COVID-19 Special Coverage
UN human rights official urges States to put human rights first as COVID-19 spreads
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UN human rights official urges States to put human rights first as COVID-19 spreads

On Friday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet suggested that international authorities put human rights “front and centre” while combating the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. As the virus spreads, Bachelet called attention to the negative impact that containment efforts may have on peoples’ lives, noting that “people who are already barely surviving economically, may all too easily be pushed over the edge by measures being adopted to contain the virus.”

Bachelet, a former medical doctor, further described a “balancing act” between aggressively responding to COVID-19 and protecting those most economically and medically vulnerable in society. Among other human rights disruptions, the virus will likely cause lost wages, either from self-isolation or childcare for schools that have closed. For the economically disadvantaged, lost pay or a lost job can have far-reaching negative consequences.

Bachelet recognized that States are in “uncharted territory” with very little precedent to guide their response to COVID-19. She called for international solidarity and allocation of funds to social protection. Bachelet also addressed the rising issue of xenophobia nationwide, urging international authorities to address these incidents and ensure that all people have access to treatment.