Advocacy statements

Covid-19 and need for effective multilateral system

  • Date / 2021
  • Relevant Institution / UN Human Rights Council
  • UN Item / Item 3: Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights


International Humanist and Ethical Union

47th Session of the UN Human Rights Council (21 June 2021 to 13 July 2021)

 Interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity


We thank the Special Rapporteur for his report[1] [on “International solidarity in aid of the realization of human rights during and after the coronavirus disease pandemic”] and his reaffirmation of the ethical and legal basis of international cooperation, whilst also highlighting the striking gaps in international solidarity manifested during the pandemic.

An effective, robust and just multilateral system is central to realising this solidarity and closing those gaps.

Yet the pandemic and funding cuts at the multilateral level have had widespread negative repercussions on this; particularly in terms of realising the UN’s human rights mandate and ensuring meaningful participation by civil society actors. Recent efficiency measures at the Human Rights Council combined with pandemic-related restrictions have impaired effective participation by civil society significantly.

Whilst the World Health Organisation is a key body in any effective response to global health crises, and one that is based on a constitution which highlights the role of international solidarity and human rights in the context of infectious disease control. It has suffered from real and perceived problems around politicization, including on the basis of funding and powerful state interest.[2]

The multilateral system requires more investment and engagement from democratic countries with a commitment to human rights.[3] Along with funding, the WHO needs reforms that allow for increased transparency, coordination, and engagement via the inclusion of diverse nonstate actors, including civil society, in oversight and decision-making.[4]

International solidarity can only be fostered and supported through an equitable and rule-based system allowing for international cooperation and space for civil society to scrutinise state action. This needs to be coupled with an unwavering commitment to any response to the pandemic being human rights compliant and grounded in evidence, science and solidarity.

[1] A/HRC/47/31

[2] See for example, https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2020/04/08/who-china-trump-coronavirus-176242. Ghebreyesus’s nomination of Robert Mugabe as a goodwill ambassador in 2017 is another case in point (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-41702662)

[3] https://eufactcheck.eu/

[4] “Addressing global health governance challenges through a new mechanism: the proposal for a Committee C of the World Health Assembly”, Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics (2010).  A/HRC/46/34

Suggested academic reference

'Covid-19 and need for effective multilateral system', Humanists International

WordPress theme developer - whois: Andy White London