New study by UNDP, GANHRI and OHCHR reveals pivotal role of National Human Rights Institutions during the COVID-19 pandemic

More than 60 percent of countries have regressed on basic rights in 2020 as a result of measures to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic

A study of 75 percent of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) globally indicates that they have been remarkably resilient, adapting rapidly to COVID-19, and finding a range of innovative ways to fulfill their vital mission – to promote and protect human rights.

The figures are stark: over 60 percent of countries have regressed on basic rights in 2020 as a result of measures to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. The report COVID-19 and National Human Rights Institutions released one year after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, by the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) analyses the role and activities of NHRIs in addressing the human rights dimensions of COVID-19.

The study echoes the message by the UN Secretary-General that people – and their rights – must be front and center in COVID-19 response and recovery efforts.

“Research shows that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated imbalances of power especially for people who already experience exclusion and discrimination,” says Katy Thompson. “For many people basic rights were put at risk due to pandemic measures and the role of NHRIs has been critical in ensuring a rights-based response”.

The study finds that NHRIs have worked tirelessly during the pandemic to put people first. They have supported the most vulnerable and marginalized. They have received and acted on complaints. They have supported outreach, advocacy, and communications to populations – outlining their rights and their means of redress. They have monitored places of detention. And they have provided vital advice to Governments to help ensure that human rights are respected, protected and fulfilled while combating the pandemic. For example, the NHRI of Ukraine, has monitored access to information regarding urgent measures and provided recommendations to local authorities with support from UNDP. And in Mali, the NHRI has engaged in advocacy to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights to reduce the number of detainees within prisons to limit the risks of spreading the virus, supported jointly by UNDP and OHCHR through the TPP. Monitoring of places of detention was increased to reduce overcrowding, resulting in 1300 people being released including 200 women.

Yet, NHRIs have also been severely impacted by the pandemic. In some cases, it has curtailed their operations, methods of working and day-to-day functionality.

As a result of the pandemic, many NHRIs have even forged closer links with decision-makers and public agencies, as well as with civil society and other NHRIs, consolidating their position as the cornerstones of national human rights systems. In this new reality, NHRIs have a leading role to play in ensuring that human rights are made an intrinsic part of the socio-economic recovery in every country To this end, UNDP and OHCHR under the Tri-Partite Partnership will continue to provide support to NHRIs as they drive progress across the Sustainable Development Goals through their mandate and actions to protect and promote human rights

To know more about the experiences of NHRIs during COVID-19, tune into UNDP’s Development Dialogues podcast.