Posts Tagged ‘pandemic’

Virtual Human Rights Council adopts President’s statement on implications of COVID-19

May 30, 2020

On 29 May 2020 the UN Human Rights Council adopted a decision appealing to States to ensure human rights were at the front and centre of national responses to the pandemic and not side-lined while contending with the multiple ill effects of the virus on their societies.

Today’s decision is a profound reminder of the far-reaching effects of this deadly virus on all aspects of our livelihoods and our rights which we cannot take for granted”, stated Council President Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger. “We are all in this together, and we must act together with a sense of purpose if we are going to achieve our common agenda to promote and protect human rights around the globe”, she added.

The President’s Statement, presented by Ambassador Tichy-Fisslberger, and adopted by the 47 member States of the human rights body by silence procedure, “calls upon States to ensure that all human rights are respected, protected and fulfilled while combatting the pandemic and that their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic are in full compliance with their human rights obligations and commitments”.

The adopted statement also calls on High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to produce a report on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the enjoyment of human rights around the world, including highlighting good practices and areas of concern, to be presented at the 46th session of the Human Rights Council scheduled to take place in February/March 2021. [One is to hope that it will include a hard look at the fragmentation of Covid-19 relate policy statements, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/27/proliferation-of-human-rights-bodies-guidance-on-covid-19/]

States also invited the High Commissioner to present an oral update on the human rights impact of COVID-19 at the 44th session of the Council which is still scheduled to start on 22 June, which is expected to set the tone for similar statements addressing the multiple human rights angles of the virus during the planned three-week meeting. Since suspending its 43rd session on 13 March due to coronavirus restrictions, the Human Rights Council has been conducting its business in a virtual manner holding regular Bureau meetings, with States and NGOs, and three “virtual informal conversations”, including with the High Commissioner and Special Procedures who have issued more than 90 press releases and statements addressing COVID-19.

https://reliefweb.int/report/world/human-rights-council-adopts-president-s-statement-human-rights-implications-covid-19

4 June 2020 Webinar on business and human rights in the context of COVID-19

May 27, 2020

Having just posted a report on the prolifiration of intergovernmental responses to the Corona virus pandemic [https://wp.me/pQKto-4ob], it perhaps good to point to the webinar that Business & human rights is organising on 4 June 2020 on Risks and Protection of Human Rights Defenders.

This webinar will have a focus on the risks and protection of HRDs, particularly labour rights and land/environmental defenders and ensuring their participation in the post-pandemic recovery.

Date & Time: 4 June, 4.15 – 5.15 (ICT) / 10.15 – 11.15 (BST)

It will have two parts: a closed and an open session. The closed session – happening on Jitsi – will be a safe space for civil society organisations, human rights defenders, including labour rights and land and environmental defenders, labour unions, and journalists to jointly define practical recommendations on what governments and companies can do to address human rights situation, particularly of labour, land, environmental defenders and civic freedoms, in the context of COVID-19. This part of the webinar is invite-only.

The second part – happening on Zoom – will be an open session, will be an opportunity for civil society, defenders, and journalists to interact with government and business representatives and discuss how companies, governments and civil society can work together to ensure all stakeholders are able to shape recovery efforts, and make sure they are human rights compliant. Anyone is free to join us in the public session by RSVP-ing below.

Proliferation of Human Rights Bodies’ Guidance on COVID-19

May 27, 2020

On 22 May 2020 in “Just Security” [see: https://www.justsecurity.org/about-us/) published a post ” Mapping the Proliferation of Human Rights Bodies’ Guidance on COVID-19 Mitigation “. It is in some ways rather critical of the response by intergovernmental bodies in the human rights area when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic. It starts by pointing out that they have collectively put out more than 150 statements on respecting human rights during the pandemic since late February. ..To help those interested in keeping track of the many statements, the International Justice Resource Center (IJRC) has published a webpage – COVID-19 Guidance from Supranational Human Rights Bodies – listing and linking to all relevant press releases and other guidance. This article serves to provide an overview of – and initial response to – the nature, scope, and sources of human rights advice available to States in the context of the pandemic. Having myself contributed with my blog to the proliferation of policy repsonse by NGOs and IGOs, I feel that this piece deserves full citation:

