COVID-19 Guidance from Supranational Human Rights Bodies

This webpage collects the resolutions, press releases, and other statements from human rights bodies and their parent intergovernmental organizations on States’ obligations to respect human rights in mitigating COVID-19. The “Thematic Overview” section organizes the most significant of these statements by issue area.

Statements are then organized by body or organization, beginning with United Nations entities and then regional human rights bodies. Within those sections, statements are listed chronologically. Note that joint statements are listed under each co-authoring entity. For human rights bodies only (that is, not intergovernmental organizations or their agencies), we have also included statements that address procedural changes and other adjustments in these bodies’ functioning, in the section for each body.

Last updated: May 29, 2020

Contents

Acronyms

The acronyms below are used on this page to refer to regional and universal human rights bodies and intergovernmental organizations. For more information on the body, click on the link (where available) to access the relevant IJRC Online Resource Hub page.

  • ACERWC: African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child
  • ACHPR: African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
  • AfCHPR: African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights
  • AICHR: ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights
  • ASEAN: Association of Southeast Asian Nations
  • AU: African Union
  • CEDAW: Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women
  • CESCR: Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
  • CIM: Inter-American Commission of Women
  • COE: Council of Europe
  • ECtHR: European Court of Human Rights
  • ECSR: European Committee of Social Rights
  • ECRI: European Commission against Racism and Intolerance
  • FRA: European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights
  • GRECO: Group of States against Corruption
  • GRETA: Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings
  • GREVIO: Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women
  • IACHR: Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
  • IACtHR: Inter-American Court of Human Rights
  • ILO: International Labour Organization
  • MESECVI: Follow-up Mechanism to the Belém do Pará Convention
  • OAS: Organization of American States
  • ODIHR: OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights
  • OHCHR: Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
  • OSCE: Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe
  • SPT: Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture
  • UN: United Nations
  • WGAD: Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

 

Thematic Overview

The summaries and links below reference statements, resolutions, and policy guidance issued by human rights bodies with regard to particular themes. They include the most in-depth and relevant documents; they do not include every press release on those topics, and generally exclude statements focused on only one country.

 

General duties and considerations

The ACHPR, AICHR, IACHR, IACtHR, Organization of American States (OAS), Secretary General of the Council of Europe (COE), COE Commissioner for Human Rights, UN human rights treaty bodies, and UN Secretary-General have all issued general statements or guidance on respecting human rights in responding to COVID-19. These documents cover most of the sub-topics below, but will not be listed again under those sections.

 

States of emergency and exception

The IACHR, the COE, Secretary General of the COE, UN Human Rights Committee, various UN special procedure mandate holders, and OHCHR have outlined States’ responsibilities to ensure that declared states of emergency comply with human rights obligations, properly notify any derogations from their human rights treaty obligations, and to avoid using emergency measures to infringe human rights. The COE Venice Commission reiterated the standards for declaring states of emergency.

Coincidentally, the IACtHR released two jurisprudence compilations, on use of force and suspension of human rights, in April 2020 (Spanish only).

UN special procedure mandate holders have warned Uganda not to use emergency powers to infringe the human rights of LGBT persons, and cautioned Venezuela not to use the crisis to attack human rights defenders.

 

Right to protection of health

The IACHR, European Committee of Social Rights, COE Commissioner for Human Rights, COE Committee on Bioethics, many UN special procedure mandate holders (jointly) called on States to guarantee the right to health and maintain respect for human rights in healthcare decisions. The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health urged governments to protect the rights of people who use drugs during the pandemic, and the UN Special Rapporteur on hazardous substances directed States to ensure necessary protective equipment for healthcare workers. A group of UN special procedure mandate holders urged States to protect all workers’ health in lifting restrictions.

The IACtHR has published a detailed infographic (in Spanish) on COVID-19 and the right to health, and a new booklet compiling its jurisprudence on the right to health (in Spanish).

The UN Secretary General issued a policy brief on addressing the mental health impacts of the pandemic.

Relatedly, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’ new General Comment 25, on science, includes a section on the pandemic.

 

Access to information & media freedom

The ACHPR Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression; the IACHR Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, and OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media (jointly); the COE Secretary General; the COE Commissioner for Human Rights; and, the COE Committee of Experts on the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages have all issued statements on access to information and press freedom during the pandemic. The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression has also dedicated his latest report to the Human Rights Council to these topics. The UN, OSCE, and OAS experts for freedom of expression also addressed COVID-19 restrictions in their 2020 Joint Declaration on elections in the digital age.

