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A protester holds a sign showing the worldwide death toll from the coronavirus pandemic outside Pfizer's headquarters in New York City on March 11, 2021. (Photo: Erick McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

A protester holds a sign showing the worldwide death toll from the coronavirus pandemic outside Pfizer's headquarters in New York City on March 11, 2021. (Photo: Erick McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images) 

Amnesty International's Annual Global Human Rights Report Details Harm—and Heroism—Amid Pandemic

"Covid-19 has brutally exposed and deepened inequality both within and between countries, and highlighted the staggering disregard our leaders have for our shared humanity."

Brett Wilkins

Offering an incisive overview of "a world in disarray" and focusing largely on how governments have responded—or failed to respond—to the coronavirus pandemic, Amnesty International on Tuesday released its annual global human rights report.

"Covid-19 and its mass casualties flourished in part thanks to our global milieu of deeper, broader inequalities within and between countries."
—Amnesty International

Amnesty International Report 2020/21: The State of the World's Human Rights (pdf) examines human rights in 149 countries, highlighting how people who were already among the world's most marginalized—including refugees, women, racial and religious minorities, and the poor—"suffered the brunt of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic."

"Covid-19 and its mass casualties flourished in part thanks to our global milieu of deeper, broader inequalities within and between countries," the report asserts. "It has been made far worse by austerity policies that weakened public infrastructure and public health systems; by international architecture enfeebled in form, function, and leadership. And it has been made far worse under pressure from leaders of states who demonize and exclude, asserting archaic constructs of state sovereignty and peddling rejectionist approaches to science, evidence, and universal norms."

The report takes aim at wealthy countries accused of stockpiling coronavirus vaccine doses while depriving less-developed nations of the life-saving medications—a practice that many observers have called "vaccine apartheid."

"While the World Health Organization's (WHO) COVAX facility represented a positive global initiative aimed at ensuring more countries could access vaccines, it was undermined by the non-participation of Russia and the USA, the hoarding of vaccines by rich countries, and the failure of companies to share their intellectual property," it states. "More than 90 countries introduced export restrictions affecting items including medical equipment, PPE [personal protective equipment], pharmaceutical products, and food."

"Wealthy states also blocked adoption of a proposal at the World Trade Organization for a temporary waiver of intellectual property rights for Covid-19 products that was designed to facilitate universal access," the report continues. "Disagreement in the United Nations Security Council between the USA and China over reference to the WHO delayed the passing of a resolution on a global ceasefire to support the Covid-19 response for three months."

The report details how the pandemic has exacerbated the already precarious existence of people including refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers, as well as women and LGBTQ people and workers in the informal economy. It also notes that authoritarian regimes around the world have used the pandemic as a pretext to repress human rights. 

Amnesty International secretary-general Agnès Callamard said in a statement that "Covid-19 has brutally exposed and deepened inequality both within and between countries, and highlighted the staggering disregard our leaders have for our shared humanity. Decades of divisive policies, misguided austerity measures, and choices by leaders not to invest in crumbling public infrastructure have left too many easy prey to this virus."

"We are reaping the results of years of calculated neglect at the hands of our leaders," Callamard added. "In 2020, under the unique strain of a pandemic, health systems have been put to the ultimate test and people have been left in financial freefall," while "those who gave the most were protected the least." 

The report isn't all gloom and doom. It hails the "exceptional leadership" that came "not from power, privilege, or profits," but rather from "nurses, doctors, and health workers on the frontlines of life-saving services."

"It came from the countless people marching to demand change," said Callamard. "We saw an outpouring of support for #End SARS, Black Lives Matter, as well as public protests against repression and inequality in places across the world including in Poland, Hong Kong, Iraq, and Chile. Often risking their own safety, it was the leadership of ordinary people and human rights defenders the world over that urged us on. These are the people at the frontier of the struggle for a better, safer, and more equal world."

"The only way out of this mess is through international cooperation. States must ensure vaccines are quickly available to everyone, everywhere, and free at the point of use."
—Agnès Callamard
Amnesty International

The report adds that leadership also "came from those who cared for older people" and "from technicians and scientists running millions of tests and trials, frantically searching for vaccines. It came from those who, bunched together more often at the very bottom of the income scale, worked to feed the rest of us; who cleaned our streets; cared for the bodies of the hundreds of thousands of deceased; repaired our essential services; patrolled our streets; drove what remained of our public transport."

"In 2020, as so much of the world shut down, it was those people who stood up, who stood out," it states. "So too, those who stayed home in solidarity—if they had a home to live in—who maintained emotionally costly physical distance, and who cared for those around them."

Callamard concludes that "the only way out of this mess is through international cooperation. States must ensure vaccines are quickly available to everyone, everywhere, and free at the point of use. Pharmaceutical companies must share their knowledge and technology so no one is left behind. G20 members and international financial institutions must provide debt relief for the poorest 77 countries to respond and recover from pandemic."


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