Human Rights Put Simply.

Covid-19 seems to be the only story to greet us when we scroll through social media, turn on the TV or listen to the radio. We are all becoming hyper aware of the social and economic problems caused by the Pandemic: a persistent lack of PPE, uncertain job prospects and the toll on the British economy.

Debates about our rights and freedoms have been drawn into the spotlight of the global conversation recently, as some groups in the UK and the US have protested about restrictions to their freedom of movement. Moments of public outrage have followed the realisation that the policies designed to manage the Covid-19 crisis, while essential measures for the protection of public health, are contributing to many of the social and economic problems being experienced. How can a solution that limits our freedom of movement and restricts our rights to work possibly be a practical solution?
Little clarification seems to have been offered by our governments to explain what human rights actually are, and why they have the power to restrict the human rights they also have a duty to protect. To fill in some of these gaps in the Covid conversation, my next series of posts will address some of the frequently asked questions that have arisen about our human rights: what they are, how they are enforced and why they can be restricted by our governments for our own safety.

What are human rights?

Human rights are the fundamental freedoms that we are all entitled to, simply because we are human. Everyone, regardless of race, gender, religion, sexuality, age, or political opinion is entitled to basic rights and freedoms that protect the principles of human dignity and fairness. There are 23 human rights articles set out in the pioneering Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), published in 1948.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was the first document that formally outlined the rights and freedoms to which everyone is entitled. The UDHR consist of rights such as freedom from subjection to torture, freedom from slavery and freedom from arbitrary arrest and imprisonment. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights also outlines our rights to essential services such as universal health care and access to education.

For more information about the 23 Human Rights Articles and what they mean take a look Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Over the coming weeks I’ll be delving further into the questions and debates surrounding human rights. So to discover more about your fundamental rights and how they are being affected right now, watch this space.

Communities against Covid-19

Freedom of movement, access to healthcare, and favourable conditions in the workplace are just some of the human rights that have been limited as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.

As we find ourselves following government advice to stay at home, our new global reality is that unless the solution to eradicate the virus leaves no one behind, Covid-19 will remain a global threat. Possibly unaware that their efforts are safeguarding human rights, local community initiatives are creating ingenious strategies to tackle inefficient levels of socio-economic provision. As responses to the crisis reflect strategies working to safeguard human rights, it is becoming clear that The Global Goals for Sustainable Development (Global Goals) remains a relevant strategy for combating the Covid-19 crisis. I have created this blog to demonstrate that national and global efforts against Covid-19 are being significantly driven by the positive impact of countless local level initiatives. Successful local initiatives are drawing attention to the human rights issues that have arisen during the Pandemic and they continue to provide their communities with vital support often filling in the gaps left by national strategies. Sharing local success stories with other communities, providing them with the knowledge and inspiration to do the same, is an underutilised key to combating this virus on a global scale.

In 2015 the United Nations Member States identified 17 interdependent areas for development as part of their global mandate to eradicate poverty and hunger by 2030. All 17 strategies are rooted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and work towards its global implementation. The Global Goals were named as such in line with the fundamental recognition that sustainable change on a global level could only be accomplished by ‘leaving no one behind’. As a result, the term global citizen was coined to describe an individual motivated to join in the global effort and aware of their place in the symbiotic relationship that exists between every human on the planet. Although progress towards the achievement of the Global Goals is an ongoing process, the continued existence of poverty reinforced by structured political, economic and social inequalities only emphasises the fact that there is still a long way to go.

“Leave no one behind”.

The Covid-19 crisis acts as a magnifying glass to the pre-existing global and national disparities in economic safeguarding and social care. Studies continue to expose the demographic groups that are experiencing the greatest health and financial ramifications. A significant factor which perpetuates existing structural inequalities is the fact that human rights articles have not been implemented within national laws and policies. News outlets have highlighted that differences in population concentration have been partly responsible for rapid rates of infection in places such as New York and Lombardy. Nevertheless, the long-term absence of social and economic safeguarding structures has now been drastically exposed by the differences in infection and death rates between regions, racial groups and social groups.

Current efforts to curtail infection rates, protect lives and maintain universal access to health care are simultaneously causing restrictions to the actualisation of many other human rights. Restrictions to freedom of movement have interrupted the education of millions of children world-wide. Even within the UK, pupils’ access to education remains a challenge especially for families without a laptop or computer who cannot access online educational resources at home. Restrictions have led to greater instances of domestic violence and reduced access to shelters and harm reduction services. Though self-isolation and social distancing measures have been implemented to reduce infection rates of Covid-19, they have made it difficult for vulnerable people to pick up their prescriptions and increased the risks posed to those living in conditions that prevent them from following this advice. This has particularly affected migrant and refugee populations living in informal camps and has also reduced their access to healthcare.

Most notably, great attention has been drawn to the inability of frontline workers to preserve their right to favourable working conditions. The overwhelming number of patients being admitted to hospital with Covid-19 has required the exceptional efforts of regular NHS staff to support their medical care. Retirees and medical students too have been drafted to help tackle the crisis and many professionals that would not normally be exposed to communicable diseases are now finding themselves in frontline positions. As a result, significantly greater quantities of PPE are required to keep frontline staff protected. A survey from the Office of National Statistics found that between 20 March 2020 and 30 March 2020, of the 2,010 members of the general public sampled, 20% stated that they were concerned about their health and safety in the workplace. The crisis continues to demonstrate that despite efforts to safeguard workers’ human rights to favourable working conditions, global and national production systems are not designed nor equipped to deal with the strain of producing the PPE resources necessary to combat the virus on a global scale. On the 26th of April, The Guardian reported that approximately 115 medical staff including doctors, nurses, porters, cleaners, paramedics, and volunteers had died during this Pandemic. As medical unions continue to advise medical staff to refuse to provide treatment if they have not been provided with suitable protective equipment, the absence of PPE may also begin to affect the ability of the NHS to provide access to universal health care.

Of the 2,010 individuals sampled, the Office of National Statistics found that 20% were concerned about their health and safety in the work place.

However, the remarkable efforts of civil society organisations, mutual aid organisations, and self-starting individuals continue to demonstrate the ingenuity and resolve of local communities to relieve the effects of restrictions to human rights. Individuals and local organisations, such as the Women’s Institute, have taken it upon themselves to make PPE for local NHS trusts. Approximately 4,300 mutual aid groups now exist in the UK to provide food and collect prescriptions amongst other efforts to protect vulnerable members of their communities.

What has been demonstrated by the efforts of UK volunteers amounts to a defence of human rights through strategies outlined in the Global Goals. Teachers that continue to provide different types of educational resources for students at home are providing quality of education for all and defending Article 26 from the UNDC. The work of food banks and volunteers to deliver food to vulnerable people utilises actions within the global goal to achieve zero hunger and simultaneously defends Article 25. The shortcomings that have been highlighted by the Covid-19 Crisis demonstrate that many socio-economic rights from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are not being effectively upheld. Strategies to resolve these issues exist in the form of the Sustainable Global Goals and they are already being implemented, possibly unknowingly, within our local communities.

I have created this blog to collate stories that will draw attention to the human rights issues that have affected your local communities during this pandemic, and celebrate successful strategies that could be used to help others. In doing so, I hope to demonstrate that national and global efforts against Covid-19 are being significantly driven by the positive impact of countless local level initiatives.

· Are there human rights issues that have been exacerbated, created or overlooked by the Pandemic that are affecting your local communities?

· Have local organisations, mutual aid groups or individuals made a difference in relieving their effects?

· How are your family, friends, mutual aid groups, and local organisations making a positive difference in your community?

Please submit your stories and insights to