Read the rest of this entry »

17 May was International Day against Homophobia: COVID-19 makes things worse

May 18, 2020

The commemoration on 17 May comes as the world continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic which has increased the vulnerability of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people. On the eve of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOBIT) a large group of United Nations and international human rights experts (for names see the link below) call on States and other stakeholders to urgently take into account the impact of COVID-19 on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and gender diverse (LGBT) persons when designing, implementing and evaluating the measures to combat the pandemic.

…..
COVID-19, and the measures taken to address it, exacerbate inequalities and discrimination. The existence of criminalization laws, for example, makes LGBT persons more vulnerable to police abuse and arbitrary arrest and detention in the context of movement restrictions and curfews. While contributing to the fight against the pandemic by staying at home, LGBT children, youths and elders are forced to endure prolonged exposure to unaccepting family members, which exacerbates rates of domestic violence and physical and emotional abuse, as well as damage to mental health. In many jurisdictions, LGBT persons, particularly those most impoverished or without proper documentation, rely overwhelmingly on informal economies made impossible by COVID-19 restrictions. The socio-economic consequences of the pandemic and the loss of income might also increase the vulnerabilities of LGBT persons to human trafficking and sexual exploitation. The reallocation of health resources has also created or exacerbated shortages of antiretrovirals for those living with HIV, while also impacting the ability of trans men and women to receive hormonal therapy or gender-affirming care. Gender-based curfew laws and policies have reportedly condemned gender-diverse persons to permanent seclusion while making trans individuals targets for humiliation and violence when going out.  

The pandemic has also created a context conducive to increased persecution. Some States have enacted measures which intentionally target LGBT persons under the guise of public health, including proposing legislation to deny transgender and gender diverse persons of their legal recognition. Hate speech explicitly or implicitly inciting violence against LGBT persons has been on the rise, including discourse by prominent political or religious leaders blaming the pandemic on the existence of LGBT persons in the community. Surveillance and other digital technologies enacted to track COVID-19 carriers increase risks of infringing privacy and exacerbating stigma.

………We therefore urge States and other stakeholders, on the eve of this 17 May 2020 and in times of COVID-19, to give visibility to and protect LGBT persons in the context of the pandemic. We call on States to pursue all means necessary – including conducting research, adopting legislation, public policy, and ensuring access to justice mechanisms – to ensure that this public health emergency will neither exacerbate existing misconceptions, prejudices, inequalities or structural barriers, nor lead to increased violence and discrimination against persons with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. We urge all stakeholders, particularly States, to urgently implement lines of action designed to sustain and ensure the continuity of the work of civil society and human rights defenders – the capacities existing within this sector must not be put in peril. And, to effectively meet these objectives, we urge States to engage with LGBT persons, organizations and communities in the design, implementation and evaluation of the measures adopted to respond to the pandemic.The history of LGBT persons, like others subjected to discrimination and violence, has been one of suffering, endurance and hope – a vital struggle for freedom and equality in the face of singular adversity. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we call upon State authorities to listen to the particular concerns of LGBT persons, respect their expertise over their own lives and communities, and accept their solidarity in the construction of new realities of freedom and equality for humankind. 

Already facing bias, attacks and murder simply for who they are or whom they love, many LGBTI people are experiencing heightened stigma as a result of the virus, as well as new obstacles when seeking health care,” added UN SG Guterres. There are also reports of COVID-19 directives being misused by police to target LGBTI individuals and organizations.”

