U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet attends a session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Sept. 9, 2019.
FILE - U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet attends a session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Sept. 9, 2019.

GENEVA - As a medical doctor, U.N. rights chief Michele Bachelet understands that draconian measures sometimes have to be taken to combat a deadly, rapidly spreading epidemic such as that caused by the coronavirus.  But she says governments must make sure the measures do not violate human rights.

In particular, she says, governments must protect the most vulnerable and neglected members of society.  She says they are likely to suffer most from such common measures used to contain viruses, such as quarantines and the lockdown of public transportation.  

Bachelet’s spokeswoman, Liz Throssel, says people with low incomes, isolated rural populations, people with underlying health conditions and the elderly are among those at particular risk of having their lives upended.  

“While authorities may judge it necessary to close schools, this may result in parents having to stay home and being unable to work.  And that is a measure that is likely to disproportionately affect women. ... Staying off work to 'self-isolate' may result in lost pay or a lost job, with far-ranging consequences for people’s livelihoods and lives.”  

The high commissioner is concerned that people who already are barely surviving economically may be pushed over the edge by measures aimed at containing the coronavirus.  She urges governments to deal with the unintended consequences of their actions.

Bachelet says some governments and international organizations are adopting measures to mitigate the impact on people’s economic and social rights.  She urges others to follow suit.  She says people must be given the social protections and means to survive economically during what is likely to be a protracted crisis.

Bachelet notes some people are being denied health care because they cannot afford it or because of stigma and xenophobia.  She calls that shortsighted and dangerous and warns denying people treatment for coronavirus will likely worsen the epidemic.
 

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