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What Covid-19 has taught us about protecting human rights for all

fotofabrika ©, 2021

The pandemic gave everyone in Europe a taste of the day-to-day pressures on the most marginalised in our societies. We all had to deal with fear, isolation and limits on our rights.

Now the Fundamental Rights Forum 2021 is our opportunity to learn from those lessons. It is a chance to share and embed best practice. And above all to humanise the debate.

Zara Todd, Senior Advisor to the European Network of Independent Living (ENIL), hosted a session at the previous Forum. She sees this year’s event as the opportunity to “centre human rights in how we live”.

She says: “Europe has to focus on those who are in the margins. If you're not getting it right for them, you're not getting it right for anyone.

 “So much of what we've learned over the last months are things that marginalised communities have talked about for decades—other people are finally seeing it for themselves”.

Todd highlights that a lot of disabled people are now concerned that the adaptations that have been made during the pandemic will be rolled back and they will be excluded again.

“We've seen how, if society wants to, it can adapt to flexible working. It can adapt to working from home, it can adapt to all these things.

 “A lot of reasonable adjustments to allow us to continue to function in the pandemic have been requests disabled people have been asking for decades to enable them to take part.

 “This year’s Forum is a good example…its balance of allowing online and in person participation is the kind of things that should continue.”

But while new, flexible ways of working throughout Covid-19 have been empowering for some, the pandemic has also shown the challenge is understanding the value that disabled people have.

Todd explains: “A lot of the framing around the deaths in the pandemic has been that they have had pre-existing health conditions. That it's acceptable that they’re old, or they’re disabled people—and it's somehow ok.

“But we're not just expendable human beings: we are human beings with loved ones, that enrich our communities.”

She also points to the issues of how countries handled the pandemic: “Issues range from the provision of PPE from people who need personal assistance in their home to the documentation of Covid deaths.

 “In parts of Europe, people with learning disabilities have been given ‘do not resuscitate’ orders without their knowledge or consent in relation to the pandemic.

 “There are issues about how we understand human dignity and human value as a society and how that relates to human rights”.

ENIL continues to campaign for independent living and supports people with disabilities living in institutions across Europe. They are planning to be among the diverse groups of fellow human rights defenders sharing lessons learned at the Fundamental Rights Forum 2021.

Todd concludes: “It’s about how we build back society in a way that is accessible for the most marginalised and most affected by Covid: communities of colour, people with disabilities, older people. How do we make sure they are not excluded or put at extra risk as we come back?”

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