• About this event

    Welcome to the 23rd EU-NGO Human Rights Forum: Rebuilding Better – a human rights-based recovery from the pandemic


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    Since the emergence of the pandemic, human rights NGOs, the UN and the EU have acknowledged that the pandemic has had a strong impact on respect for and full enjoyment of human rights. We are facing an unprecedented worldwide limitation on fundamental freedoms coupled with a looming socio-economic crisis, while healthcare systems are being overwhelmed. States’ budgets are under pressure, and millions of individuals have already lost, or stand to lose their jobs.

    Governments have taken urgent measures to safeguard public health and provide medical care to those who need it. Subsequently, as states of emergency and lockdowns have proliferated, fundamental freedoms such as freedom of peaceful assembly, association and expression, have been severely limited. 

    Disproportionate restrictions

    Many governments have used the pretext of COVID-19 to impose disproportionate restrictions on fundamental freedoms that might outlive the pandemic. NGOs have documented a rise in attacks against, and a shrinking space for, civil society. The pandemic, however, has also triggered innovative activism initiatives, particularly in the online sphere. Peaceful protesters are still demonstrating on the streets, when possible, despite law-enforcement reactions.

    The pandemic has deepened pre-existing inequalities and led to increased unemployment, threatened social cohesion, and disproportionately affected the disadvantaged, the marginalised and persons in vulnerable situations, including:

    • those most affected by poverty; 
    • persons dependent on the informal economy;
    • unemployed persons; 
    • women and girls;
    • persons with disabilities; 
    • older persons; 
    • persons belonging to minorities, including national, ethnic and religious minorities, LGBTI persons, migrants and refugees, children and youth.

    The lessons that States are currently learning from the COVID-19 pandemic all underscore that investing in health for all is not optional. Stable, equitable, prosperous and peaceful societies and economies are only possible when no one is left behind. This crisis is an opportunity to seize the moment to make changes to promote universal healthcare and pay particular attention to the rights of those in vulnerable situations.

    The pandemic also had a strong impact on labour rights. Collective bargaining and social dialogue are being hampered and, for the first time in 2020, child labour has gone up alarmingly, with a further increase expected. In this context, investing in human rights, democracy, the rule of law and enabling civic space is essential to achieve fairer, greener, more resilient and inclusive societies. 

    Promoting fundamental freedoms

    The EU already has strong existing policies and programming initiatives that promote and protect fundamental freedoms, and is a strong advocate of social and labour rights standards across the world.

    Building on this, the EU-NGO Human Rights Forum will provide an essential platform to elaborate recommendations on how the EU can further protect civic space worldwide, and promote a rights-based recovery through the strengthening of healthcare and decent work for everyone. It will also represent an opportunity to create or strengthen international multi-stakeholder networks, in particular for human rights defenders.


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