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U.N. Human Rights Day: “Build Back Better”


The year 2020 has been like no other. The COVID-19 global pandemic has altered travel, reduced in-person learning, deeply affected small business, and has burdened and an already strained healthcare system. Individuals have had to make significant sacrifices for the betterment of all. It is important to note that no one is immune from this virus’s devastating effects.


The theme of this year’s United Nation’s Human Rights Day is titled, Recover Better – Stand Up for Human Rights. The focus centers upon the global pandemic and the need to build back better by ensuring that human rights are “…central to recovery efforts.” Build Back Better was the central theme of President-elect Joe Biden’s presidential campaign.


The recovery from COVID-19 requires each person willing to do what is necessary to keep not only themselves and their families safe but everyone around them. This is a narrative that was missing from the outset of this pandemic.


This Human Rights Day the U.N. has made human rights a key component of any recovery. Globally, this crisis has exacerbated and deepened poverty and widened the inequality gap. If we are to fully recover from this pandemic, the international community must be certain that these gaps are addressed, and that each global citizen can be made whole. It is not good enough for just some parts of the world that are able to acquire the resources necessary to recover, but that everyone who is part of the global community of nations be permitted to access these same resources.


This fundamental principle of inclusion lies at the heart of Secretary-General Guterres’ plan titled, United Nations Comprehensive Response to COVID-19: Saving Lives, Protecting Societies, Recovering Better. The U.N., through its global health arm, led the fight from the beginning by providing the necessary assistance to the most vulnerable populations of the world. Cooperation and coordination are two key tenets of any global response, and the U.N. has made this a priority in its mission to combat this health crisis.


The plan comprises a three-point health response:

  1. The health response has sought to control the virus, assist by supporting vaccine development, and bolster its preparedness.

  2. Focusing upon the catastrophic impact COVID-19 has had from a socioeconomic, humanitarian, and human rights perspective. The U.N. has placed a great emphasis upon protecting the “…lives and livelihoods” of those who have been impacted the most.

  3. Responding to how to address a post-COVID-19 world. The world body will follow the Sustainable Development Agenda and foresees a plan that will address and improve some of the underlying issues that have been intensified during this health crisis such as climate change, inequality, and social injustice.

It is no surprise to say that human rights have not played a central role in U.S. foreign policy strategy over the course of the last four years. The neglect and outright rejection of the existence of the coronavirus has served to only magnify its effects that we see playing out before us daily.


President-elect Biden has promised to hit the ground running once he formally takes office. The challenges that he faces to reign in COVID-19 will be a daunting task. Stewart M. Patrick, a senior fellow in global governance and director of the International Institutions and Global Governance Program at the Council on Foreign Relations, recently wrote an opinion article in World Politics Review titled, “Making America Decent Again: Biden and the Future of U.S. Human Rights Policy,” where he wrote that President-elect Biden “…intends to make America decent again, not only at home but abroad, by restoring the promotion of liberty and defense of democracy as pillars of U.S. foreign policy.”


Mr. Patrick contends that it will take some time to retore “…U.S. credibility on human rights…” following four years of neglect. The author posits that this will be a real challenge for the President-elect. He cites a Freedom House 2020 democracy report ranking the U.S.33rd in the world.


Mr. Patrick contends that “The United States can only promote human rights abroad if it begins from a position of humility, acknowledging that the struggle to make America a more perfect union is ongoing.” Building Back Better begins with mitigating the effects of COVID-19, something that President-elect Biden fully realizes.


Finally, re-establishing our close ties with the U.N. and working side-by-side the global institution is an important step that, not only restores U.S. credibility, but increases the chances for a positive outcome – and that is eliminating COVID-19 worldwide.