Tech & Rights

Human Rights Are Tools We Can Use to Prevail Through Corona

A free press, working through associations, healthcare and social security are just four tools that human rights give us to get through the coronavirus pandemic.

by Israel Butler

During the pandemic we will be hoping that our leaders do what is best to protect us. But how do we make sure they make the right choices about what to do and where to invest public resources? Here are four ways that human rights give us the tools to make sure our governments take the right decisions.

Free and independent media keeps a government on its toes

We all want to be sure that our leaders are doing everything in their power to protect us. We want our governments to use our public resources for the right things. Whether that's investing in enough protective equipment for doctors and nurses or giving financial help to people who've lost their jobs so that they can afford to pay for their homes and buy supplies. It's not for us to say what the best strategy is to take against the virus. But we can be sure that politicians are much more likely to do what is best for the public if they know that voters are watching them.

That's why there's a human right to freedom of expression. Among other things, this right obliges every country to have a free and independent media. We rely on journalists to ask the right questions, point out where mistakes have been made or spread the word where particular policies have been effective. In countries where the public broadcaster is under government control or influence, or where private media companies are owned by oligarchs who are cosy with politicians, the public can't rely on journalists to keep the government on its toes.

We can help each other by working through associations

All of us hope that our politicians listen to our concerns, especially at this time when many people are worried and confused. It's not enough to tell our representatives what we think once every four or five years in an election. We need to talk to them between elections while they're in power and taking decisions.

But who pays attention to a few isolated voices? That's why we have the right to create and work through associations. This allows concerned citizens to work together and get organised, so that members of the public can join their voices and make ourselves heard. Whether that's associations of teachers who are looking out for their members and children in our schools, or organisations making sure vulnerable groups like older people are taken care of.

Associations keep democracy healthy by building a bridge between the public and politicians. Our governments are more likely to solve the problems that the public is worried about, if we citizens can tell them what's on our minds. In countries where governments make it hard for associations to exist, the public can't rely on activists to make politicians listen to their concerns.

We can make sure our health workers have enough resources

We are all better off when we are healthy. Good health gives us freedom - we can live for longer and be in better shape to enjoy time with our families and earn a decent living. That's why there is a human right to health care. Human rights law doesn't dictate to governments how much they should spend on health care. But it does require governments to put the maximum of their available resources into their health services.

The right to health care also says that governments can't go backwards. That is, governments should be constantly improving their health systems and not let standards drop over time. But that is exactly what has happened in parts of Europe in recent years, such as the UK, France and Spain. In these countries, governments have been cutting the amount they spend on their health systems.

A pandemic would be a strain for any health service because of the pressure of large numbers of people getting ill at the same time. But if governments have already inflicted cuts on hospitals, nurses and doctors, it is obviously going to make it harder to cope. Governments that have invested properly in their health systems, as human rights law requires, will be better prepared.

We can make sure we have an income and a home

Businesses are firing employees or asking them to go on unpaid leave. That makes it hard to make ends meet, including keeping a roof over your head. All of us want to know that during temporarily difficult times when we fall ill or lose our jobs, we will be able to count on somewhere to live and a basic standard of living. That's one of the reasons everyone pays taxes and social security contributions.

And that's why there is a human right to social security. Governments are under an obligation to create social security systems that will give everyone a minimum essential standard of living until difficult times pass. That includes, for example, housing, food, healthcare and other basics. A proper social security system will make sure that people who lose their jobs don't have to go hungry or lose their homes during the pandemic.

Using our rights, we can make sure our governments do what's best

A free press, working through associations, healthcare and social security are just four tools that human rights give us to get through the pandemic. If these things aren't working properly in your country, join with your fellow citizens and tell your government to put your human rights into practice.


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