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WHO Launches COVID-19 Law Lab To Ensure Human Rights Standards
On Thursday, July 23rd, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, gave the following address as the organization announced the creation of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus, 2019) Law Lab.
Good morning, good afternoon, and good evening. More than 15 million cases of COVID-19 have now been reported to WHO, and almost 620 thousand deaths. Although all countries have been affected, we continue to see intense transmission in a relatively small group of countries. Almost 10 million cases, or two-thirds of all cases globally, are from 10 countries, and almost half of all cases reported so far are from just three countries. As we have said previously, political leadership and community engagement are the two vital pillars of the response. One of the tools governments can use is the law – not to coerce, but to protect health while protecting human rights. Yesterday, WHO, the United Nations Development Programme, and Georgetown University launched the COVID-19 Law Lab, a database of laws that countries have implemented in response to the pandemic. It includes state of emergency declarations, quarantine measures, disease surveillance, legal measures relating to mask-wearing, physical distancing, and access to medication and vaccines. Well-designed laws can help to build strong health systems; evaluate and approve safe and effective drugs and vaccines, and enforce actions to create healthier and safer public spaces and workplaces. However, laws that are poorly designed, implemented, or enforced can harm marginalized populations, entrench stigma and discrimination, and hinder efforts to end the pandemic. The database will continue to grow as more countries and themes are added.
The Covid-19 Law Lab is gathering and sharing legal documents from over 190 countries to help ‘establish and implement strong legal frameworks to manage the pandemic.’
WHO further detailed the importance of such an initiative in a press release to journalists earlier during the week.
Well-designed laws can help build strong health systems; evaluate and approve safe and effective drugs and vaccines; and enforce actions to create healthier and safer public spaces and workplaces. Critically, they are key to effective implementation of the WHO International Health Regulations: surveillance; infection prevention and control; management of travel and trade; and implementation of measures to maintain essential health services.
“Laws and policies that are grounded in science, evidence and human rights can enable people to access health services, protect themselves from COVID-19 and live free from stigma, discrimination and violence,” Achim Steiner United Nations Development Programme Administrator said within the release. “The COVID-19 Law Lab is an important tool for sharing good practices on laws and policies.”
“Laws that impact health often fall outside the health sector. As health is global, legal frameworks should be aligned with international commitments to respond to current and emerging public health risks. A strong foundation of law for health is more important now than ever before,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros.
Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS added the following, “Harmful laws can exacerbate stigma and discrimination, infringe on people’s rights and undermine public health responses,” before continuing. ” “To ensure responses to the pandemic are effective, humane and sustainable, governments must use the law as a tool to uphold the human rights and dignity of people affected by COVID-19.”
The COVID-19 Law database collects laws countries have implemented in response to the pandemic and will feature research on human rights impacts of public health laws to help countries identify best practices ‘to guide their immediate responses to COVID-19 and socioeconomic recovery efforts once the pandemic is under control.’