Human Rights and COVID-19 (resources)

Mon. Jan. 11, 2021

As the number of COVID-19 cases increase every day and as different countries take various measurements, we increasingly see human rights violation cases around the world. The following list of databases is prepared to guide communities to adopt safe measurements with respect to the fundamental principles of human rights.

Please note: this is a list of resources with diverse perspectives and while we are taking care only to include reputable sources, inclusion does not constitute endorsement.

1. UN Agencies (see also 7. Human Rights of Specific Populations)


When we are facing a difficult situation like the COVID-19 pandemic, it is everyone’s duty in our community to build a culture of solidarity, trust, respect to each other, compassion, and provision of safety in our community by avoiding the creation of stigma and fear.

Based on the Lessons from HIV epidemic, UNAIDS released Rights in the time of COVID-19: Lessons from HIV for an effective, community-led response, aiming to build a stronger community. This guide will help different institutions to plan and implement measures to contain the pandemic. For a full guide, please press here.

2. Government of Canada:
The Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of International Development issued the following statement emphasizing the importance on fundamental human rights principles by stating:

"We are concerned about the risk of discrimination, excessive use of force and violations of fundamental rights and freedoms that have already occurred in some countries during the implementation of lockdowns and mandatory isolation. While the need to protect public health is vital, it is imperative to ensure that these measures are not used to undermine the fundamental civil liberties and human rights of all people. Promoting and protecting these essential liberties and rights is, and will remain, a priority for the Government of Canada.”

Please read the full statement here.

3. Canadian Human Rights Commission
The Canadian Human Rights Commission’s response to the epidemic focuses on respecting each other’s dignity and bringing the notion of equality into practice. People living in poverty, women and children who are fleeing from domestic violence, people living in shelters, on the streets or at risk of homelessness, people with disabilities or those with health conditions, people with mental health issues, older people living alone or in institutions, and people in correctional institutions must not be forgotten or ignored. The statement on inequalities amplified by the COVID-19 crisis is found here.

4. Canadian Provincial and Territorial Human Rights Bodies

British Columbia Human Rights Commission
British Columbia Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender sends a message to all Canadians to be safe in these challenging times. Govender points out that ensuring human rights in these challenging times is as critically important as keeping public health services a priority. Full statement from Commissioner Govender is found here. FAQ and answers on employers, employees, tenants, and institutional residents, whose rights are affected by the crisis are found here.

Alberta Human Rights Commission
Alberta Human Rights Commission also sheds lights on possible discrimination against individuals based on their origin, race, physical and mental ability, stating that any discrimination related to COVID-19 is prohibited in the areas of services, housing, and employment. Please see the full report here.

Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission
The statement made by David M. Arnot - Chief Commissioner, Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission - on Mental Health and COVID-19 illustrates the right to health, including mental health, becomes our absolute priority in times of crisis. Please find a full statement here.

Manitoba Human Rights Commission
Amongst other provinces and territories, the Manitoba Human Rights Commission issued “A Human Rights based approach to the COVID-19 pandemic: Principles and Actions” set of rules and guidance that stipulates treatment of the ill without any discrimination; respect of Indigenous rights; setting reasonable limits on measures that infringe rights; protection of vulnerable communities (especially Indigenous communities due to the ongoing negative impacts of colonialism and racism); adequate response to communities facing racism, ableism, and xenophobia by strengthening human rights accountability and oversight. Respecting individuals’ rights to privacy and access to information; ensuring access to public health care, while adapting emergency plans in regulated residential institutions (such as jails, prisons, and residential homes); respecting rights to housing and employment of the ill; providing income security, basic needs, education, and employment to those who are affected or are exposed to COVID-19 are the actions everyone can implement to flatten the curve altogether in Manitoba.

Ontario Human Rights Commission
All principles guided by the Ontario Human Rights Commission rely upon a human rights-based approach and actions consistent with a human rights-based approach to managing the COVID-19 pandemic. Please find the list of guiding principles here.

New Brunswick Human Rights Commission
The NBHRC has developed a series of questions and answers to help you understand your rights and obligations under the New Brunswick Human Rights Act during the COVID-19 pandemic. These questions and answers cover the rights and responsibilities of employers and employees, tenants and landlords, providers and users of essential services. Please refer to the document for full details.

Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission
Please check Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission Statement on the COVID-19 Pandemic here. The statement emphasizes the importance on anti-discriminatory actions against racialized minority and vulnerable populations, policies ensuring Nova Scotians’ rights to employment and housing.

