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AFTERNOON - COVID-19 Pandemic Brought on a Substantive Setback for Persons with Leprosy who must be Recognised as a Vulnerable Group with Regard to Vaccination, Special Rapporteur Tells Human Rights Council

Meeting Summaries

 

Council Concludes Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association

 

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy. It also concluded its interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the rights of freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council decided, following a vote, to proceed with interactive dialogues on Myanmar with the High Commissioner and the Special Rapporteur at this session without the participation of the concerned country. The result of the vote was 26 in favour, 7 against and 14 abstentions.

Alice Cruz, Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy, said that a substantive setback was brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and 2021 began with concerning trends: there was around a 50 per cent decrease in the diagnosis of new cases; an increase in the number of hidden cases; an increase in the number of people diagnosed with irreversible physical impairments as a result of late diagnosis; and well-founded concerns over an increase in transmission rates and new cases among children, who may also be more likely to be diagnosed with already irreversible physical impairments. Persons affected by leprosy must be recognised as a vulnerable group with regard to COVID-19 vaccination, given that many of them were immunocompromised, and multilateral action may be key to saving their lives.

In the discussion, speakers were alarmed by reports of the socio-economic problems faced by persons affected by leprosy as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Actions must ensure supply channels for delivering essential medicines and goods, which were not reaching persons affected by leprosy. The definition of priority groups for COVID-19 vaccinations did not include persons affected by leprosy, despite the fact that many such persons were immunocompromised, making them more vulnerable. The health stigma and the mental health impacts brought about by COVID-19 had been experienced much more intensely by persons affected by leprosy. Some speakers called for the setting up of special bodies at the national level dedicated to promoting the rights of persons with leprosy.

Speaking were Japan on behalf of a group of countries, European Union, United Nations Children's Fund, Portugal, Sovereign Order of Malta, Israel, Angola, Senegal, India, Morocco, Venezuela, Nepal, Namibia, Ethiopia, Viet Nam and Cambodia.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor: China Society for Human Rights Studies, Centre for Organisation Research and Education, Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil Conselho Federal, Association pour l'Intégration et le Développement Durable au Burundi , International Federation of Anti-Leprosy Associations, and Task Force for Global Health Inc.

The Council then concluded its interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

In the discussion, some speakers said that the rights to freedom of assembly and of association had to be exercised peacefully in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Thus, these rights were subject to restrictions of the Constitution and law as well as to national security concerns. Some speakers highlighted situations across the world where excessive use of force was used against the protesters. The Council was called to explicitly condemn not just Internet shutdowns but also website blocking or filtering, denial of service attacks and other measures that rendered ineffective access to telecommunications networks, mobile services and social media platforms.

Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, in his concluding remarks, noted that the mandate always took the reliability of the information it used for the production of reports very seriously, and that it was also based on the feedback from States themselves.

Speaking were Iran, Chad, Algeria, Azerbaijan, and Bolivia.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor:Réseau Européen pour l'Égalité des Langues, Child Rights Connect, Réseau International des Droits Humains, Colombian Commission of Jurists, Right Livelihood Award Foundation, Article 19 - International Centre Against Censorship, Peace Brigades International, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, Freedom Now, and Association for Progressive Communications.

Morocco, Armenia, Ethiopia, Brazil, Indonesia, Colombia, Thailand, Malaysia, Cuba, and Algeria spoke in right of reply.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-seventh regular session can be found here.

The Council will next meet on Friday, 2 July at 10 a.m. to hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, followed by an interactive dialogue with the Working Group on arbitrary detention.

Decision on Holding Interactive Dialogues with the High Commissioner and the Special Rapporteur on their Oral Presentations on Myanmar at the Forty-seventh Session of the Council

NAZHAT SHAMEEM KHAN, President of the Human Rights Council, recalled that the Council had earlier adopted its programme of work with the understanding that the question of holding the interactive dialogues with the High Commissioner and the Special Rapporteur on their oral presentations on Myanmar in the absence of representatives of the concerned country would be subject to further consideration by the Bureau and the Council. The Bureau met on Friday, 25 June to discuss the outstanding matter, concluding that a divergence of views remained and that there was no consensus. Thus, the following question was being placed before the Council for consideration today: should the Council hold the two interactive dialogues on Myanmar at this forty-seventh session? A yes vote meant that the interactive dialogues should take place at this session, without the participation of a representative of the concerned country.

