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Why Covid-19 needs a human rights response

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08 December 2020  |  4 minutes

Why Covid-19 needs a human rights response

Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home -- so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world… Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. These are the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, former US First Lady and Human Rights champion



An aerial drone shot of the city campus

The 10 December marks International Human Rights Day and the 2020 theme is Recover Better - Stand Up for Human Rights with a focus on the Covid-19 pandemic and the need to put human rights at the centre of global responses and recovery.

Human rights are part of international law and moral principles based on dignity, freedom, equality, justice and peace which protect everyone. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) outlines the rights and freedom everyone is entitled too. 2020 marks an extraordinary year in history with a global pandemic that has tested the bounds of many of the underlying principles of human rights.

Greatest public health crisis in a generation

The world is suffering the greatest public health crisis in a generation leading to widescale global challenges, including numerous threats to human rights. During the pandemic we are seeing an increase in gender inequalities, domestic violence, child poverty, unemployment and hate crime directed at scapegoating minority ethnic communities. In addition, access to education, employment, shelter and health have been compromised globally, with the world’s vulnerable communities struggling the most. Covid-19 has further exacerbated their plight. In addition, there is huge concern about how some governments across the world have used the pandemic to impose repressive policies on individuals, limiting freedom of movement and freedom of voice, especially that of human rights defenders. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned: “Against the background of rising ethno-nationalism, populism, authoritarianism and a pushback against human rights in some countries, the crisis can provide a pretext to adopt repressive measures for purposes unrelated to the pandemic… This is unacceptable.” Human rights have to be front and centre in all responses to Covid-19.

The Covid-19 pandemic has seen a diverse range of state responses, many of which have included a range of reactive policies. In addition, the pandemic has illuminated the immense fault lines based on entrenched inequalities, the increasing divide between wealth and poverty, a blame culture like no other and an urgency for collective action to stop the spread. Global solidarity, promotion of human rights and social justice are needed. The perverse cruelty of Covid-19 has led to many violations of human rights at a time when its protection is most needed. In particular, there has been significant concern and call for action about the shadow pandemic seeing the rise of violence against women and girls across the world.

Human rights need to start at home

Human rights need to start at home, which is why I’m so proud that Sheffield Hallam University is based in the UK’s first City of Sanctuary – welcoming asylum seekers and refugees. Sheffield Hallam is also leading the development of the Civic University Network focused on driving positive societal change and increasing universities’ civic impact.

My work has focused on the rights of women in India and helping women and girls who are the victims of violence to access justice. The Justice for Her project has helped to train hundreds of police officers in four Indian states to support victims of violence when they are at their most vulnerable.

International Human Rights Day is a time to reflect and remind the world of the importance and impact that a trans-disciplinary and collective human rights agenda can have in fighting the battle of Covid-19. Innovative, diverse, far-reaching, inclusive and bold action based on the fundamental moral principles of human rights and social justice can transform and win the fight against Covid-19 and the consequential crises that follow.

A human rights agenda that includes human rights defenders, activists, community groups and academics from all walks of life and disciplines can be a powerful force to be reckoned with. From social media campaigns to grassroot activism and protests, the world has seen the power of collective action and a motivated mass. Capturing the lived experience through innovative and dynamic research based on the principles of inclusion, empowerment and equality can inform policy, practice and legal reform. The power of human rights and social justice lies in its trans-disciplinary and inclusive nature.

Never has it been so important for universities to come together and be the advocates of human rights and social justice. Real change and sustainable impact come from bold, dynamic, out of the box and collective initiatives that contribute to the greater aims of human rights: that of equality, peace, security, justice and fairness in all aspects of life.



In this story

Explore the people, themes, departments and research centres behind this story

Press contact

Jo Beattie

Contact the press office

For help with a story or to find an expert

Email: pressoffice@shu.ac.uk
Phone: 01142 252811
Twitter: @shupressoffice

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