Human Rights Day: Standing up for human rights as we recover from COVID-19

10 December 2020
By Rebecca Hilsenrath, Chief Executive of the GB Equality and Human Rights Commission

Human Rights Day, this year, has come at a time when the core values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are, across the globe, in the spotlight. This day marks a time to reflect on a moment when after great adversity, people from vastly different backgrounds came together to reimagine a better world; a world where human rights are embedded in society.

72 years on, we face a global crisis that has exposed, and at times amplified, persisting inequality, exclusion and discrimination.

National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) around the Commonwealth have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by standing up to protect those who are worst affected by inequality and discrimination, and by shining a light on the issues that arise when human rights are overlooked or deprioritised through emergency legislation and decision-making. For example, the Nigerian National Human Rights Commission swiftly set up a free call centre dedicated to supporting and providing access to justice for survivors of sexual and gender based violence, in response to increasing reports of domestic violence between March and June this year.

In order to respond quickly to the COVID-19 pandemic, NHRIs have adapted to working in a more agile and responsive way. The value of technology to enable us to continue our work, stay connected with each other and the people we serve, and to facilitate important regional and global meetings on human rights cannot be overstated. It also enables the Commonwealth Forum of NHRIs to stay in touch and bridge the geographical distance that separates us.

It’s easy to assume that technology has been a life-raft for everyone during this time. After all, many of us have continued to work from home, educate children from home and receive information about health protocols and the pandemic response from home. However, for those facing barriers to connectivity, whether because of age, disability, language, economic or social factors, this accelerating digital shift risks leaving many people, and the organisations who support them, further behind.

NHRIs can help to close gaps in equality across all aspects of life by supporting governments, advocates, businesses and all individuals to engage with human rights and mainstream equality considerations as we rebuild. The New Zealand Human Rights Commission called for a COVID-19 response that puts human rights and Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the founding treaty of New Zealand, at the heart of decision and policy-making; and in Rwanda, the National Commission for Human Rights is monitoring the rights of those in detention by ensuring they have appropriate access to healthcare and PPE.

The CFNHRI brings together the work of institutions that are responding to the full range of human rights issues in the context of COVID-19, as well as facing challenges that are unique to their regional and national contexts. Through collaboration in our network, we’re working to ensure that the human rights of all 2.4 billion Commonwealth citizens are respected, protected, and enjoyed.

By drawing on the expertise of our membership, we aim to influence decision-making and place human rights at the heart of the Commonwealth’s approach to recovery. Learn more about how our members are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many of our members have zeroed-in on the profound effects that this pandemic has had on disabled people around the world. From access to healthcare and information, to attitudinal bias and discrimination in the changing workplace, the impact of COVID-19 can be seen in every aspect of life, particularly for those disabled people who also face barriers because of their race, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity.

The CFNHRI will be producing a report on how NHRIs have addressed the rights of disabled people throughout the pandemic. The aim of the report is to build a clearer picture of the effect of the pandemic on disabled people’s rights across the Commonwealth, to inform best practice to strengthen and progress these rights as we recover. For more information about this project, or to share your institution’s work in this area, send us an email.

The effects of the pandemic will continue to change the way we work, and the way we live, around the globe. We must think critically about the future, our shared humanity and place human rights at the centre of the post-COVID world.

Scroll to top of the content