April 19, 2024

EUNACR's Human Rights Weekly



Image Source: healtheuropa.eu








At the Centre stage

The ongoing Covid-19 outbreak is putting pressure on social security systems, including healthcare, unemployment insurance, and pensions. Insured people, healthcare professionals, and the economy as a whole rely heavily on national social security systems. In particular, the coordination of social security systems in the EU is significantly affected.


Decoding in Detail

The Europe region was hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, with some 28 million cases and 6,45,000 deaths in the region as of 16 April this year, amounting to close to a third of the global total (European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, 2021). Government responses to the pandemic varied dramatically, as did the quality of health care and data collection. As a result, the recorded rates of infection and death were vastly different.


Infections and deaths also varied widely across different groups of the population. According to the WHO, elderly people in long-term care homes reported for up to half of those who died from Covid-19 in some countries (Amnesty International, 2020). In addition, workers in health care and care homes were infected and died at a higher rate than the wider populace, often because of a lack of effective adaptive personal protective equipment (PPE).


As per available data, the highest rate of death among health workers was in the UK, France, Italy, Spain, and German. The pandemic revealed the inadequate state of many Western European health-care systems because of years of austerity, as well as the systematic under-resourcing of Eastern European health-care systems (European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, 2021). Curfew measures in response to Covid-19 had an immediate effect on the economy and workers’ rights. Many workers, especially those in informal employment, experienced barriers to accessing social security schemes, including furlough, sick leave and other income-supporting mechanisms.


Particularly affected were gig workers, seasonal workers, cleaners, and care home workers. As some governments, such as the United Kingdom and Germany, flew migrant workers in during the first lockdown, while others, such as Spain, Italy, and Portugal, rapidly regularized some, the pandemic exposed the critical position of migrant workers in the agricultural and other sectors.

People of color and racial minorities had disproportionately high rates of infection and death in several countries. This represented a number of issues confronting these groups, including a lack of access to affordable health care and a higher prevalence of underlying health problems, which were aggravated by poverty, structural racism, and discrimination.


“Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and anti-Gypsyism have reached alarming levels”, says Commissioner Mijatović. “Incidents of desecration of cemeteries, assaults on people wearing religious symbols, and attacks on places of cult have recurred in several European countries. Hate speech and crimes against Roma also remained widespread” (Council of Europe, 2020).



The Covid-19 pandemic has changed our world and is shaking the foundations of most European societies. It started as a medical emergency but then turned also into an economic crisis. Now it puts at risk decades of social achievements and internationally established principles, to the detriment of the most vulnerable.


Not only is the right to health at stake, however, the global response to this crisis has the potential to affect the human rights of millions of people. We see worrying trends in many countries: censorship, discrimination and arbitrary detention that should have no place in the fight against Covid-19. In addition, human rights violations hinder, rather than facilitate, responses to public health emergencies, and undercut their efficiency, according to Josep Borrell a High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (European Union External Action, 2020).


Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović observes that in 2019 as in previous years, there have been growing challenges to human rights standards and principles all over the continent. In some cases, hostility to human rights as universal, indivisible and legally binding has increased, fueling a corrosive narrative that endangers the principles and standards on which Europe has been built over the past seven decades (Council of Europe, 2020).


Governments must investigate disproportionate deaths in settings such as care homes, and the failure to provide adequate personal protective equipment. Moreover, governments must conduct adequate programs in the social security schemes that ensure the workers’ rights and protect the biggest vulnerable people. It is worth noting that equal access to vaccines within and across countries is also urgent, and cooperation between states imperative, to ensure that treatment and vaccines are acceptable, affordable, accessible, and available to all.





European Union External Action (7th of October 2020), ‘ EU annual report on Human Rights and Democracy in the World 2019’. Retrieved from: https://eeas.europa.eu/sites/default/files/annual_report_e-version.pdf

Amnesty International, ‘Europe and Central Asia 2020’, retrieved from: https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/europe-and-central-asia/report-europe-and-central-asia/

 Council of Europe, (21th of April 2020), Annual Activity Report ‘Challenges to human rights have intensified in Europe, Commissioner for Human Rights. Retrieved from:  https://www.coe.int/en/web/commissioner/-/challenges-to-human-rights-have-intensified-in-europe


European Social Insurance Platform,‘Social Security & Covid-19’. Retrieved from: https://esip.eu/covid-19-pandemic

European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (2021), COVID-19 situation update for the EU/EEA, as of 16 April 2021′. Retrieved from: https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/cases-2019-ncov-eueea










[1]Guardian News and Media. (2021, April 15). US lawmakers advance bill to create slavery reparations commission. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/apr/15/us-lawmakers-advance-bill-to-create-slavery-reparations-commission.


[2]Guardian News and Media. (2021, April 15). US lawmakers advance bill to create slavery reparations commission. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/apr/15/us-lawmakers-advance-bill-to-create-slavery-reparations-commission.

[3]The Black Wall Street Times. (2021, April 15). US: Congress Advances Slavery Reparations Bill. The Black Wall Street Times. https://theblackwallsttimes.com/2021/04/15/us-congress-advances-slavery-reparations-bill/.