“LGBTI people are often exposed to additional stigma, discrimination and violence, including when seeking medical services – and perhaps saddest of all, within their own families during lock-downs. They are also in some places being treated as scapegoats for the spread of the virus,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet said. Referencing the theme for the international day, Ms. Bachelet urged everyone to stand up against hate and ‘break the silence’ surrounding the discrimination and violence suffered by LGBTI people.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/05/21/nine-things-everyone-needs-to-know-about-international-lgbti-rights/

https://www.coe.int/en/web/commissioner/-/covid-19-the-suffering-and-resilience-of-lgbt-persons-must-be-visible-and-inform-the-actions-of-states

https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/05/1064232

Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in Africa issues press statement

May 13, 2020

African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

On 1 May 2020 the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and Focal Point on Reprisals in Africa, Rémy Ngoy Lumbu, expresses concern following reports of reprisals against human rights defenders and civil society in Africa and the adverse effects that national responses of States Parties to combat the COVID-19 pandemic have on their work. [please note that Africa has a regional rapporteur, not to be confused with the UN Secial Rapporteur on HRDs, Mary Lawlor (https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/07/mary-lawlor-takes-up-post-as-un-special-rapporteur-for-human-rights-defenders/)]:

In the context of this COVID-19 global pandemic, the role of human rights defenders has become ever more important to safeguard the fundamental human rights enshrined in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter). The Rapporteur notes, in particular, serious violations of the freedom of assembly and association, as enshrined in the African Charter and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

The Rapporteur deplores the fact that, notwithstanding the press releases of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights of 17 and 24 March 2020 encouraging States to ensure compliance with the provisions of the African Charter and advocating for effective and human rights-based responses to curb the spread of the COVID-19  pandemic in Africa, several human rights defenders continue to be detained in overcrowded or unsanitary prisons and other detention centres without being charged, and this makes them especially vulnerable to COVID-19 infection.

The Special Rapporteur stresses the obligation of States Parties to ensure that measures adopted within the framework of COVID-19 national responses are not used as an opportunity to discriminate against, stigmatize or target particular individuals or groups, including civil society organizations and human rights defenders.

The Special Rapporteur would like to remind that efforts deployed by States Parties to curb the spread of COVID-19 in their respective territories should not result in the silencing of human rights defenders and should comply with the provisions of the African Charter. The Special Rapporteur would also like to call on human rights defenders to continue, with determination, their activities to promote and protect human rights in compliance with the laws and regulations adopted in the context of this global threat.

The Special Rapporteur urges States Parties to:

  1. Ensure that national responses to the COVID-19 pandemic do not lead to the targeting or undue interference with the work of human rights defenders;
  2. Refrain from using COVID-19 related emergency declarations to justify the adoption of repressive measures against specific groups such as human rights defenders;
  3. Also refrain from adopting measures that restrict civic space and contribute to creating a hostile environment for human rights defenders;
  4. Ensure that human rights defenders can communicate freely without fear of reprisal;
  5. Take all necessary measures enabling human rights defenders to conduct their core activities, in particular, those providing support to the most vulnerable populations, while complying with the health measures necessary to combat COVID-19; and
  6. Promptly release human rights defenders detained without charge.

https://www.achpr.org/pressrelease/detail?id=496

European Union on human rights in times of the coronavirus pandemic

May 6, 2020

I did several posts on the policy response of NGOs and the UN on human rights in the times of the corona virus pandemic [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/covid-19/]. Other intergovernmental bodies have of course also staked out their position. Here the EU through its High Representative, Josep Borrell:

… Respect for all human rights must remain at the heart of fighting the pandemic and supporting the global recovery.

