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UN Said and COVID Proved

Prof. V.Rajyalakshmi

UN said in 1993-All Human Rights are, indivisible, interdependent and inter related

Interestingly, but sadly, - COVID 19 born out of a miniscule virus, has created a multi dimensional global crisis. It created a universal vulnerability.. COVID by not exempting any country or any individual from its impact has kept all on an equal footing. But this is a negative entitlement to equality, an equality none wants.

Since its foundation in 1945, the United Nations has been vigorously promoting various human rights to be respected and protected. They are civil, political, economic, social and cultural in their nature. These rights are typically categorised into first generation, second generation and third generation rights. Civil and political rights belong to first generation. They include right to life, liberty, equality, family, freedom of movement, expression and such others. Economic, social and cultural rights belong to second generation. They include such rights as right to education, right to work, right to social security, right to culture etc. Third generation rights include collective rights such as right to development, right to self determination, right to environmental protection etc. of late, we also come across reference to fourth generation human rights. However, the fundamental question is – can the human rights be understood as standalone rights? Is each human right is so independent that its enjoyment can be irrespective of the state or status of other human rights? For example, is right to work branded as an economic right or the right to culture branded as a social right have nothing to do with civil rights such as right to life, liberty or dignity or even the right to development which is a third category group right? Our rationality and our experience guide us to the most grounded truth that each human right finds a great companion in other human rights. Therefore, a constructive thrust to one human right can be a boost to many other human rights or on the reverse side, a push down of a human right can pull down many other human rights. Therefore, the United Nation came out with a very significant statement in its Vienna Declaration (and Programme of Action adopted in the World Conference on Human Rights in 1993 which underscored the fundamental reality that no human right can be a standalone right. This Declaration (Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action) said:

All Human Rights are indivisible, interdependent and interrelated.

COVID proved this and proved with an inescapable visibility.

UN’s Vienna Declaration on Human Rights, 1993 underscored the collective and connective character of human rights by declaring that all human rights are interrelated, indivisible and interdependent. COVID situation with highest possible sampling of the world population gave an undeniable empirical finding on how inter related, inter dependent and indivisible are these human rights. It gave a global demonstration of how a starter threat to right to health led to a buffet of multiple threats to human rights of every kind such as rights to life, security, livelihood, liberty, education, dignity, family, equality, culture so on and so forth. To top it all, even the right to decent burial met an indecent burial under COVID crush. COVID infection affected just one right (right to health) which in turn infected various other human rights. Right now it now looks as though the right to health has seized COVID opportunity to scream aloud that if it is taken too much for granted it can crumble all other human rights on a given chance.

Currently we are facing the COVID situation in which everybody is affected though not everybody is infected. The nature and novelty of COVID drove states, organizations and individuals to resort to frenzy, unprepared or semi prepared safety reactions with least comprehension on their approach being right or wrong. No doubt these actions are not chosen by desire. May be hard or may be bad, but a choice of action had to made – to survive. As a result, COVID which started out as a single threat to physical wellbeing ended up threatening nearly every aspect of human well being. Now we are amidst multiple adversities such as economic deprivation due to reduced or restricted work or market avenues, educational deprivation, liberty deprivation due to movement restrictions, restricted cultural practices, and stigmatization of the infected and apprehensive discrimination and victimisation of even the front line service providers whose services are the need of the hour and so on so forth. At this juncture, a pertinent question that pops up is - can we attribute all these adversities to COVID alone as a natural occurrence?

The inbuilt message of UN statement on interconnectivity of human rights is –to comprehend the holistic character of human rights which are nothing but embodiment of human aspirations. It is a pointer to the necessity of human systems to adopt a holistic as well as a balanced systemic approach for the best possible enjoyment of human rights. But the present systems do not possess the much needed holistic and balanced approach. Apart from proving the interconnectivity of human rights, COVID also proved how the systemic imbalances can enhance the COVID generated suffering or deprivations. Extra suffering of infected individuals due to lack of robust public health facilities, the bottom touching economic plight of poorer sections like small scale traders, migrant or the enhanced violence against women and children clearly demonstrate the negative contribution of systemic imbalances to add upon the primary adversity of COVID.

COVID proven truth of the interconnectivity of human rights reaffirmed the importance of viewing human rights with a holistic perspective that takes into account the importance of every human right. Does it mean that all human rights need be given an equal weightage at all times and under all circumstances? That would be utopian dream because enjoyment and protection of competing human rights raise questions of limits, capabilities and necessities in a given situation. As much as they complement one another human rights also compete amongst them. Hence, prioritisation becomes inevitable but it has to be a conscious and conscientious exercise of due prioritisation done with a holistic perspective. While prioritisation would be inevitable, the same has to be done with a balanced approach. In other words, prioritisation has to be due prioritisation as per necessities and without excesses. Interconnectedness of human rights is both a boon and bane. On the positive side, if a human right is pushed up as a matter of priority, such push has the inherent potential to benefit even the other human rights. The flip side is, prioritisation of a human right at the cost or neglect of other human rights has the negative potential to suck out even the advantages of such push in the long run . Therefore, it is important to ensure the prioritisation to be a due prioritisation. If and when the priority is guided by necessities or where the benefits of prioritised human right are channelized to strengthen the other human rights such priority is a due priority. It leads to constructive results of holistic character. On the other hand, excess priority to one or a set of human rights to the detriment of other human rights creates imbalances and leads to adverse results. This is where policy approaches matter a lot.

In this regard the COVID pandemic demonstrated the prevailing policy imbalances in international and national systems. Major imbalance lies in the wrong interpretation of right to development to mean only economic development and sidelining the rest of the dimensions of development. It is observed that a good proportion of secondary and differential impact of COVID could have been spared if the systems, international and national, have adopted a holistic approach towards development. COVID situation showed how a system built on an excessive and a competitive thrust on right to ‘development’ (wrongly construed as economic development alone) to a point of pushing the public health systems to unseen corners can become a great handicap in handling the COVD situation with best possible ability and efficiency. It is clearly observed that a significant proportion of human suffering could have been avoided had there been accessible and robust public health systems through proper channelization of the benefits of the vigorously pursued economic development.

Every experience is a source of learning. Bad experience like COVID crisis is a far better source of learning. In the light of our COVID experience the lesson which we have to recapitulate is, – survival and prosperity of human race depends on due balancing of multifaceted human rights. Since there is every necessity for adopting a holistic as well as a balanced systemic approach for the best possible enjoyment of human rights COVID experience should be utilised as the right occasion and opportunity for national and international systems to revisit their policies and moderate them to be duly balanced.


Prof (Dr) V.Rajyalakshmi, Honorary Professor of Law, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam.

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