A number of States took the floor. One speaker said they had been carefully observing the situation in Myanmar, especially after martial law was introduced. The Council had to consider this issue due to the human rights violations taking place in the country. Another speaker stressed that interactive dialogues should not be held without the presence of the country concerned, unless the country concerned chose to be absent: this was in line with the principle of transparency and promotion of genuine dialogue.

Speaking in favour of holding the interactive dialogues despite Myanmar’s inability to participate were Austria on behalf of the European Union, United Kingdom and Argentina.

Speaking against holding the interactive dialogues were Uruguay, Russian Federation, and China. Mexico regretted that there was no consensus on this matter and that the Bureau did not choose to take the decision. It said the participation of the concerned country was crucial.

Following a vote, the Council decided to hold the two interactive dialogues on Myanmar with 26 in favour, 7 against and 14 abstentions.

The results of the vote were as follows:

In favour (26):.Argentina, Austria, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Libya, Malawi, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mexico, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, Philippines, Poland, Republic of Korea, Somalia, Ukraine, United Kingdom and Uzbekistan..

Against (7): Bahamas, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Fiji, Russian Federation and Venezuela.

Abstentions (14): Armenia, Bahrain, Bolivia, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon, India, Pakistan, Senegal, Sudan, Togo and Uruguay.

The President said that the programme of work would be adjusted accordingly.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Elimination of Discrimination against Persons Affected by Leprosy

Report

The Council has before it the report of the Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy (A/HRC/47/29) on the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus disease pandemic on persons affected by leprosy and their family members: root causes, consequences, and the way to recovery

Presentation of the Report

ALICE CRUZ, Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members, said that her first action at the beginning of her second term was to consult the national and grass-roots organizations of persons affected by leprosy, to develop a participatory work plan for the following three years, and implement a people-centred approach. A substantive setback was brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and 2021 began with concerning trends: there was around a 50 per cent decrease in the diagnosis of new cases; an increase in the number of hidden cases; an increase in the number of people diagnosed with irreversible physical impairments as a result of late diagnosis; well-founded concerns over an increase in transmission rates; and new cases among children, who may also be more likely to be diagnosed with already irreversible physical impairments. Double standards in the COVID-19 response was a result of the limited recognition of the rights of persons affected by leprosy.

Since March 2020, Ms. Cruz said she had been receiving reports from all leprosy-endemic countries about a food emergency among persons affected by leprosy and their families. Drugs used for treating leprosy reactions were immunosuppressive, meaning that a high percentage of persons affected by leprosy were especially vulnerable to COVID-19. The systematic denial of economic and social rights to persons affected by leprosy had produced such a situation of extreme vulnerability. Unreliable casual labour with low income, unsafe working conditions and without entitlements to social protection or participation in social dialogue defined the livelihoods of the majority of persons affected by leprosy, who faced formidable, intersecting and multiple barriers to freely choose their work and to enjoy rights at work. Formal barriers systematically hindered their access to the open labour market and work in the formal economy: more than 100 discriminatory laws were still in force worldwide; some countries had institutionalised discrimination in hiring policies for public jobs and discrimination persisted at schools, which had pushed too many persons affected by leprosy out of education. There was also a generalised pattern of multiple barriers to access to healthcare. During the period from mid-2020 to the beginning of 2021, there had been complaints about the shortage of multidrug therapy in 10 countries. Ms. Cruz highlighted the need to guarantee the right to participation in COVID-19 related plans and recovery to marginalised and discriminated against groups, because they were frequently invisible and forgotten in national planning. Persons affected by leprosy must be recognised as a vulnerable group with regard to COVID-19 vaccination, given that many of them were immunocompromised, and multilateral action may be key to saving their lives.

