Seventy-three years have passed after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted on December 10, 1948. Today, human kind is facing various unheard-of disasters and crises such as pandemic and climate change. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights highlights that all people are equal before the law, and that the basic rights they deserve should be guaranteed. Unfortunately, the reality is different.

The COVID-19 pandemic has raised the issue of inequality, which was a long-standing problem for the vulnerable groups, to the surface. As numerous people are dying without receiving medical treatment and many are losing all their livelihood in one moment, we come to think about human rights, which are basic rights for human beings, once again.

Human Rights Violations During Corona

As COVID-19 broke out, individuals and groups who are marginalized and discriminated against—especially people of African descent, people from ethnic, national, or religious minorities, and indigenous peoples—have been overexposed to infection because of their limited access to health care and social protections such as sick leave, unemployment benefits, and furlough pay. They are structurally less able to isolate themselves if they are infected—due to inadequate living conditions and limited access to sanitation—meaning the virus can spread much more easily within their communities.

Children in homes with poor Internet access and computer equipment fall behind in school, and some drop out of school. Domestic violence sharply increases all across the world, and a large proportion of women who have been working in informal sectors and in health care, have no choice but to withdraw from the labor market in order to take care of their children who are no longer able to go to school, and to care for older people and the sick. It is said that women’s rights are at risk of being set back for decades in some areas.

Many rights have been infringed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • The Right to Freedom of Association: With the virus being air-borne and aggressively transmitted in groups, social distancing is key to preventing the spread. Restrictions on association with other people have been introduced worldwide during the pandemic. Restrictions have ranged from total bans on associating with anyone outside your household to only being allowed to gather in groups of limited size for purposes like weddings, funerals, and work.
  • The Right to Peaceful Assembly: Protests involve large groups of people meeting together and so have been restricted during the pandemic for similar reasons. Rights to protest and freedom of expression can be exercised in other ways—such as online—and have not been completely restricted.
  • The Right to Liberty of Movement: This applies to not only moving between regions inside the country but also to leaving the country. Border restrictions are explicitly recognized in international law as a right that may be lawfully restricted during a public emergency.
  • The Right to Family Reunification: This includes a right to reunification across borders, but is similarly recognized in international law as a right that may be lawfully restricted in a time of public emergency.

As the public health measure against COVID-19, countries have been restricting freedom of movement through the lockdown or stay-at-home instruction. This measure is a practical and necessary method to stop virus transmission. However, the impact of lockdowns on jobs, livelihoods, access to services, including health care, food, water, education, and social services, and it can be severe to the vulnerable.

Countries are able to restrict some rights to protect public health under human rights law, and also have certain additional power if a state of emergency threatening the life of the nation is publicly declared. In either case, the restrictions need to be proportionate, and non-discriminatory. They also need to be limited in duration, and key safeguards against excesses must be put in place. Certain rights, including the right to life, the prohibition against torture and other ill-treatment, and the right not to be arbitrarily detained continue to apply in all circumstances.

“The medical vaccines that are being developed will hopefully eventually deliver us from COVID-19. But they will not prevent or cure the socio-economic ravages that have resulted from the pandemic, and aided its spread. But there is a vaccine to hunger, poverty, inequality, and possibly—if it is taken seriously—to climate change, as well as to many of the other ills that face humanity. The name of that vaccine is human rights.”

-UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has called on the governments to ensure human rights are not violated under the guise of exceptional or emergency measures. He said that everyone has a role in building a post-COVID world that is better for present and future generations, and that with human rights at the heart of the COVID-19 response, we will recover, better.

COVID-19 has clearly demonstrated that inequalities and discrimination not only harm the individuals who are directly affected, but the whole of society. In this pandemic, no one is safe until everyone is safe. We need to give ear to those most affected and most vulnerable.

Role of Young Adults for Human Rights Protection

As we know from the COVID-19 crisis, human rights issues are closely related to us; they do not apply to specific place or person but to everyone, everywhere, and every day. Human rights are closely related to all individuals in our daily life. Social decisions and processes are absolutely related to human rights. Human rights are not something difficult or special, but a normal daily routine. Everyone can make efforts to protect human rights everywhere, every day. Young adults must be in the midst of this.

Youth Empowerment Through Human Rights Education: Plan of action for the fourth phase (2020–2024) of the World Program for Human Rights Education focuses on “human rights education” for youth (15–24) and the importance of their human right activities. This shows the necessity of raising awareness and developing human rights led by young adults. At the Security Council 2015, people witnessed the important role of young adults, and emphasized that young adults should participate in designing, implementing, and evaluating training of youth educators.

These are the competences that young adults must gain through the education on human rights: Analyze contemporary political, legal, cultural, and social processes from a human rights perspective; identify human rights issues in relation to key areas of life for themselves and others; identify the individual and collective benefits of realized human rights; develop and defend proposals for changing policies or laws; network and collaborate with others; lead organizing and campaigning efforts for human rights such as raising awareness in the private and public spheres; combat hate and discrimination online and offline; apply human rights principles and redress mechanisms in resolving interpersonal conflicts; identify and apply strategies for opposing all forms—including online—of discrimination, bullying; identify and analyze the impact of development in information and communications technology—including social media—to the protection and respect of human rights. Education on human rights must be preceded in order to develop these competencies.

In celebration of the Human Rights Day (December 10), ASEZ holds “Everyone, Everywhere, EverydayCampaign around the world for a month, from November 29 to December 31, 2021. This campaign focuses on human rights education for young adults and their human rights activities, being carried out in three steps: “Networking,” “Human Rights Day Seminar,” and “Policy Proposal and Practical Activity.”

Step 1: Conduct survey on human rights issues related to university students for university presidents and professors, human right experts, and local government officials, including college students.

Step 2: Based on the survey, hold seminars for young adults under the theme, “The role of college students in protecting human rights on campus.”

Step 3: After collecting the results of the seminars around the world, send the “Reports and Resolutions” to international organizations (OHCHR, UN Human Rights Council, etc.) and government ministers by e-mail. On the other hand, put into practice what is agreed on the issues.

ASEZ members around the world are willing to solve the human rights issues they face on their campuses in daily life. The issues are not different from the human rights issues that are prevalent in their regions and countries. We can arrive at the conclusion that human rights issues are not difficult and special, but normal and everyday things to which one belongs.

Attention is paid to the human rights activities that young adults around the world will carry out for young people of the world, starting from their campuses in 2021.