corona virus

Webinar: Pandemic Preparedness and Response – National Covid-19 Law and Policy in Human Rights Perspective

Covid-19 was a stress test of global, national and local pandemic preparedness and response capabilities. More than a year since the first cases were reported, countries around the world continue to struggle with unprecedented public health impacts, whilst simultaneously grappling with the widespread adverse economic and social consequences of response measures. The gradual rollout of the vaccine opens the possibility of reduced infection rates and associated relaxation of physical distancing measures, raising hopes of a return to pre-pandemic conditions. However, if and when the particular threat of Covid-19 diminishes, authorities must not lose sight of epidemic and pandemic risk, and should work towards the integration of a human rights-based pandemic preparedness and response capability at local, national, regional, and global levels.

This message reflects key insights from a 15 country study of national legal and policy measures adopted to address Covid-19, conducted by the Raoul Wallenberg Institute and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.


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Although some measures have clearly been necessary and proportionate, and some promising practices have been identified, others have prioritised pandemic containment in a manner that risks violations of civil and political, as well as economic, social and cultural rights.

Measures that seriously curtail rights to freedom of expression, physical integrity and the prohibition on torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, as well as rights to work, to food, and to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, are all reflected in legal and policy measures quickly adopted in attempts to prevent the further spread of Covid-19.

Further, notwithstanding the contemporary currency of the call under the Sustainable Development Goals to ‘leave no one behind’, measures rarely reflected an awareness of the need to address the particular situation of persons with disabilities, non-citizens, members of minority ethnic or linguistic groups, indigenous peoples, and so forth.

Although some responses reflected an awareness of the differential impact of the disease and response measures from a gender perspective, this was more the exception than the rule. Authorities around the world were plainly unprepared for the pandemic, and the measures adopted had seriously adverse consequences for the enjoyment of human rights for all, without discrimination.

The purpose of the webinar is to share key insights from the study as part of an ongoing initiative to identify and develop effective human rights-based approaches to pandemic preparedness and response in the spirit of ‘building forward better’. The webinar will include initial contributions from research partners, followed by a panel discussion with questions from the chair and the audience.

When: Thursday 28 January 2021 – 10:00-11:30 CET (via Zoom)
Where: Zoom

Chairs: Morten Kjaerum (Director, RWI) and Todd Howland (Chief of Branch, OHCHR)

Matthew Scott Lynn Gentile Ambily Adithyan Li Fung Dr Mathews Numpeli
Senior Researcher, at The Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law (RWI) Human Rights Officer, OHCHR Independent consultant OHCHR, Nairobi District Program Manager for National Health Mission, Ernakulam District

Get acquainted with our participants:

Ambily Adithyan

Ambily Adithyan is a sustainability practitioner with 7 years of experience in waste management, climate adaptation & livelihoods. She is an environmental engineer from Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur and currently heads programs at RNisarg Foundation, a Mumbai based not for profit working towards building sustainable cities.

Li Fung

Li Fung is the Senior Human Rights Adviser to the UN Resident Coordinator in Kenya. Li has over 20 years of experience working in human rights, protection, peace and security, development, humanitarian action and law in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the Pacific, and at UN headquarters in New York and Geneva.

Since joining OHCHR in 2006, Li has addressed human rights issues through operational, policy, legal and political engagement at headquarters and in the field. At headquarters, she led a team supporting human rights components in UN peacekeeping and special political missions, and previously worked on early warning. In the field, Li coordinated the Protection Cluster in Palestine (West Bank and Gaza), and established an OHCHR programme on land, housing and natural resources in Cambodia. In addition to her experience with OHCHR, she has worked for the Office of the SRSG for Children and Armed Conflict, leading engagement in the Middle East and Asia. Prior to joining the United Nations, Li worked as a lawyer in public and private sectors in Australia and Vanuatu, and also for Oxfam in the Pacific region.

Li is a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Victoria (Australia), and holds an LLM in international humanitarian and criminal law from the University of Melbourne, and an LLB and BA (Honours) from the University of Adelaide.

Lynn Gentile

Lynn Gentile is the focal point on the right to health at OHCHR. In this capacity, she is involved in advocating for the protection of the right to health and for providing technical support on human rights-based approaches to health within OHCHR as well as with our partners in the UN system and beyond.