The pandemic and its socio-economic consequences are having a disproportionate impact on the rights of women, children and elderly persons, and on all persons in vulnerable situations, including refugees, migrants, internally displaced persons, and are deepening pre-existing inequalities. Response measures should take account of the needs of those that are most at risk of marginalisation, stigmatisation, xenophobia and racism and other forms of discrimination. Prevention of, and protection from, all forms of sexual and gender-based violence, including through appropriate redress mechanism, and continued access to all essential health services, are particularly important in a time of confinement. All measures and actions taken in response should be inclusive and gender-responsive and ensure the women’s full and effective participation in decision-making processes and in all stages of response and recovery. The heavy impact of the crisis on economic and social rights also needs to be addressed.

The European Union reaffirms the need to pay special attention to the growing impact of the pandemic on all human rights, democracy and the rule of law. In emergency circumstances, international human rights law allows states to limit certain human rights provided that the measures are necessary, proportionate, temporary in nature, and non-discriminatory. The coronavirus pandemic should not be used as a pretext to limit democratic and civic space, the respect of the rule of law and of international commitments, nor to curtail freedom of expression, freedom of the press and access to information online and offline. The measures should not be used to restrict the work of human rights defenders, journalists, media workers and civil society organisations. Digital technologies that have the potential to help contain the pandemic should be used in full respect of human rights including the right to privacy.

Protecting the right of everyone to the highest attainable standard of health requires access to reliable information. People must be empowered to protect their own health and those of others. Misleading or false information can put lives in danger. It is therefore crucial to resolutely counter disinformation with transparent, timely and fact-based communication and thus reinforce the resilience of societies.

The European Union recognises that the role of civil society and human rights defenders is more important than ever to encourage solidarity, support those who are most in need, and defend human rights, fundamental freedoms and democratic space, and to promote accountability.

This is a time for solidarity and global cooperation through multilateral efforts.  The European Union reaffirms its commitment to contribute to the global response to the pandemics. The European Union will promote coordination in all relevant multilateral fora, including working with the UN, WHO, the Council of Europe, the OSCE and other regional organisations. Measures taken at the national level are also of particular importance. The European Union supports the important role of the UN system in mobilising and coordinating the global response to the pandemic with human rights at the forefront. We strongly support the UN Secretary General’s call for an immediate global ceasefire, as well as the call to end gender-based violence, and the work of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and her Office……..

https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2020/05/05/declaration-by-the-high-representative-josep-borrell-on-behalf-of-eu-on-human-rights-in-the-times-of-the-coronavirus-pandemic/

World Press Freedom Day 2020 – a few more links

May 4, 2020

Yesterday’s post [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/03/world-press-freedom-day-2020-a-small-selection-of-cases/ ] is already in need of updating. Here a few more examples of what happened on World Press Freedom Day:

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Reporters Without Borders (RSF) published exclusive interviews by Philippine journalist Maria Ressa with Washington Post columnist Rana Ayyub, whistleblower Edward Snowden, Nobel economy laureate Joseph Stiglitz and RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire on the subject of “Journalism in crisis: a decisive decade.”
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Deutsche Welle’s Freedom of Speech Award honors journalists persecuted for coronavirus reporting

Deutsche Welle is presenting journalists from four continents with this year’s Freedom of Speech Award for their coverage of the coronavirus crisis. The recipients are being honored on behalf of all media professionals around the world who are publishing independent information about the coronavirus pandemic while working under difficult conditions. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/06/10/dw-freedom-of-speech-award-goes-to-turkish-%e2%80%b2hurriyet%e2%80%b2-journalist-sedat-ergin/#more-8152]

At a moment of a global health emergency, journalism serves a crucial function, and each journalist bears great responsibility,” DW Director General Peter Limbourg said while announcing the award winners in Berlin. “Citizens of any country have the right of access to fact-based information and critical findings,” he said. “Any form of censorship may result in casualties and any attempts to criminalize coverage of the current situation clearly violate the freedom of expression.” For a list of this year’s laureates, see: https://www.dw.com/en/deutsche-welle-freedom-of-speech-award-17-laureates-from-14-countries/a-53306033

Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said in a video message to the journalists honored that the general public needs “full and accurate information about the pandemic, and to be involved in the decisions that are being made on our behalf.” The International Press Institute documented more than 150 violations of press freedom worldwide through the end of April. The IPI has tracked cases of censorship and restrictions on access to information — but the greatest number of violations of press freedom have been arrests of journalists and verbal or physical attacks on them. (https://www.dw.com/en/un-commissioner-michelle-bachelet-honors-journalists/av-53297637)

——

SNHROn the occasion of World Press Day, the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) issued a report demanding the release of 422 citizen journalists in Syria, most of whom are detained by the Syrian regime, and are now threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic. The report notes that 707 citizen journalists have been killed since March 2011 to date, 78% of them by Syrian Regime forces. The 20-page report shows how the Syrian regime has been well aware of the danger posed by press freedom to its tyrannical rule for decades, abolishing all independent newspapers, and allowing only three official newspapers to be published, which are simply Syrian regime mouthpieces, dedicated to promoting, defending and justifying the regime’s actions. As the report further notes, it’s no exaggeration but simply a statement of fact to say that there is no such thing as a free press under the Syrian regime…..The report distributes the total death toll according to the main parties to the conflict, with the Syrian regime being responsible for the deaths of 551 citizen journalists, including five children, one woman, five foreign journalists, and 47 other citizen journalists due to torture in detention centers, while Russian forces were responsible for the deaths of 22 citizen journalists, and ISIS killed 64, including one child, two women, three foreign journalists, and three under torture. Hay’at Tahrir al Sham also killed eight, including two who died due to torture. Factions of the Armed Opposition were responsible for the deaths of 25 citizen journalists, including one child and three women.

View full Report

 

Coronavirus and human rights: New guidance highlights support for persons with disabilities

May 2, 2020

UNDP Bangladesh/Fahad Kaizer – In Bangladesh, the UN Development Programme and partners have rolled out emergency support to vulnerable communities.

New guidance issued on 30 April 2020 sets out key actions, to counter what the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called the “double risk” faced by persons with disabilities in the COVID-19 pandemic. As Michelle Bachelet explained, not only are people with disabilities at higher risk because of the crisis, they also are disproportionately affected by response measures such as lockdowns. “People with disabilities are in danger in their own homes, where access to day-to-day support and services may be limited due to lockdowns, and some may suffer greatly from being isolated or confined”, she said. “Persons with disabilities face even greater threats in institutions, as care facilities have recorded high fatality rates from COVID-19 and horrific reports have emerged of neglect during the pandemic.”

The UN rights chief added that making information about the virus available in accessible formats is vital. She also expressed concern over discrimination and stigma at this unprecedented time. “I have been deeply disturbed by reports that the lives of persons with disabilities may somehow be given different weight than others during this pandemic”, she said. “Medical decisions need to be based on individualized clinical assessments and medical need, and not on age or other characteristics such as disability.”

The guidance note published by the UN human rights office outlines steps governments and stakeholders can take during the pandemic. They range from discharging persons with disabilities from institutions, to increasing existing disability benefits, and removing barriers to COVID-19 treatment. Prioritizing testing and promoting preventive measures within institutions to reduce infection risk are other recommendations. Additionally, the guidance spotlights promising practices already in place in some countries. For example, in Switzerland and Spain, some persons with disabilities living in institutions were moved out to be at home with their families, while authorities in Canada have issued priority COVID-19 testing guidelines with specific measures for these settings.

https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/04/1062912

UN Special procedures discuss human rights and Covid-19

May 2, 2020

On 30 April 2020 the UN Human Rights Council held a virtual informal conversation on the human rights implications of the COVID-19 crisis with representatives of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures mandate holders.

The special procedures of the Human Rights Council are independent human rights experts with the mandates to report and advise on human rights from a thematic or country-specific perspective. The Coordination Committee, composed of six Special Procedures mandate holders, aims to enhance coordination among mandate holders and to act as a bridge between them, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the broader United Nations human rights framework and civil society.

