22 Juni 2020

IFLA Responds to UN Questionnaire on Human Rights and COVID-19

IFLA shared concerns, and identified challenges and opportunities relating to the protection of human rights during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.  By offering our responses, we strive to ensure the voice of the global library community is heard in this discussion.

This Joint Questionnaire will help inform upcoming thematic reports by UN Special Rapporteurs on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on human rights. These will be presented to the UN’s Human Rights Council or General Assembly.

Within IFLA’s mandate, we identified that the pandemic has most directly impacted on the ability to enjoy the right to education, to freedom of access to information, to freely participate in the cultural life of the community, to share in the results of scientific advancement, and to participate fully in government.

Although the closure of public institutions has largely been deemed necessary to limit the spread of the virus, we urged that this should not be used as an excuse for governments to increase surveillance, place restrictions on free expression and information, and limits on public participation.

Here is a summary of other key points IFLA included in our response:

Internet-for-all and media literacy

In the event of closed public spaces, participation in educational and cultural programmes, and the ability to partake in services such as registering for unemployment benefits, likely depends on internet access.

IFLA has long promoted access to the internet as a basic utility. We advocate for the role of libraries as key components in internet access for all, as well as providers of digital and media literacy.

During COVID-19 and in a more digitally-focused society that comes after, ensuring equitable access to the internet, and digital and media literacy education, is more important than ever.

Access to Information

The combination of copyright and market forces often means that types of access and services that libraries can offer in-person cannot be offered online. With increased demand on digital services during COVID-19, this greatly restricts access.

Librarians have been very active in calling for open access to materials concerning COVID-19, as well as reasonable terms for other access. IFLA has been promoting principles which highlight the need for open access to remain in place for as long as necessary.

Cultural Rights

IFLA responded directly to questions by Ms. Karima Bennoune, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, on the intersection of COVID-19, culture, and the role of libraries.

We noted how libraries, alongside other GLAM institutions, have provided digital means to engage with collections, access cultural and arts performance, and exercise cultural rights remotely.

We promoted a recent article in which we discussed the role of documentary and archival cultural heritage in providing connection, historical context, hope and in informing better decision making during the pandemic.

Finally, we noted our participation in the UNESCO statement on documentary heritage and the COVID-19 pandemic, and stressed the importance for governments to recognise cultural heritage’s potential and support the work of our institutions.

Read IFLA’s full response to the Joint Questionnaire.

Libraries, Archives, Museums, Monuments and Sites, Access to information, Cultural heritage, Digital resources, Human rights, Internet access

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