With COVID-19 Still Around, Protecting Human Rights is More Important Than Ever

Photo courtesy of openglobalrights.org
Photo courtesy of openglobalrights.org

December 10th is International Human Rights Day a day where the entire globe celebrates the 1948 anniversary of when the General Assembly of the United Nations ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

This first-of-its-kind document outlines the universal fundamental human rights that every being on the planet is entitled to regardless of “race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

The document has 30 articles, each of which establishes essential points for the bare minimum of what each human being on the planet is entitled to by virtue of being part of the brotherhood of man. The declaration asserts that every nation’s government has a responsibility to uphold these articles. One article Article 25 is more timely than ever. 

Article 25 states: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

The Trump administration has brazenly thwarted the UN’s decree that a basic tenet of human rights “medical care” and “social services” be provided to those in need when “circumstances beyond his control” come to pass. 

During this time of death and isolation, instead of offering help to the human beings struggling to pay their rent, medical bills, grocery bills, and mortgages, the government largely left us to fend for ourselves. This has been a violation of our basic human rights. 

And for this year a year not like any other what is truly important has been put into stark perspective. After so much widespread death and trauma, we’ve all come to realize the true sanctity of human life.

March of 2020 seems like a lifetime ago. Before the coronavirus pandemic toppled global economies, ripped apart families, and took so many lives, we were blindly going about our lives. 

Going to work, going to school, riding the train, hanging out at bars. When the lockdown first began, Americans were assured that we wouldn’t be forced to stay inside for more than two weeks. It has now been nine months. 

Back in April, at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the UN wrote a treatise entitled “COVID-19 and Human Rights: We Are All in This Together.” It made an argument that countries can only adequately and effectively combat the coronavirus if they focus on human rights above all else. 

“Observing the crisis and its impact through a human rights lens puts a focus on how it is affecting people on the ground, particularly the most vulnerable among us, and what can be done about it now, and in the long term,” they wrote. 

The coronavirus pandemic has challenged the bounds of Article 25. Depending on the country you live in, government response to the coronavirus has been less-than-ideal. Some governments, like the United States’, have fundamentally failed their people.

The ways in which the U.S. government has failed its people during this global pandemic are almost too myriad to count but is worth attempting anyway. As of this writing, some 280,000 Americans have died from COVID-19.

While other governments mobilized an organized public health response, including distributing PPE and testing kits and enacting widespread contacting tracing, the Trump administration threw out Obama’s pandemic playbook and decided to “wing it.” The Trump administration also refused an offer from a manufacturer who offered to produce millions of PPE masks before the virus had fully taken off. 

While other countries adopted wage-subsidy programs to prevent their people from drowning under the tidal wave of mass unemployment and business shutdowns, the U.S. government offered everyone a one-time stimulus check of $1200. 

The pandemic has put what is essential into stark perspective. And if there’s any silver lining to this challenging year, it’s been that we all know how precious how fleeting life is. Now, more than ever, protecting human rights is of the utmost importance. 

While Black and brown communities were being disproportionately killed by COVID-19 (at rates of roughly six times that of the white population), the U.S. government turned a blind eye. 

Frontline workers (most of which are people of color) were forced to continue working because they had no other choice. For essential workers, a paycheck for their families is often worth the price of death. 

The number of COVID-19 related deaths America has amassed is proof that focusing on human rights was not the Trump administration’s utmost priority during this pandemic. 

No, the Trump administration’s utmost priority was the economy. “America will again, and soon, be open for business very soon. A lot sooner than three or four months that somebody was suggesting,” Trump stated at a press conference. “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.” The lure of greed trumped the government’s responsibility to protect human life at all costs. 

But a new chapter is about to start. Not only do we have a new administration coming in, but a new year is around the corner as well. This is a chance for a fresh start a recommitment to understand that all human lives are worthy. 

Now is the time for us to advocate for reforming our healthcare system, demanding congress subsidize the income of Americans who are struggling, and focus our triage efforts on communities of color, which have been devastated by this virus.

Yes, the end is in sight because an effective vaccine is on its way, but we still have a rough road ahead of us. Even after most of the population is inoculated, our families, our friendships, our communities have a lot of healing to do. But let this day of International Human Rights remind you that we are all worthy of basic, fundamental rights. Be kind to your friends. 

Be kind to your family. Be kind to a stranger. This year has been challenging do your part in the healing process.