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Hope in the Midst of the Coronavirus

How Human Rights Watch is Adapting to COVID-19

Police patrol near the Arc de Triomphe on the first day of confinement due to COVID-19, Paris, France, March 17, 2020. © 2020 Sipa via AP Images
Around the world, all eyes are on the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The pandemic is challenging families, communities, health care systems, and governments. There is no doubting the severity of the public health crisis we are facing.

The COVID-19 pandemic is also challenging our organization and staff in unprecedented ways. But responding to crises is what Human Rights Watch does. We began investigating the human rights dimensions to COVID-19 in late January, calling out the Chinese government for underreporting cases of infection, withholding information about the coronavirus from the public, and dismissing the likelihood of transmissions between people. Beijing’s conduct gave the coronavirus a two to three-week head start, with disastrous consequences for public health around the world.

We are also reporting on how a coronavirus outbreak in Venezuela, with its broken health care system, could endanger all of Latin America, on the effect school closings could have on poor children, and what a ban on visitors could mean for older people in institutions as well as prisoners behind bars.

You can find our work on the coronavirus here.

The travel restrictions made necessary by COVID-19 won’t stop us from working on the world’s most devastating emergencies, helping to protect at-risk communities. Our investigators are experienced in gathering information from people they can’t speak to in person – using phone calls, emails, messaging apps, and social media. Additionally, we use more sophisticated tools, like satellite images, to peer into hidden spaces.

Today, as we confront a global health crisis, we are strengthened by years of experience that have shown us that even when problems seem insurmountable, change is always possible.

The coronavirus is an invisible adversary. It knows no borders. And its rapid spread through communities sends the important lesson that our own health is only as good as that of the person standing next to us. In this way, the crisis also reminds us of our common humanity and connectedness, reinforcing the fact that human rights are a truly global value. 

While COVID-19 is temporarily shifting the way we work to ensure the health of our partners as well as our own staff (see below), it does not change our mission to protect people who are at risk and safeguard human rights.

In fact, this crisis only demonstrates how human rights, such as equal access to health care, adequate information from our governments, and the right to be treated with dignity, are critical.

Thank you for your support. Please stay healthy and safe in the weeks ahead.

How will Human Rights Watch’s work be affected?

Our priority is twofold: to ensure that our human rights work does not inadvertently harm others and to keep our staff and those we work with safe. This pandemic creates the risk of our staff falling ill while conducting research, but also the potential for our staff to carry illness to at-risk populations. We take very seriously our obligation to limit transmission of the virus.

Like other organizations, we are making difficult decisions about which work can safely be continued, and which work should be scaled back or temporarily halted. For now, all international work travel has stopped. As soon as it is deemed safe for our field work to resume, we will deploy again.

How are you supporting your staff?

This is a time of deep uncertainty for our employees. Our staff’s well-being is our priority, and we are adopting measures to promote staff health and providing information on how to support staff should they become ill.  

In all our offices, we are also encouraging our staff to work remotely. We are supporting staff around their need to care for family members and dependents, as well as those facing limited freedom of movement due to the virus. Comprehensive mental health support is also in place.  

How are you working with your supporters?

Our supporters are a source of great inspiration. Many are in touch to ask how they can help. We encourage you to stay connected with us during these challenging times by following us on social media and visiting our website for the latest news on our work and community.

Thank you to our allies who remain fully engaged. The spread of coronavirus offers urgent new opportunities to mobilize for fundamental rights and dignity and equality for all. 

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