LAP webinar report: Covid 19 & its Impact on Human Rights – a discussion with Oxfam

LAP webinar report: Covid 19 & its Impact on Human Rights – a discussion with Oxfam

On the 21st of July 2020 Lawyers Against Poverty hosted an online webinar with Oxfam, discussing the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic upon human rights.  If you missed the event, both the slides and the webinar are now available on our website.  If you would like to download the Oxfam discussion paper referred to in the webinar please see links at the end of this report.

For further details about this webinar, please read our report below.

This webinar included speakers from Oxfam; Joss Saunders, General Counsel of Oxfam GB, and Lydia Zigomo, Regional Director, Oxfam Horn, East & Central Africa. The presentations were centred on the impact of COVID-19 on human rights and the potential responses. The event was chaired by Kate Cook, Matrix Chambers, with trustee Emily Blower providing an outline of LAP’s activities

Joss Saunders opened by introducing Oxfam’s forthcoming discussion paper, which considers the impacts of COVID-19 on human rights. The webinar highlighted the abuse of human rights in the current crisis, particularly in regard to internally displaced people, the impact of changing human rights in civic space and the rights of businesses during the pandemic. Once published, the paper will enter a four-week consultation period during which all contributions are welcomed.

Joss’s talk outlined how the use of a Human Rights Framework is applicable when considering the response, impacts and other factors caused by COVID-19.  Joss spoke about the current pandemic as the ‘most complex emergency from a human rights perspective’ since the Asian Tsunami disaster. This complexity is caused due to the cross-boundary nature of the crisis requiring international collaboration, resulting in interconnections between several international, national and regional organisations. Furthermore, although the crisis was first seen as a public health issue, it has transformed into an issue of civil and political rights with lockdown and emergency legislation giving rise to other complex human rights issues.

As a result of the interconnected, complex nature of COVID-19, Joss advocated a Human Rights approach when understanding this crisis due to its holistic framework. This Framework highlights the need for inclusivity, global freedom rights and transparency by countries and organisations. These issues are further discussed within the paper, in addition to the impact of COVID-19 as a gendered crisis and the issue of emergency legislation together with resultant discussions.

We next heard from Lydia Zigomo who contextualised these issues from an African perspective.  Although more than 47,000 cases have been recorded within the Horn, East and Central Africa, the peak is not expected until September at the earliest, raising fears about the scale of the pandemic across the region. Lydia highlighted the unforeseen impacts of the pandemic ranging from shrinking civic space in turn causing protest; to emergency measures resulting in the suspension of Ethiopian elections. The highly unequal gendered impacts of the crisis were examined with the rise in sexual abuse and lack of informal work sectors seen to be pressurising women more than men.

Despite this secondary impact of the pandemic, often referred to as the shadow pandemic, Lydia was able to highlight the positive responses from organisations, such as refugee-led response groups reacting to the lockdown of refugee camps. Although these initiatives benefit from being people-based, they often lack the resources and efficiency to deal with the impact of COVID on related border closures and their effect on refugee rights.

Lydia also described the impact of these national lockdowns on supply chains and businesses. For instance, Europe and Asia’s lockdown led to job losses due to a reduced market for primary commodities, e.g. Rwandan pineapples, and a huge drop in employment and remittances created by migrant work. Throughout her talk Lydia emphasised the significance of these serious although less obvious impacts of COVID-19.

Finally, we again heard from Joss Saunders with an outline of the five key human rights principles highlighted within the discussion paper. This paper draws on UN and CEDWA committee knowledge and highlights the manner in which the pandemic has had unequal impacts and hence led to discrimination. Examples such as Gender Based Violence or unpaid care work highlight the potential for a rise in gender-based discrimination. In response to these issues, Joss proposed the need for societal participation, dignity and freedom of expression when discussing and examining the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. These requirements lend themselves to a Human Rights Framework providing for clearer navigation through the crisis.

The webinar was drawn to a close with a range of questions varying from the role of Transnational Corporations in dealing with the pandemic, the impact of COVID on judicial systems and the potential balance between negative and positive impacts of COVID on human rights.

Once again, we would like to say a huge thank you to our speakers for providing an interesting and highly topical discussion, Kate Cook for chairing and Emily Blower of Lawyers Against Poverty for hosting  Finally, thank you to all out delegates for attending, we hope you found the event interesting. 

Please do contact us for any further information about the event.

The Oxfam discussion paper COVID-19 AND HUMAN RIGHTS: States’ obligations and businesses’ responsibilities in responding to the pandemic, is now available for download.  Comments are welcomed – please respond to direct to Oxfam as set out in the paper.

Thank you to our student volunteer from Durham University who kindly prepared this report.