AuthorMichael O'Flaherty
As we enter the second half of 2020, the constraints on our daily lives brought about
by the COVID-19 pandemic have become a f‌irm reality. New local lockdowns and the
reintroduction of restrictive measures prompted by fresh outbreaks of the virus are a stark
reminder that COVID-19 continues to shape our lives – and our enjoyment of fundamental
rights – in profound ways.
The stabilisation of COVID-19 infections across much of the European Union(EU) provides
a moment to ref‌lect on the immense contribution of institutions and people from across
our diverse societies who have stepped up to promote and protect fundamental rights.
Medical staff and other frontline workers have ensured that essential services kept running.
Courts have pushed back against excessive regulation. National bodies – National Human
Rights Institutions, Equality Bodies, Ombuds and Data Protection Authorities, among
others – have provided much-needed monitoring, guidance and advice. Civil society has
not only advocated for rights, but delivered vital services, often incredibly creatively. Their
contributions can provide a blueprint for dealing with future crisis situations, and it is crucial
that their stories are heard.
At the same time, looking across this series of four bulletins, there is compelling evidence
of how the pandemic has exacerbated existing challenges in our societies. Sections of our
populations have exploited COVID-19 to attack minorities already subject to appalling levels
of discrimination and hate crime. The rapid spread of disinformation risks undermining trust
in the measures and institutions essential to containing the virus. Women have taken on
a disproportionate share of caring responsibilities prompted by the closure of schools and
support services, endangering hard-fought progress towards gender equality.
The gradual reduction in the constraints on our lives shines the light on us, on our personal
and social responsibility to contain the pandemic and mitigate its effects. Delivering on
that responsibility, both individually and collectively, is our greatest fundamental rights
challenge going forward.
Michael O’Flaherty

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