and implemented effectively and reach those who are most in need of support, and although access to independent claims mechanism are essential to reduce the risks of exclusion, these human rights principles have almost systematically been disregarded in the name of expediency.
In sum, impressive though the reaction has been considering the number of measures adopted, States have been taken off-guard. Now is the time to rebuild.
The international community must prove that it learned from the mistakes of the 2008-2011 global financial crisis to avoid ending up more fragile than when it started. Equitable financing, one of the main themes of the Call to Action of the Global Partnership for Universal Social Protection (USP2030), should therefore be at the heart of States’ answer to this crisis in order to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past: this is essential to ensure “universality of protection, based on social solidarity,” as pledged in the Social Protection Floors Recommendation No. 202.
Fiscal support to emissions-intensive firms contributing to climate change must also be conditional on clear plans for a transition towards zero emissions. The design and implementation of social protection policies, and any conditionalities attached to allowances, must be transparent, consider the voices of people in poverty, and include oversight mechanisms that allow populations to hold their governments to account.
Building social protection systems on the basis of human rights can significantly contribute to their effectiveness in eradicating poverty and in reducing inequalities, thus improving resilience of societies in the face of shocks.
This means defining social protection neither as an emergency response to a situation of crisis, nor as charity – but rather as a set of permanent entitlements prescribed by domestic legislation, defining individuals as rights-holders, and guaranteeing them access to independent claims mechanisms if they are denied the benefits for which they qualify.
Both the mobilization of domestic resources and international solidarity should be placed in the service of this objective.
* The Right to a Healthy Environment - An appeal to the UN Human Rights Council to recognize without delay the right of all to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment was shared with all member states ahead of HRC45. The appeal, entitled “The Time Is Now“, was signed by more than 850 organizations from civil society, social, environmental, youth, gender equality and human rights movements, trade unions, Indigenous Peoples, and local communities, from more than 100 countries.
The planetary crises of climate, biodiversity loss and the COVID-19 pandemic show us the devastating costs of the way we have treated our common home, our planet. As claimed around the world, the post-COVID recovery must be a green recovery, with the human right to a healthy natural environment, already widely acknowledged at the national and regional levels (in 156 out of 193 of the UN Member States), at its core. By filling this gap in international human rights law, this recognition will highlight that human rights have to be guaranteed and effective in the face of environmental challenges:
Sep. 2020
COVID-19 risks pushing millions of children, women and men into contemporary forms of slavery and other forms of exploitation unless governments act now to protect them, a UN human rights expert warned today.
“Historical levels of underemployment or unemployment, loss of livelihoods and uncertain economic perspectives are some of the complex consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic which have hit the most vulnerable hardest,” said Tomoya Obokata, special rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, as he presented his report to the 45th session of the Human Rights Council.
“Combined with weak safety nets and a dismantling of labour rights and social protection regulations in some countries, there is an acute risk that the poorest will be pushed into bonded labour, forced labour or other contemporary forms of slavery for survival, he said.
“States may see dismantling labour rights as a quick fix in light of increasing pressure on businesses as a consequence of the global economic recession,” Obokata said. “In the long term, however, these same States will pay a high price for removing people’s protection and dignity at work.”
He particularly called for accountability for businesses that exploit vulnerable workers producing, processing and providing medicine, medical equipment or Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) during the pandemic.
“Labour rights must be upheld and social protection ensured across all economic sectors,” he said. “States must ensure that in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, no one is left behind and pushed into slavery-like practices.”
* The Special Rapporteur received multiple submissions raising concerns about the worsening situation of people who were already in situations of or at risk of contemporary forms of slavery before the outbreak. The experiences outlined in the report do not represent the full spectrum of the existing and evolving risks in the context of COVID-19. However, they provide information about trends that can inform further data-collection strategies and policy responses.
Informal workers:
The socioeconomic impact of the outbreak will be much harsher for the 2 billion people in the informal economy, constituting 62 per cent ofthe global workforce.
Their employment relationships are more easily broken and the safety nets available to them are fewer and weaker than those available to people in the formal economy.
Informal workers have no access to paid or sick leave entitlements, and are less protected by conventional social protection mechanisms and other forms of income support.
This concerns day labourers and temporary, non-contracted and own-account workers, including those in the so-called gig economy, promoted by digital labour platforms which employ, for example, taxi drivers and delivery workers.
Based on estimates by ILO, almost 1.6 billion informal economy workers have suffered massive damage to their capacity to earn a living due to lockdown measures and/or because they work in the hardest-hit sectors.
Furthermore, it is estimated that around 70 per cent of gig workers, many of whom quit their jobs due to a lack of demand or to protect their own safety, now have no income.