Discussion

Speakers were alarmed by reports of the socio-economic problems faced by persons affected by leprosy as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Actions must ensure supply channels for delivering essential medicines and goods, which were not reaching persons affected by leprosy. The definition of priority groups for COVID-19 vaccinations did not include persons affected by leprosy, despite the fact that many such persons were immunocompromised, making them more vulnerable. Speakers noted that the health stigma and the mental health impacts brought about by COVID-19 had been experienced much more intensely by persons affected by leprosy. Some speakers called for the setting up of special bodies at the national level dedicated to promoting the rights of persons with leprosy. Women and children experiencing leprosy faced multiple intersecting discriminations. Other speakers outlined a variety of national measures and legislation aimed at protecting those affected by leprosy in their countries.

States must put persons affected by leprosy and their family members at the centre of their efforts to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, creating a more inclusive post-COVID society. Some speakers noted that their countries continued to protect their citizens affected by leprosy despite the debilitating effects of unilateral coercive measures imposed on them by other States. It was time to end the discrimination against persons affected by leprosy, speakers said, calling for a redoubling of efforts to achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. The report’s recommendation for the creation of separate provisions in the national budgets for those most marginalised, including persons affected by leprosy and their family members, was welcomed by speakers, who noted that in cases where these provisions existed, they must be properly implemented. The lack of the independence of the production of medicines directly affected this group and had to be addressed. Speakers also called for more effective and targeted collection of disaggregated data on persons affected by leprosy.

Concluding Remarks

ALICE CRUZ, Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members, said that if they looked at society from the margins, they usually identified better what was wrong and what needed addressing. With this lens in mind, the report was developed to ensure inclusive recovery. As some had said, persons with leprosy were discriminated against based on their health status and their voices needed to be raised through encouraging participation at different levels, including at the United Nations. The COVID-19 pandemic had created new conditions for discrimination. Multidrug therapy was provided free of charge in accordance with the World Health Organization and through their agreement with a pharmaceutical company. The drugs were produced in India and the World Health Organization took charge of the delivery and supply chain. During the COVID-19 pandemic, there had been a lack of information on delivery of drugs to new cases of leprosy. National and international contingency plans were needed in recovery efforts and accountability mechanisms and remedies for failure of the multidrug supply chain. Technology transfer was needed to countries that had conditions to produce the multidrug therapy. Vaccination was needed for all and participation was needed for resolving leprosy related issues as they were the invisible group. States were specifically called upon to promote the participation of children suffering from leprosy.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association

The interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association started in the morning meeting and a summary can be found here.

Discussion

Speakers noted that the factors enlisted in the report had infringed the enjoyment of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. Some speakers said that such rights had to be exercised peacefully in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Thus, rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association were subject to restrictions of the Constitution and law as well as to national security concerns. Granting justice and rehabilitation to those who were victims of violence and excessive use of force had to be upheld. Speakers thanked

the Special Rapporteur for his report focusing on access to justice and for highlighting that children should always be considered as being in a situation of vulnerability when accessing justice. States were called upon to adopt and implement legal and policy frameworks guaranteeing all children’s civil and political rights enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as to remove practical and legal barriers that impeded access to justice for children.

Some speakers highlighted situations across the world where excessive use of force was used against protesters. Despite the Council’s repeated condemnation of Internet shutdowns, there was a growing trend of States resorting to Internet shutdowns and other censorship measures like website blocking and filtering, network throttling, and disruptions to mobile services during protests and elections. These measures had the ultimate aim of stifling dissent, stopping the free flow of information, and concealing grave human rights violations. The Council was called to explicitly condemn not just Internet shutdowns but also website blocking or filtering, denial of service attacks and other measures that rendered ineffective access to telecommunications networks, mobile services and social media platforms. The Rapporteur was asked about possible international remedies for those who were denied fair trial at the national level.

Concluding Remarks

CLÉMENT NYALETSOSSI VOULE, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedoms of peaceful assembly and of association, responding to criticism by some States, noted that the mandate always took the reliability of the information it used for the production of reports very seriously, and that it was also based on the feedback from States themselves. There was no selectivity in the communication of the mandate with countries, as it equally covered States in all areas of the world. Stronger regulations were required from countries in which companies that created and sold technologies for mass surveillance were based. Also, it was important for States to review and repair legislation aimed at promoting and protecting the rights to freedom of assembly and of association.

 

HRC21.080E