Human Rights Council
13 September–1 October 2021
Agenda item 3
Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil,
political, economic, social and cultural rights,
including the right to development
The Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order devotes his fourth thematic report to the Human Rights Council to the need of renewed multilateralism in the face of the pandemic. He examines to what extent the pandemic constitutes a most serious test to multilateralism, and how it could be the opportunity, as advocated in different forums, for strengthened, more effective and inclusive multilateralism, with a view to addressing the ongoing pandemic and future global challenges, while achieving a democratic and equitable international order.
The present report of the Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Livingstone Sewanyana, is submitted to the Human Rights Council in accordance with Council resolution 45/4.
In that resolution, the Council invited the Independent Expert to give special attention in his next report to the Council to the negative impact of the coronavirus disease (COVID19) pandemic at the international level on relevant issues pertaining to his mandate. In this regard, he has observed that since the outbreak of the pandemic in early 2020, it has highlighted on many fronts the weaknesses in practice of the multilateral system, which is core to a democratic and equitable international order. As a result, the Independent Expert has decided to devote the present report to the need for renewed multilateralism in the face of the pandemic, examining to what extent the latter constitutes a most serious test to multilateralism, and how it could be the opportunity, as advocated in different forums, for strengthened, more effective and inclusive multilateralism, with a view to addressing the ongoing pandemic and future global challenges and to achieving a democratic and equitable international order.
The Independent Expert wishes to limit the scope of his report to multilateralism in relation to an equitable health response and fair socioeconomic recovery in the context of the pandemic, mindful of the ongoing broader thinking around the need for reinvigorated multilateralism that better addresses current and future challenges.1 Multilateralism is indeed already being undermined as a result of several highly problematic issues, including geopolitical tensions, climate change, migratory and humanitarian crises, poverty and inequity. The pandemic is only the tip of the iceberg.
There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic is the most severe crisis the world has faced since the Second World War. To date, the COVID-19 pandemic has claimed the lives of more than 4 million people, and nearly 200 million have been infected, as reported to the World Health Organization (WHO). It is feared that the actual figures are considerably higher. The Independent Expert pays respect to all individuals, and to the families of those individuals, who have died as a result of the pandemic, in particular health workers who have paid a heavy price and whose sacrifice should never be forgotten.
As highlighted by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in its Global Humanitarian Overview 2021, a total of 235 million people worldwide are in need of humanitarian assistance and protection in 2021, which represents a staggering increase of 40 per cent in one year. The detrimental impact of the pandemic on the enjoyment of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights around the world has been, and continues to be, profound. Those who have been affected most are groups including women and girls, children and young people, older persons, persons with disabilities, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, indigenous peoples and minorities, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. Fundamentally, as pointed out by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the multifaceted crisis has worsened the existing inequalities and vulnerabilities, further exposing the prevailing linkages between race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status, and health outcomes. A human rights-based approach, which is first and foremost people-centred, must be central to all recovery efforts in order to build back better. The Director-General of WHO stated in December 2020 that integrating human rights protections into the response to the pandemic was not only a moral imperative, but a binding legal obligation, and that respect for all human rights would be fundamental to the success of the public health response. In addition, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development should constitute the road map for a more resilient and fairer global recovery, with no one left behind.
Multilateralism and global solidarity should be the main tenets for such a recovery. The Independent Expert highlights the obligation of international cooperation and assistance, as stated, inter alia, in the Charter of the United Nations (arts. 55 and 56), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (art. 22), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (art. 2 (1)) and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights general comment No. 14 (2000) on the right to the highest attainable standard of health. This obligation takes on a whole new dimension in the dire context of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.
In preparing the present report, in addition to extensive research and desk review, the Independent Expert issued a questionnaire to Member States, civil society and other stakeholders, and he consulted bilaterally with a number of stakeholders to seek their views on the topic at stake.6 He expresses his gratitude to everyone who took the time to engage with him and to contribute to the report in this difficult context.
It is the hope of the Independent Expert that his report will provide useful observations and recommendations to all stakeholders working towards fostering renewed multilateralism while seeking to defeat the pandemic, in the pursuit of a democratic and equitable international order.