In the absence of alternative choices, informal economy workers are more likely than before the outbreak to accept abusive and exploitative employment and may become tricked into forced labour.
Those living in low-income and middle-income countries will be particularly affected, as informal employment represents 90 per cent of total employment in low-income countries and 67 per cent of total employment in middle-income countries.
More workers will incur debts in order to survive, a trend already observed among informal workers in India and employees of brick kiln factories in Pakistan. As a consequence, the risk of becoming trapped in debt bondage increases.
As more workers are likely to enter the informal economy due to loss of formal employment, these additional workers may compete fora shrinking piece of the informal economy with those already working there. Consequently, incomes and working conditions will gradually deteriorate.
Women: Experiences from previous pandemics show that women often encounter the effects of such crises in different, more negative ways than men.
They tend to be overrepresented in low-paid jobs and the sectors most affected by the crisis. They include those employed in the garment industry, where large numbers from low- and middle-income countries are employed.
In light of the massive layoffs and lack of access to social protection mechanisms, they are in an extremely vulnerable situation.
ILO estimates that nearly three quarters of domestic workers around the world, predominantly women, are at risk of losing their jobs. Many have no access to social security or other safety nets.
In addition to bearing the brunt of massive job losses, women have been increasingly subjected to intimate partner violence and gender-based violence as a result of the lockdown measures.
Domestic violence may also become a push factor, increasing the vulnerability of victims to trafficking in persons and sexual exploitation.
Gender inequalities, discrimination based on race, caste group or other category and stereotypes about suitable forms of employment for women, combined with lack of labour protection laws and policies, perpetuate conditions leading to their exploitation. Furthermore, older women are less likely than men to receive a pension.
Young people aged between 15 and 24 years old will be among the most affected by the longer-term impact of the global recession and unemployment.
More than three quarters of young workers in 2019 were in informal jobs (most notably in Africa and South Asia), which render them vulnerable to economic crises and shocks. In addition to unprecedented job losses, the crisis has disrupted their education and training.
It is estimated that between 42 and 66 million children could fall into extreme poverty, adding to the 386 million children who were already in extreme poverty in 2019.
Temporary school closures, combined with pressure from the sudden loss of livelihoods, ood shortages and breakdown of community safety nets, may result in a permanent end to education for many children and a rise in child labour, including the worst forms of child labour.
Currently, there are 152 million children in work, 72 million of whom are in hazardouswork. ILO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have warned that the crisis is expected to push millions more into child labour.
Indeed, an increasing number of children are reportedly working on farms and/or selling vegetables or fruit in the streets. Once they enter the workforce, it becomes difficult to incentivize them and their parents to return when schools reopen.
The rising number of children in street situations is yet another reflection of the pandemic. Reports from some countries indicate their increasing engagement in street begging due to loss of livelihoods, family violence or sexual exploitation. As a result,they are also at higher risk of being exposed to trafficking in persons. In Ghana and Nigeria, more children are seen in street situations and used in criminal activities, such as theft.
Furthermore, the Special Rapporteur is concerned about anecdotal information from Burkina Faso, Mali, Mozambique and the Niger suggesting that the combination of severe economic shocks, food shortages, school closures and deteriorating security situations creates fertile ground for the forced recruitment of children by armed groups.
Children from marginalized minority groups, child migrants, children with disabilities, children who are homeless or from single or child-headed households or disaster-affected areas are more at risk of child labour and other forms of exploitation and abuse.
* Access the full report:
17. Aug 2020
A record number of attacks on aid workers, by Jan Egeland - Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC)
"From Syria to South Sudan, record numbers of our colleagues in conflict zones across the globe are under attack. We serve the world’s most vulnerable people with food, water and shelter, yet we are increasingly in the line of fire for trying to save lives.
"We cannot do our jobs when we risk being bombed, murdered or kidnapped.
"International humanitarian law must be upheld and respected, not flouted by warring parties that opt in and out at will. Those who attack us are not operating in a vacuum. They receive arms, funding and logistics from all over the world. Regional economic, political and military actors can help end the impunity.
"Today’s new reality of the coronavirus makes delivering aid even more dangerous. With a silent killer on the loose and restrictions on our movements to communities in need; we need diplomats, military, religious and political leaders to do more to protect our field workers from armed violence. They are not a target."
* According to Humanitarian Outcomes’ Aid Worker Security Database, major attacks against humanitarians last year surpassed all previous years on record. A total of 483 relief workers were attacked, 125 killed, 234 wounded and 124 kidnapped in 277 separate incidents.

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