UPR Inter-State Virtual Dialogue
4 December 2020
Statement by the Permanent Representative of Portugal
Ambassador Rui Macieira
Madam moderator, good morning,
Let me start by thanking OHCHR and UPR-info for organizing today’s virtual dialogue. We are delighted to co-host this event with the Mission of Japan.
The COVID-19 pandemic, an unprecedented public health crisis, brought equally unprecedented challenges for our societies, including in the realization of human rights.
If any doubts persisted, COVID demonstrated that human rights are present in every single aspect of our lives and that only through a response anchored on human rights we can overcome the crisis and mitigate its effects.
Likewise, it highlighted the existing inequalities, which became even more accentuated with the pandemic, disproportionately affecting persons in more vulnerable situations.
As the pandemic persists for almost an year, we realize that its effects are enormously and disproportionately affecting the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights.
A few examples, starting with the right to health as the most obvious. Health services are overstretched; essential health services are being denied or postponed in order to respond to COVID; mental health conditions are registered in record high numbers; the shortage of medicines is more evident than ever. The essential importance of the right to health and of universal health coverage have been made abundantly clear.
But let’s think also on the right to education – how many children’s learning are being affected by the confinement measures and the restriction of movements? Or the right to work; with growing unemployment. The right to social security; to food; to water and sanitation…
These impacts are far worse among those persons already in more vulnerable situations; those who already suffered from discrimination, stigma and exclusion. Older persons; persons with disabilities; migrants and refugees, persons living in situation of poverty, LGBTI persons, etc.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Portugal took a considerable number of legal and policy measures to try to mitigate these negative effects. With human rights, combat against discrimination and the protection of the most vulnerable always at the centre of the response.
A few examples: Portugal granted temporary residency to all immigrants and asylum seekers who had applied for residence, irrespective of their legal status. This ensures that in these difficult times, they have access to health and all other social benefits. Additionally, immigrants and asylum seekers are exempted of charges for the diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19. All documents whose validity would expire during the crisis remain valid.
A considerable number of extraordinary social benefits were put in place. In order to protect employment, the Government started paying a percentage of salaries of private workers (“layoff”).
To prevent a discontinuity on education, a system of “tele-schooling” was put in place in a record time, broadcasted in open TV. And a wide-scope campaign was launched to prevent sexual and gender-based violence during confinement times.
All of these measures have been compiled by our National Mechanism for Implementation, Report and Follow-up (NMIRF) in a document which was shared with OHCHR.
The UN and its system for the protection and promotion of human rights has been playing a crucial role to help States cope with the pandemic. The policy guidance issued by the SG, the vast material published by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the numerous recommendations and alerts by the Special Procedures have been of great help.
But the UPR has played and can play an even stronger role. This is why this event is so important.
The UPR, as a universal peer review mechanism, has a unique potential for sharing good practices and to advise and provide technical cooperation on how to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on human rights, in particular of economic, social and cultural rights.
These recommendations and advice can afterwards been evaluated and executed within the respective National Mechanisms for Implementation, Report and Follow-up (NMIRF).
It was encouraging to see that during the last session of the UPR WG, the first since the pandemic, many States under review used the opportunity to share their experience in dealing with COVID from a human rights point of view. Likewise, some recommending States addressed the pandemic. Portugal did so and, in addition, as per usual practice, dedicated special attention in its recommendations to persons in more vulnerable situations.
I make an appeal that we all take advantage of future sessions of the UPR, the next one starting in one month, to share experience and address recommendations on how to recover better from the pandemic, including regarding Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.