The Commission des droits de la personnel et des droits de la jeunesse (Quebec)
The Commission des droits de la personnel et des droits de la jeunesse (English: Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission) statement on human rights and COVID-19 is found here (French version available only). 

Prince Edward Island Human Rights Commission
The PEIHRC refers to Ontario Human Rights Commission statement. Read more

Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Commission
For Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Commission report, please click here.

Yukon Human Rights Commission
For COVID-19 updates from the Yukon Human Rights Commission, please follow this series of short releases.

Northwest Territories Human Rights Commission
In the interview with the Northwest Territories Human Rights Commission Chair - Charles Dent, we learn that mutual respect to each other in times of crisis weighs equal importance as the delivery of effective public health services. Watch the full talk here

Nunavut Human Rights Tribunal
Not available

5. Human Rights Non-Governmental Organizations

Amnesty International
The recent news from the Amnesty International sheds lights on the Eastern and Southern African States’ COVID-19 emergency situation and human rights issues (such as access to clean water, sanitation, and health care) the residents in remote and marginalized communities are facing. Click here for a full story.

Amnesty International Canada
Amnesty International Canada has many resources and news updates related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Please visit this link to access the items you are interested in.

Human Rights Watch
This link directs you to the Human Rights Watch where you can find information on human rights concern raised in COVID-19 lockdown, such as protection of freedom of expression, protection of individuals under health care and health care workers, protection of vulnerable and marginalized members of a community. This detailed guide will also show different measures taken by the Human Rights Watch in response to the crisis.

Lawyers Without Borders Canada
Lawyers Without Borders Canada emphasizes that Human Rights and the Rule of Law remain important in times of crisis. Read more.

6. Academic Commentary (Health and Human Rights Journal)

Based on experiences attained from HIV and TB epidemics, Tenu Avafia, Boyan Konstantinov, Kene Esom, Judit Rius Sanjuan, and Rebecca Schleifer, in their article, “A Rights-Based Response to COVID-19: Lessons Learned from HIV and TB Epidemics", advocate for human-rights-based response to COVID-19. Upholding the principle of transparency, the right-based response advocates for rights to health, equality, non-discrimination, adequate standard of living, and right to benefit from scientific process, to name a few.

Locating the current pandemic situation in the center of neoliberal, market-driven society, Lisa Forman, in her work, "The Evolution of the Right to Health in the Shadow of COVID-19", brings into attention questions related to justice and right to health of thousands of people who are affected by this crisis. She claims that the unequal treatment of the poor, marginalized, and vulnerable peoples in the neoliberal society will not result in justice to health, appropriate actions, and solidarity, that in turn, will violate fundamental principles of human rights.

Similarly, setting public health and human rights at the centre of his argument, Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, in his report, "COVID-19 Economy vs Human Rights: A Misleading Dichotomy", argues that states should continue to protect human right and social rights of its citizens as well as residents by means of changing economic flows, if necessary. "Economy vs human rights is misleading because they can be aligned. States must protect lives and economies so goods and services can continue throughout the pandemic, and when it has passed, there are jobs for people." claims the author.

In the following article, "Applying Siracusa: A Call for a General Comment on Public Health Emergencies", Nina Sun points out that public health measures should exercise the Siracusa principles and be based on the best available science and human rights norms when states put into force quarantine, lockdowns, and social isolation practices to stop the spread of COVID-19.

"What impact has the global pandemic had on our society? Leading experts from the Human Rights Centre and School of Law at the University of Essex have been working on a publication on how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected our societies during this time of uncertainty." Access the full publication for free here.  

7. Covid-19 and the Human Rights of Specific Populations

Health Care Workers
The following guide issued by the World Health Organization outlines rights, roles and responsibilities of Health Care Workers.

People with Disabilities
People with disabilities are affected by the crisis more than any others, as many of them rely on others’ oversight, assistance, and support for basic survival needs, including eating, dressing, and bathing. When social distancing practices are in effect, people with disabilities become more vulnerable. Please refer to the following suggestions given by Catalina Devandas, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, for continuous support of people with disabilities.

Indigenous Peoples
Many Indigenous Peoples who already face food, health, and basic needs insecurity due to the loss of their traditional territories, confront greater challenges accessing public health and essential services. Please see the “COVID-19 and Indigenous People” statement released by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Indigenous Peoples here.