Todd Howland

Todd Howland has over 25 years of professional experience in the field of human rights. He presently serves as Chief, Right to Development, Sustainable Development, and Economic and Social Rights Branch of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva. He has served as OHCHR Representative in Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola among other UN posts.

He has authored numerous scholarly articles on human rights including in the Human Rights Quarterly, the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy and the Virginia Journal of International Law and published extensively on human rights in newspapers and magazines including in the Washington Post, LA Times, Boston Globe, the Toronto Globe and Mail and Revista Semana.

Howland was director of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights in Washington, DC. He has also worked at El Rescate, the European Commission and in Ethiopia for the Carter Center. Howland was a professor of human rights law at Hankuk University in Seoul, Korea. He holds a JD and MA from the University of Denver and was a Visiting Fellow at the Harvard Human Rights Program.

Morten Kjaerum

Morten Kjaerum has been Director of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law in Sweden since 2015. Prior to that, he was the first Director of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) in Vienna from 2008 to 2015. He is currently also Chair of The Board of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE).

He was the founding Director of the Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR) from 1991 to 2008 and developed it within 17 years from a small organisation to a large internationally recognized institution. He started his career in the non-governmental sector at the Danish Refugee Council.

Mr. Kjaerum was the Chairperson of the Network of Directors of EU Agencies 2014-15. He was a member (2002-2008) of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and its follow-up rapporteur from 2006-08. He was a member of the EU network of independent experts responsible for monitoring compliance with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (2002-2006). In 2004, he was elected chair of the International Coordinating Committee for National Human Rights Institutions.

Mr. Kjaerum has been involved since 1991 in human rights capacity building projects with governments and national institutions in all parts of the world. From 1986 until today, he has written extensively on issues related to a number of human rights.

In 2013 Mr. Kjaerum was awarded an honorary professorship at the University of Aalborg, Denmark. He holds a Master of Law from the University of Aarhus, Denmark and is a Danish national.

Mr. Kjaerum is also the Chairperson for the UN Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation (VFTC) in the Field of Human Rights and of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Trust Fund for Financial and Technical Assistance.

Dr Mathews Numpeli

Dr Mathews Numpeli is the District Program Manager for National Health Mission, Ernakulam District. He is also the additional in charge charge of Head of Social Development, National Health Mission(Thiruvananthapuram) and State Nodal Officer of Palliative Care.

National Health Mission Ernakulam was the first in the state to setup Telemedicine Service to manage the COVID-19 patient load in healthcare establishments of Ernakulam District at the time of pandemic. During the lockdown period, NHM, Ernakulam along with Tata Institute of Social Science, Mumbai conducted Let’s Reach Out Kerala project to understand and address the concerns of migrant workers in the state from a human rights perceptive and later lead an initiative to screen thousands of migrant workers with support of Centre for Migration and Inclusive Development(CMID).

Matthew Scott

Matthew Scott is head of the People on the Move thematic area at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law in Lund, Sweden. His area of expertise lies in legal and policy responses to internal and cross-border displacement in the context of disasters and climate change. In this space, he has published a monograph with Cambridge University Press entitled Climate Change, Disasters and the Refugee Convention, an edited volume with Routledge entitled Climate Change, Disasters and Internal Displacement in Asia and the Pacific: A Human Rights-Based Approach, along with a range of book chapters and academic articles on the subject. He is a member of the advisory committee of the Platform on Disaster Displacement, a member of the editorial board of the Yearbook of International Disaster Law, and a founding member of the Nordic Network on Climate Related Displacement and Mobility, and the Gothenburg, Lund, Uppsala Migration Law Network. He holds a PhD in Public International Law from Lund University, and a Masters degree in Social Anthropology of Development from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.

At Lund University, he convenes the Masters-level course on human rights law, the environment and climate change, and lectures on international refugee law and international human rights law at the law faculty. He also contributes to the MSc in Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation at the Department of Risk Management and Societal Safety.

Matthew is also actively engaged in international collaboration initiatives at the intersection of disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation and displacement. In this capacity he is currently contributing technical expertise on human rights-based approaches relating to land use planning and emergency preparedness for response. He was RWI’s senior research on the 15 country analysis of legal and policy responses to Covid-19.

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