….Anita Ramasastry, Chairperson of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures, noted that the Coordination Committee had helped create a dedicated COVID-19 web page, which it hoped would become over time a living repository of guidance and advice to States on good practice. The Special Procedures mandate holders had risen to the challenge and through their powerful statements, actions and innovations promoted a human rights-based approach to addressing this crisis, said Ms. Ramasastry. They attempted to help States to ensure that policies and decisions taken during the crisis were consistent with human rights.

Dainius Pûras, Special Rapporteur on the right to health said advances in biomedical sciences were very important to realize the right to health during this pandemic, but equally important were human rights. The way to the effective management of the pandemic was the application of the principles of non-discrimination, participation, empowerment and accountability to all policies. He also stressed the importance of access to reliable and accurate information and the protection of the right to privacy, including in the use of technologies to track the spread of the virus.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers welcomed the guidance provided by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to ensure that States’ responses complied with human rights obligations. They asked what steps had been taken to ensure the lifting of unilateral and illegal coercive measures, which violated human rights. Any measures to counter the pandemic should be necessary and proportionate, pursue legitimate purposes, and comply with international norms. Respect for human rights was vital, not only for the emergency response phase, but also during the post-crisis recovery. Speakers noted that emergency powers had been used to enact repressive measures that may have the effect of silencing dissent. They stressed the importance of upholding economic, social and cultural rights, including issues related to access to housing and food. It was hard to find a more striking example of the interconnectedness of rights than this crisis.

In conclusion, Mr. Pûras said lessons still had to be drawn from this pandemic. However, lots of lessons learned from previous public health crises could be applied today to address the current crisis. The AIDS epidemic, for instance, had shown that a human rights-based approach was most effective. It should also be noted that the current crisis had revealed the weakness of healthcare systems, including in some developed countries, which would have to be addressed.

The webcast of this informal virtual conversation is available on demand on UN Web TV, while summaries of the discussion in English and French can be found on the United Nations Office at Geneva News and Media page.

https://reliefweb.int/report/world/human-rights-council-discusses-human-rights-implications-covid-19-crisis-its-special

COVID and Human Rights: Shifting Priorities also for Companies

April 29, 2020

Foley Hoag LLP - Corporate Social Responsibility

Isa Mirza for Foley Hoag LLP wrote an interesting overview piece with focus on how Corporate Social Responsibility fits in:

The COVID-19 pandemic is one of the most significant global public health crises since the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-20. The spread of the Coronavirus through every continent and major metropolis has led to unprecedented policy responses from governments both large and small. As a result, the human rights community is more closely scrutinizing the impact of these responses, while many company operations are more likely to overlap with the pandemic and evolving government policy in some way. The corollary of this dynamic could be considerable, not just in the near term, but for how rights are to be protected and respected in the future.

Governments Around the World Threaten Rights under Cover of COVID-19

………

Corporate Responses to COVID-19

Companies have also made changes to their operations and policies in response to the pandemic. Many businesses have waived fees and made it easier to obtain a refund, instituted emergency relief and exemptions for borrowers, revised their rules to make them more transparent and flexible, made multi-million dollar donations to support public health efforts, and redirected or repurposed some of their products to help boost the supply of medical equipment.

NGOs and watchdog groups, however, are increasingly concerned about possible situations where companies could be knowingly or inadvertently violating rights as they attempt to sharply attune their operations to COVID-19 and attendant government policies.

Some companies that provide teleconferencing services – a lifeline for families and business during the crisis – have been accused of instituting weak privacy protections and misleading users regarding the quality of their encryption technologies. Concern has also been raised that some social media platforms have been slow in removing hate speech and discriminatory content against groups stereotyped as vectors of the Coronavirus. Under certain conditions, the latter could lead to physical violence against members of populations most vulnerable during the crisis, such as ethnic and religious minorities, healthcare workers in close contact with COVID-19 patients, and individuals under quarantine order.