For more resources, check out the OHRC list (under #9). 

LGBTQ2 People
In support of the LGBTQ2 group, the Human Rights Campaign developed briefs and articles addressing the challenges these people live through the public health emergency situation. Support resources are accessible to readers here.

Children and Youth
Read about unique challenges that children experience in lockdown (such as challenges related to right to education, right to safety, issues related to violence at home, loss of adult caretakers, child labor, sexual exploitation), as well as recommendations to strengthen social protection measures that will benefit children long after pandemic here

“Ninety-nine per cent of the world’s children live with some form of pandemic-related movement restrictions; Sixty per cent live in countries with full or partial lockdown” reports UNICEF. Read more. UNICEF CANADA lists the impact of COVID-19 on children in Canada, as well as mitigation strategies that are published here

A recent statement published by the Council of Europe Portal on "Protecting and empowering children during the COVID-19 pandemic" can be accessed here.

For a list of different reports that outlines key human rights risks to children and ways to protect children's rights relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, click here

Older Adults
It is known that the elderly are already vulnerable to contract the virus if exposed. It is also noticed that the COVID-19 response by the public can produce stigma, discrimination, and hate speech towards older adults, threatening their rights. Recent reports made on life conditions and circumstances elderly population live in, as well as challenges they face show the doubled risk older adults are physically, emotionally, and mentally confined in.

Please read the joint press release from OHCHR, IOM, and WHO in response to the protection of refugees and migrants during COVID-19 here. Other stories of humanitarian actions and responses in support of refugees in refugee camps are shared here.

As women and men are affected by the pandemic differently due to socio-economic and cultural differences, women’s right to sexual and reproductive health should be protected to ensure gender-based equality. Read more about the impacts of COVID-19 on women here. Similarly, ensuring social safety for women and promoting awareness of women’s ‘regular duty of unpaid care work’ is essential to promote gender-based equality. Full article can be accessed here.

Racial and Ethnic Minorities
The following reports are directed towards COVID-19 and human rights of Racial and Ethnic Minorities:
States should take action against COVID-19-related expressions of xenophobia, says UN expert

UN human rights chief: racism and xenophobia are ‘contagious killers’ too.

Rights experts warn against discrimination in COVID-19 response.

UN adopts resolution of global solidarity on COVID-19: Resolution highlights need to respect human rights, oppose any form of discrimination, racism and xenophobia.

8. Covid-19 and Specific Human Rights Topics

Please find a list of reports available on COVID-19 and the Right to Housing led by the UN Special Rapporteur here.
Please find the latest release from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation on COVID-19: Eviction Bans and Suspensions to Support Renters here.

The International Labor Organization, UN’s special agency, addresses employment hardships and drastic changes in work force. Refer to their practical advice here and read more. To download the “Analysis of COVID-19 and the World of Work”, click here.
Laura Track, Human Rights Lawyer and Educator provides “Top 10 Human Rights Tips for Employers”. COVID-19 and the Right to Refuse to work guides are located here.

In order to find out about human rights violations around the world, join the COVID-19 DemocracyWatch email list by clicking here.

The environment 
This list of resources explores the intersection between human rights, the environmental changes/challenges and COVID-19.  

9. Other Lists of Human Rights and Covid-19 Resources

Ontario Human Rights Commission
The OHRC has compiled useful information and resources released by different human rights' organizations across Canada and internationally with respect to their responses to COVID-19 and human rights. Please see a full list of resources here.

American Association for the Advancement of Science
The AAAS has compiled useful information and resources released by different human rights' organizations around the world. Please see a full list of resources here.

COVID-19 Human Rights Advocacy Repository
To access a more comprehensive and growing database on COVID-19 and Human Rights advocacy / concerns, please click here.

10. Post-COVID-19 world

Open Global Rights:
Read about how governments' responses to COVID-19 lead to adverse effects on different populations by accessing the article "A Genuine Human Rights-Based Approach to Post-Pandemic Future" by John Packer and Slava Balan.

Global Citizen:
Kristine Liao raises questions on human rights isssues with respect to vaccination in "What is Vaccine Equity?" to fight against COVID-19. Read about why this has become an emerging issue and why this issue is of importance to combat COVID-19.

Local Media Coverage - CTV News Winnipeg:
The politics of remembrance - the Manitoba Museum and museums worlwide are putting out a call for COVID-19 artifacts for future generations. Read about this initiative