Report on the duty to prevent exposure to the COVID-19 virus

5 August 2020
Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights
To the Human Rights Council’s 45th session (14 September–2 October 2020)


In his report, the Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes, Baskut Tuncak, addresses the issue of State’s duty to prevent exposure to hazardous substances within the context of the global crisis rising from the COVID-19 pandemic. The report was prepared pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 36/15.


Prevention of exposure to hazardous substances is a human rights obligation incumbent on States. Some States have addressed the grave threats of exposure to the novel coronavirus with remarkable determination, resolve and transparency. Elsewhere politics, economic miscalculations and misguided motivations enabled and emboldened many Governments to fail in their duty to prevent exposure.

This failure is a multifaceted violation of their human rights obligations. These obligations include the human rights to life, dignity, and health, often coinciding with feverish violations of the rights to information and freedom of expression. Principles such as equality, non-discrimination, international cooperation and transparency were all but lost among these States.

Upon its emergence, various States failed to act with prudent urgency that was so clearly required. Millions of cases of infection resulting in hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths are a direct result. Older persons, the poor, minorities, migrants, indigenous peoples, and other vulnerable groups, have all suffered predictably from the inaction of States.

View all conclusions and recommendations in the report

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