 

Persons deprived of liberty

The ACHPR; IACHR; COE Commissioner for Human Rights (on immigration detention and prisoners); European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT); UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT); Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD); OHCHR; OHCHR and WHO (jointly); UN Network on Migration; ODIHR; and UNODC, WHO, UNAIDS and OHCHR (jointly) have provided guidance concerning conditions of detention and the release of prisoners and detainees, including those in immigration detention.

Relatedly, the SPT issued advice on the applicability of the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture to places of compulsory quarantine.

The IACHR and UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth have also cautioned against the release of certain prisoners, in order to avoid impunity for grave human rights violations.

Human rights bodies have specifically warned of unsafe conditions in places of detention in the Americas, Belarus, Egypt, El Salvador, Eritrea, Iran, Israel, Kyrgyzstan, Peru, Syria, and the United States (regarding prisons and detention of migrants).

The IACtHR issued urgent measures ordering Panama to protect the rights to life, health, and personal integrity of migrants held in detention, in the context of the pandemic.

 

Discrimination and xenophobia

The IACHR, Inter-American Network on Afro-descendant Population Policies (RIAFRO), and UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent have each issued statements appealing to governments to combat discrimination against black people in the provision of health services and the implementation of measures to mitigate COVID-19. The UN Network on Racial Discrimination and the Protection of Minorities issued a detailed statement offering guidance on COVID-19 responses.

The UN Special Rapporteur on racism urged states to address xenophobia related to COVID-19.

The COE Secretary General and COE Commissioner for Human Rights asked States to ensure protection of Roma people and Travellers. The UN special rapporteurs on racism and minority issues (jointly) called on Bulgaria to stop hate speech and discrimination against Roma. The COE Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities called attention to COVID-19’s impact on moniroty groups.

The UN Secretary-General published a guidance note on countering COVID-19 related hate speech.

The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion called on States to address the rise in antisemitism during the pandemic.

 

Gender-based violence and women’s rights

The ACHPR Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women, IACHR, COE Secretary General, Committee of Parties to the Istanbul Convention, UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, and UN Women all issued statements on preventing or addressing increased domestic violence during the pandemic. The Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM) published detailed analysis of the impacts on women and their rights. The COE Commissioner for Human Rights urged Poland not to use the pandemic to restrict women’s reproductive rights, and more broadly called on States not to restrict access to sexual and reproductive health and rights. The Head of UN Human Rights in Iraq called on the government to address domestic violence and other impacts on women.

The UN Secretary-General, UN Working Group on discrimination against women and girls, UN Women, OHCHR and African Union (jointly), and OHCHR published broader guidance on protecting women’s rights.

 

Children’s rights

The African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, COE Lanzarote Committee, UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, UN Special Rapporteur on sale and sexual exploitation of children and UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children (jointly), UNICEF, the UN Inter-Agency Working Group on Violence Against Children, the UN Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development, and the UN Secretary-General all released guidance on protecting children’s rights during the pandemic.

 

Rights of persons with disabilities

The IACHR, COE Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Disability and Accessibility (jointly), Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, OHCHR, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General and the Independent Expert on the rights of older persons (jointly, on women with disabilities and on the right to life), two special envoys to the UN Secretary-General (jointly), and the UN Secretary-General all issued guidance on respecting and protecting the human rights of persons with disabilities in COVID-19 responses.

The Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities also published a letter to governments and collaborated on guidance regarding disability inclusive social protection and other disability considerations relevant in the pandemic.

 

Rights of migrants, asylum seekers, refugees and IDPs

See also Persons deprived of liberty, above, with regard to immigration detention.

The UN committee on Migrant Workers and UN Special Rapporteur on migrants issued a joint guidance note on the human rights of migrants and COVID-19, and the OHCHR has published its own guidance brief. The IACHR; COE Commissioner for Human Rights; African Union (on migrant workers and on migration); UN Special Rapporteur on migrants and UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons (jointly); OHCHR, International Organization for Migration, UNHCR, and WHO (jointly); and, COE and FRA (jointly) have published statements on ensuring respect for the rights of migrants and trafficked persons during the pandemic. The UN Network on Migration called on States to suspend forced returns of migrants.

The ILO issued recommendations on protecting migrant workers during the pandemic.

