U.S. Support for Democracy, Good Governance, and Human Rights in the Global Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

The United States is committed to the protection of democracy, good governance, and human rights in the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Societies that respect and defend human rights, fundamental freedoms, democratic institutions, and the rule of law are best equipped to respond transparently and effectively to crises. A robust respect for human rights, as well as whole-of-society action, are necessary parts of the solution to public health crises. Government responses to the COVID-19 epidemic must not use the disease as a pretext for repression of persons or ideas.

Policies that Respect Human Rights Get Results

The hallmark of a strong democracy is an active civil society. In the United States we have seen and experienced the power of citizens to shape our own government. This process can often feel messy and uncomfortable, but our liberty rests on empowering civil society to be a catalyst for democratic change and continual renewal, and to ensure governments reflect the will of their people – all of their people.

Civil society and media serve as a critical link between governments and the public, as they provide public concerns to authorities, press governments to share critical updates, counter dis- and misinformation, and promote government accountability and transparency. As a global leader in promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, the United States strongly believes the following policies, which adhere to democratic principles, are essential for an effective global response to COVID-19.

Governments must:

  • Remain accountable to their obligations and commitments to respect human rights.
  • Strive to ensure any emergency measure implemented to address the COVID-19 pandemic is strictly necessary for the protection of public health, lifted as soon as practicable, subject to independent oversight, and not used as an excuse to silence, target, or harass members of civil society, opposition voices, or members of marginalized communities.
  • Respect freedom of expression, whether exercised offline or online and including for members of the press, and protect individuals’ ability to access and share reliable and timely information.
  • Respect personal data protection safeguards and avoid exploiting mass monitoring technologies to undermine human rights and fundamental freedoms.
  • Release individuals unnecessarily detained, particularly those incarcerated solely for exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms, including expression of religion, conscience, or political dissent.
  • Take all appropriate measures to achieve the timely, inclusive, and safe holding of free and fair elections.
  • Provide equal access to medical care and social services regardless of gender, religion or belief, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or disability.
  • Address the heightened risk of domestic and other forms of gender based violence for women, girls, and other at risk individuals isolated with abusive partners and household members.
  • Recognize that the concept of essential work does not waive occupational safety and health standards, nor does it legitimize forced labor.
  • Put in place effective mechanisms to support government transparency and accountability, and address the risk of corruption thriving.
  • Facilitate civil society participation in crafting solutions, monitoring government responses, and holding governments accountable.
  • Support the inclusion, consultation, and protection of members of all marginalized or underrepresented populations, including persons with disabilities, LGBTQI+ persons, Indigenous Peoples, and members of racial, ethnic, and religious minority groups.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future