“The inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family” are among the opening words of the Universal Declaration of human rights, adopted just over 70 years ago. These are now the principles that drive the efforts of governments, international bodies, communities, families and individuals all around the world. Most of all, they motivate the work of health-care and frontline staff, who are putting themselves at risk, every day, to save the rest of us.
Never before has the entire population of the world shared such a need to work together in the common interest of all. Our dependence on each other as a human family has never been so clear. Rarely, if ever, has international cooperation and solidarity been so important. International co-operation is no longer what governments and official bodies should do; it is now belongs to the people. We are all now joined in a common enterprise, beyond borders and across continents, because this deadly virus respects no boundaries or distinctions. Our best chance for survival and recovery is to fight the coronavirus together.
Protecting and preserving life is the primary purpose of this struggle. Without the right to life, it is impossible to exercise other rights. To protect life, we must vindicate the right to health. The right to health, in turn depends not only on access to health care, but on rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, on adequate nutrition and on a safe and healthy environment. It also requires access to information, so that people are empowered to protect their own health and those of others. And in this health crisis, which requires a collective response, and the co-operation of people everywhere, respect for civil society is more important than ever. All human rights are interdependent and indivisible and must inform our response to the crisis. Human rights are at the core of the battle against COVID-19.
That is why the European Union is working closely with the United Nations, with other international organisations and with countries throughout the world, in the great global effort to overcome the virus and its consequences. On 7 April, the European Commission and High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell announced a robust and targeted EU response of more than €15.6 billion from existing external action resources to support partner countries’ efforts in tacking the pandemic. This ‘Team Europe’ package combines resources from the EU, its Member States and financial institutions, in particular the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. The current pandemic is a grave and immense threat to the health and life of humanity. The health of the whole world is only as strong as the weakest health system.
We recognise that there are many people for whom this crisis, and sometimes the measures taken to address it, will add even greater risks to their already fragile existence: refugees; the displaced; the homeless; minorities who are already victims of discrimination; children who are being abused or maltreated; women subjected to sexual or domestic violence; marginalised indigenous peoples; persons with disabilities, older people and the poor who are at greatest risk from the economic consequences. No one should be left behind, and no human right ignored.
The EU has expressed to support for, and taken action on the UN High Commissioner Bachelet’s call for special measures regarding prisoners and others in places of detention and closed facilities. We strongly support the UN Secretary General’s call for a ceasefire by all armed actors in the world today and for a co-ordinated humanitarian response. We will continue to play our part in the global effort.
We recognise that many governments have already taken steps, and introduced emergency measures, in response to the crisis. We believe that these measures should apply for this crisis only, be time-bound and be proportionate to what is absolutely necessary. This crisis should not become an excuse for the power-hungry to increase repressive measures, to weaken democratic checks and balances or to dilute the rule of law. Neither should fears over COVID-19 be exploited to spread disinformation or racist and xenophobic reactions.
This is a time for solidarity and for human rights to be at the centre of our endeavours. Since this crisis began we have seen millions of small acts of kindness, and stirring solidarity across the world. The indomitable spirit of humanity is displaying its great generosity. Our global human family will come through these frightful days. The changed world to which we will emerge, will be all the better for the care and compassion we show each other now. Let us not squander that future, give in to fear or our lowest inclinations. Let us not forget that human rights define our very humanity.
Eamon Gilmore is the European Union’s Special Representative for Human Rights