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Covid-19 has compromised human rights: UN


Nthatuoa Koeshe

THE Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated poverty, increased inequalities, discrimination and other gaps in the human rights protection system, United Nations (UN) resident coordinator Salvator Niyonzima has said.

Mr Niyonzima said this during the recent commemorations of the International Human Rights Day in Maseru.

International Human Rights Day is celebrated annually on 10 December to commemorate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1948.

This year’s commemorations were held under the theme “Recover Better: Stand up for Human Rights”.

Mr Niyonzima said the theme focuses on the Covid-19 pandemic and the challenges associated with its presence.

“The pandemic has exacerbated poverty, increased inequalities, discrimination and other gaps in the human rights protection system,” Mr Niyonzima said.

“While the world is struggling to overcome the pandemic, there is potential for undermining human rights and leaving others behind.

“This year’s theme emphasises the human rights framework as a cornerstone and integral part to worldwide recovery plans. It is everyone’s responsibility to stand up for those whose human rights are being violated using the pandemic as an excuse.”

He said it was no coincidence that Human Rights Day marks the end of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence (GBV). This is because GBV is a human rights violation.

“Therefore, Human Rights Day was commemorated by raising alarm and awareness on both potential and actual abuses and discrimination of those who contracted Covid-19.

“This was done in the interest of creating awareness on the stigmatisation of Covid-19 survivors and patients. The awareness creation will also reflect on the impact of Covid-19 restrictions on movement and assembly versus the needs of public health.

“The awareness will further shine the light on the erosion of the rights of some vulnerable groups such as people living with HIV or other chronic diseases to health services; children’s rights to education and the increasing inequality of access to service.”

On his part, Law and Justice Minister Professor Nqosa Mahao said the government was forced to impose restrictions like the lockdown, the quarantining and isolation of Covid-19 patients to minimise the spread of Covid-19.

He conceded that such restrictions limited people’s freedom of movement.

“These restrictions also brought economic activities to a standstill thereby impacting on the fundamental human rights of many individuals and families,” Prof Mahao said.

He however, said in fulfilling the promises of the UDHR, every country must continue reflecting on the core and enduring importance of the UDHR. He said there was need for all to speak out and take a stand in support of human rights.

“All of us have a role to play. It is my hope that through the deliberations we have just had, we all acknowledge that the struggle for equality, dignity and respect for fundamental human rights continues,” he said.

UNDP resident representative Betty Wabunoha said in commemorating the day, they were aware that the restrictions imposed due to the Covid-19 pandemic may have infringed on some fundamental human rights and aspirations.

“We may therefore need to raise questions around balancing public health and the need to protect our inalienable human rights,” Ms Wabunoha said.

She said the protection of human rights in Lesotho remained a collective and collaborative effort among the government, civil society, private sector, academia and development partners.

“This cooperation has enhanced the protection of human rights and consciousness of the society.

“On our part, as UNDP, is to ensure that human rights remain at the centre of all our development support to the Kingdom of Lesotho. In pursuit of this principle, UNDP’s programming is premised on mainstreaming human rights across all sectors,” Ms Wabunoha said.

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