The OSCE Special Representative for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings also published recommendations on States’ responses to COVID-19.

The UN Special Rapporteur on internally displaced persons issued a statement identifying measures States should take to protect IDPs.

 

Rights of older persons

The IACHR; COE Commissioner for Human Rights; the Independent Expert on the rights of older persons; the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General and the Independent Expert on the rights of older persons (jointly, on women and on the right to life); and the UN Secretary-General have commented on States’ human rights obligations with regard to older persons in mitigating COVID-19.

 

Rights of Indigenous peoples

The ACHPR, IACHR, OAS, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) have published guidance to States on respecting Indigenous peoples’ human rights during the pandemic.

 

Rights of LGBTI Persons

The OHCHR issued specialized guidance on the impact of COVID-19 on the human rights of LGBTI people.

In connection with the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, the IACHR, UN Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity, many other UN special procedure mandate holders, COE Commissioner for Human Rights, and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child issued a joint statement on protecting the rights of LGBTI persons during the pandemic.

UN special procedure mandate holders have warned Uganda not to use emergency powers to infringe the human rights of LGBT persons.

 

Use of force

The ACHPR, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, and various special procedure mandate holders (jointly) have cautioned States not to engage in excessive use of force in enforcing COVID-19 mitigation measures.

 

Economic inequality & poverty

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) issued broad guidance for governments’ COVID-19 responses. The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to development issued detailed guidance on a human rights response to the coming global recession, and the new Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty called on States to transform the economies and social protection. The head of UNDP’s Asia-Pacific bureau urged governments to provide universal basic income.

Special procedure mandate holders have published statements on ensuring the rights to housing and water, and on directing resources at limiting inequality. The Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing has also issued COVID-19 guidance notes on homelessness, protecting renters and mortgage payers, prohibiting evictions, informal settlements, and protecting housing from financialization.

UN special procedure mandate holders called out Brazil and the United States for putting poor peoples’ lives at risk with their COVID-19 mitigation measures.

 

Workers’ Rights

The UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery called on states to protect people from exploitation and slavery. A group of UN special procedure mandate holders urged States to protect all workers’ health in lifting restrictions. The ILO’s webpage on COVID-19 compiles its recommendations on mitigating the impacts on workers and the world of work, including briefs on social protection in developing countries and sickness benefits.

 

Sanctions, debt & solidarity

The CESCR, UN Independent Expert on foreign debt, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, UN Special Rapporteur on unilateral coercive measures, and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urged States to support developing countries and lift sanctions to reduce inequality and hunger, and mitigate the economic effects of COVID-19. The UN Special Rapporteur on international solidarity called for adoption of the Draft UN Declaration on Human Rights and International Solidarity, and the UN Secretary-General has released policy briefs on debt and international solidarity in the context of COVID-19. The Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights called on international financial institutions, G20 States, and private creditors to extend the debt standstill for lower income countries.

A group of special procedure mandate holders called on the United States to lift is Cuba embargo during the pandemic.

 

Rule of law (independence of judiciary, elections, democracy)

The COE Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) and UN Special Rapporteur on independence of judges and lawyers warned of risks to democracy and the independence of the judiciary, respectively, during the pandemic. The UN, OSCR, and OAS experts for freedom of expression also addressed COVID-19 restrictions in their 2020 Joint Declaration on elections in the digital age.

The Inter-American Institute of Human Rights has published two guides (in Spanish) on organizing an election and on establishing a protocol for elections during a pandemic.

 

Human rights defenders & assembly and association

The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of assembly and association issued ten principles to guide States in respecting those rights during the pandemic. The OHCHR issued guidance on the protection of civic space. The IACHR and ACHPR both called on States to protect human rights defenders and their work.

 

Conflict & International Humanitarian Law

On March 23, the UN Secretary-General first called for a global ceasefire during the pandemic, and has since reiterated this call. Various UN representatives have emphasized the importance of ending, or pausing, hostilities in Yemen, Syria, Libya, the Middle East more broadly, Myanmar, Colombia, and the Great Lakes region of Africa. The head of UNICEF called for a global ceasefire to protect children. The OHCHR and an Independent Expert have called attention to the impact of conflict on mitigating COVID-19 in Libya and the Central African Republic, respectively. The UN is working to continue peacekeeping operations during the pandemic. The ACHPR called for a ceasefire in Libya.