Corporate Responsibility and How Companies Can Respect Rights During COVID-19

Although companies cannot directly change government policies or be expected to contravene national laws, the current crisis does compel businesses to consider if their operations may be contributing to harmful impacts caused by states and how then they could be meaningfully addressed.

There are well-established international instruments, principles, and best practices that companies can follow when considering how best to respect human rights in the context of COVID-19.

The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (“UNGPs”) set global human rights expectations for companies in the 21st Century. The UNGPs are designed to encompass the full ecosystem in which business enterprises conduct commercial transactions and maintain supply chains. The UNGPs are premised upon three pillars. The first pillar is that governments have a duty to protect human rights. The second pillar is that companies have a responsibility to respect human rights. The third pillar is that both governments and companies must provide a remedy when human rights are violated.

The corporate responsibility to respect human rights is primarily a responsibility to do no harm. This responsibility can be met in two ways. First, a company should avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through its own commercial activities, and should address such impacts when they occur. Second, a company should seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts to which it is directly linked. A business is deemed to be directly linked to a human rights impact when it has ties through its value chain to an entity that has caused an adverse human rights impact.

Companies can largely meet their responsibility to do no harm by reviewing their operations and supply chains to identify human rights risks; conducting human rights due diligence to prevent adverse human rights impacts arising from commercial activities; and mitigating, remedying, or otherwise addressing adverse human rights impacts that nonetheless occur.

Social media platforms, internet providers, teleconference service companies, and other ICT-based enterprises should also consider the standards set forth in the Principles on Freedom of Expression and Privacy of the Global Network Initiative (“GNI Principles”). Premised on international human rights norms, the GNI Principles provide member companies with non-binding standards and guidance for implementing them. Importantly, the GNI Principles state that member companies bear an express responsibility to respect and promote the freedom of expression and privacy rights of their users. In addition, GNI member companies should be able to demonstrate their efforts in this regard. ICT companies that are not GNI members would be best served by seeking to emulate these standards.

Companies can further fulfill their human rights responsibilities by publicly disclosing the steps they are taking to address challenges identified in their due diligence.

In addition to being integral aspects of the UNGPs, due diligence and public disclosure are salient precepts in other human rights standards. For example, The Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights – the only set of standards providing detailed guidance to natural resource companies regarding how to respect human rights in the provision of security at their operations – call on extractives companies to carry out regular due diligence on the potential human rights risks associated with the protection of natural resource assets. In addition, companies that implement the Voluntary Principles are encouraged, where possible, to publically disclose their efforts to address human rights issues that have been found through the due diligence process. Many governments are now also expecting companies to conduct some form of due diligence and commit to public transparency in order to enter into government contracts and partnerships.

In countries and regions where pandemic prevention policies have contributed to credible reports of human rights abuses, companies should be circumspect to ensure their local operations and supply chains are not contributing to those harms. When operational risks related to COVID-19 are determined to be likely, a company should be prepared to conduct targeted due diligence and a review of relevant policies. This could be complemented by public reporting on specific actions the company has taken to acknowledge and remediate COVID-related human rights challenges.

In addition, companies should consider taking the further step of discussing their due diligence efforts and findings with governments, human rights organizations, representatives of workers and vulnerable groups, and – where beneficial to public health planning – with the medical community.

The Coronavirus pandemic has stretched the resources of every institution across the globe. Governments bear primary responsibility for protecting human rights during the crisis, but their responses have also led to abuses. Although it may seem daunting for companies to factor their potential role in such abuses into their existing operations and policies, doing so will place them at the cutting-edge of best practice. It will also strengthen their capacity to adapt and respect rights in the face of future global crises.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/09/policy-response-from-human-rights-ngos-to-covid-19-the-business-and-human-rights-resource-centre/

https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/covid-19-and-global-human-rights-93783/