The UN Security Council was unable to adopt a proposed resolution on a global ceasefire, due to the United States’ objections. The topic of ceasefires was also raised at a virtual meeting between the Human Rights Council and High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has issued guidance on the applicability of international humanitarian law during the pandemic, and has other advice and analysis on its COVID-19 webpage.

 

 

United Nations

Visit the UN COVID-19 Response Portal here: https://www.un.org/coronavirus. See all UN press releases on COVID-19 here: https://news.un.org/en/tags/covid-19.

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Note, this section does not include all OHCHR statements related to COVID-19, and is limited to the most significant and detailed guidance.

Special Procedures

This section includes the OHCHR webpage where special procedure mandate holders’ COVID-19 press releases can be found, but links directly only to those statements that include particularly detailed guidance. Several special procedure mandate holders have published a joint questionnaire soliciting information on COVID-19’s impact on human rights.

Treaty Bodies

The OHCHR has collected all COVID-19 statements and advice from treaty bodies on a dedicated webpage.

Secretary General & Special Envoys

The UN Secretary-General has released a number of policy briefs on the human rights impacts of COVID-19 and the international community’s role. They are listed below, among other outputs, and can be found here: https://www.un.org/en/coronavirus/un-secretary-general/#reports

UN General Assembly

  • UN General Assembly, Resolution 74/270, Global solidarity to fight the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), 3 Apr. 2020, UN Doc. A/RES/74/270, https://undocs.org/en/A/RES/74/270
  • UN General Assembly, Resolution 74/274, International cooperation to ensure global access to medicines, vaccines and medical equipment to face COVID-19, 21 Apr. 2020, UN Doc. A/RES/74/274, https://undocs.org/en/A/RES/74/274

Various UN Agencies

Note: This section is not exhaustive. Other UN entities may have put out statements and guidance on respecting human rights during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have included here some of the most prominent.

ILO

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has collected its recommendations and other documents on a dedicated COVID-19 webpage: https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/coronavirus/lang–en/index.htm.

UNDESA
EMRIP
UN Women

See additional statements here: https://www.unwomen.org/en.

 

African Human Rights System

African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR)

(Past ACHPR press releases are not readily accessible from the ACHPR homepage. Find them all here: https://www.achpr.org/pressrelease/index.)

African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC)

African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR)

African Union

 

Inter-American Human Rights System

Note that both the IACHR and IACtHR have planned webinars during the month of May 2020, on a range of human rights topics in the context of COVID-19 (in Spanish only).

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR)

Note: the IACHR has established the Rapid and Integrated Response Coordination Unit (SACROI, by its Spanish acronym) to coordinate its COVID-19 response. The SACROI website can be found here: http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/SACROI_COVID19/

Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR)

Note: The IACtHR’s April 14 statement and infographic deal with States’ human rights obligations in the context of COVID-19; the others pertain to the Court’s functioning and procedural changes.

Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM)

Follow-up Mechanism to the Belém do Pará Convention (MESECVI)

Note, like CIM, MESECVI’s website doesn’t have recent news, and it tends to put news out via social media, and only in Spanish.

Working Group of the Protocol of San Salvador

Nothing so far, although WGPSS provided input to the OAS Practical Guide, listed below.

Organization of American States (OAS)

 

European Human Rights System

Note: see the COE portal on COVID-19 here: https://www.coe.int/en/web/portal/covid-19.

European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR)

Note: None of the ECtHR’s statements deal with States’ human rights obligations in the context of COVID-19; they are all procedural.

European Committee of Social Rights

COE Commissioner for Human Rights

Thematic page: https://www.coe.int/en/web/commissioner/thematic-work/covid-19

Committee of Experts of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages

European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT)

European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI)

Nothing to date.

Group of States against Corruption (GRECO)

Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA)

Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women (GREVIO)

Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities

Council of Europe

Note: see the COE portal on COVID-19 here: https://www.coe.int/en/web/portal/covid-19.

OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR)

Note: See the ODIHR COVID-19 webpage here: https://www.osce.org/odihr/covid-19

European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA)

Note: See the FRA webpage on COVID-19 here: https://fra.europa.eu/en/themes/covid-19 The country-specific reports on mitigation efforts and their rights impacts can be found here: https://fra.europa.eu/en/publication/2020/covid19-rights-impact-april-1#TabPubStudies.

 

Southeast Asia

ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR)

Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)

Nothing to date.

 

Middle East and North Africa

Arab Human Rights Committee

Nothing to date.

League of Arab States