COVID-19 response

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented the world with unprecedented political and security challenges, creating a global justice emergency. It has revealed much wider ramifications affecting a broad range of human rights, including the ability of people to access justice in a timely, fair, and effective manner. In multiple contexts, courts have stopped functioning, which not only created a gap in human rights protection but led to massive overcrowding in prisons and detention facilities, fuelling the virus transmission. We have observed with concern how governments in fragile settings were using the lockdown measures to infringe fundamental freedoms, access personal data and restrict the ability of individuals to exercise their rights. Finally, the crisis has put a spotlight on specific justice needs, such as addressing the rise in sexual and gender-based violence and implementing additional institutional reforms to strengthen the effectiveness of the justice chain in a radically shifted social context.

Against this backdrop, UNDP with its partners have been working to support governments in developing legal and policy measures that enhance the promotion and protection of human rights and the rule of law throughout and beyond the period of the current pandemic.

The Global Focal Point and UNDP’s Global Programme on Rule of Law and Human Rights are jointly supporting national authorities in their fight to contain the spread of COVID-19 and put preventive measures in place. The Global Programme was able to reallocate and reprogramme funds, and as of July 2020, UN Country Teams and Missions in the following countries received emergency COVID-19 funding: Angola, Bolivia, Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Trinidad and Tobago, Peru, Somalia, and Sudan. In the second round of funding allocation in August 2020, emergency funds were distributed to Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, and South Sudan. A total of $1.8 million was reallocated for emergency response to COVID-19 through this partnership.

At the onset of the pandemic, UNDP and partners also developed guidance documents on Access to Justice, Police Planning, Business and Human RightsPlaces of Detention, Checklist for a Human Rights-Based Approach to Socio-Economic Country Responses to COVID-19. The purpose of these documents is to support national human rights institutions, justice bodies, law enforcement and penitentiary agents, other government institutions as well as businesses in their response to the pandemic, and to ensure that this response is inclusive and based on the human rights approaches and rule of law.

In this section, we present an overview of the specific activities UNDP implemented in the selected contexts in 2020 to ensure effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Select Country or Territory:

(alphabetical order)


  • 12 agents from the Ministry of Interior and the National Human Rights Follow-up Mechanism became trainers within a local facility established with UNDP support to lead Angolan national efforts to protect human rights in law enforcement during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the mid-term. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights manages the facility.
  • 200 local police supervisors were trained on a new manual on human rights protection, tailored to the context of pandemic emergency in Angola.


  • Over 3,000 individuals were released from overcrowded prisons and detention facilities as a result of UNDP-led advocacy and support during the COVID-19 pandemic. This constituted a 17% reduction in the number of people detained or imprisoned in Burundi.

Central African Republic

  • COVID-19 prevention and response plans were designed for police and the prison sector.
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) was provided to detainees and prison staff in CAR.


  • 3 prisons lacking equipment to control the spread of the virus received 30 hand-washing devices, soap, and 900 protective masks.

Cote d’Ivoire

  • 110 criminal cases out of 866, including cases on gender-based violence (GBV), passed the trial stage in Abidjan, Daloa, Bouaké and Korhogo. Reducing the backlog and thus the number of detainees was possible due to UNDP’s support to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, in collaboration with the Bar Association and Commissioners of Justice.
  • UNDP assisted the development of a digital alert system to report GBV cases, supported the reopening of a victim center through sanitary and food equipment (135 cases referred and 3 victims housed since August 2020), and strengthened the operational capacities of 15 social structures for psychosocial and medical care.
  • 80 motorcycles and personal protective equipment for 13 Gender Desks were provided to strengthen the police capacity in ensuring rapid response to GBV cases during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Democratic Republic of Congo

  • Immediate interventions, such as providing protective equipment and advocating for the release of prisoners from overcrowded facilities, were undertaken.
  • Mid-term interventions, such as supporting the use of technologies in the justice system and providing relevant software and equipment, were conducted.
  • Long-term interventions began, such as elaborating a study on imprisonment alternatives and supporting institutions to develop business contingency plan.

The Gambia

  • 131 hearings (107 civil and 24 criminal cases) were heard in virtual courts operationalized with UNDP support.
  • 54 bail applications were processed through legal aid desks in 2 prisons, and 34 individuals benefited from mediation through mobile phones due to UNDP-launched remote legal aid and mediation services.
  • 24 sanitation facilities were rehabilitated in Mile 2 Prison. 2 dormitories and the perimeter wall were constructed at the Jeshwang Prison. All 152 male inmates from Mile 2 Prison were transferred to new dormitories.
  • 5,000 face masks and 275 pairs of gloves were provided to the Prisons Service and to the Police Force.
  • 150 staff members from Gambia Police, Immigration, Fire Service, Prisons and Armed Forces benefitted from the UNDP-supported capacity building activities on COVID-19 prevention techniques and health protocols, public order management and human rights.

Guinea (Conakry)

  • 250 defense and security officers, including 25 women, were trained on the protection measures and the management of the COVID-19 pandemic response in compliance with human rights.
  • 25 focal points, including 8 women, from the complaints’ mechanism of NGOs’ consortium, were trained to observe and report on security and defense forces behavior while enforcing the emergency measures during the COVID-19 pandemic.


  • 3 national prisons received medical and sanitary supplies, which allowed inmates to access healthcare and maintain contacts with families. An NGO ENDA SANTE was UNDP’s partner in this activity within the framework of the Global Focal Point.
  • 175 inmates and 25 prison staff were sensitized about measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
  • 175 clinical and psychosocial consultations were provided to inmates; 175 family mediations were performed.


  • UNDP supported the Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation (BCR) to develop an operational plan to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among prison population. Personal protective equipment was distributed, and isolation units were set up in prison facilities in all 15 counties.
  • Approximately 30,000 people were reached through the awareness and training sessions on the prevention and response to sexual and gender-based violence during COVID-19, delivered by the Liberia National Police and Liberia Immigration Service through radio programmes, social media platforms, public and community awareness activities in five counties.


  • 8,000 inmates in 60 penitentiary establishments in Mali benefited from hygienic and sanitary support, which helped prevent any spread of the pandemic within penitentiary establishments.
  • A qualitative and quantitative study was finalized to measure the impact of COVID-19 on the justice and prison systems. Carried out jointly with the UN System, the study led to elaborate recommendations to limit the impact of the pandemic in terms of accessibility and functionality of the justice system.
  • UNDP provided support to the National Human Rights Commission to carry out monitoring visits to jurisdictions, prisons and health centers in order to assess the implementation of COVID-19 preventive measures and the ability of people, especially the most vulnerable ones, to exercise their right to health.

Sao Tome e Principe

  • To ensure uninterrupted operations of courts, prosecution offices and police stations during the COVID-19 emergency, UNDP assisted these institutions in accessing various digital platforms, disinfected public spaces and supported the rehabilitation of the country’s central prison.
  • UNDP equipped courtrooms with video-conference equipment and provided the Prosecution Services with an office exclusively dedicated to the victims of sexual and gender-based violence.

South Sudan

  • 4,383 individuals (including 474 women) released from pre-trial detention on bail or police bond in 6 states as part of the efforts to decongest places of detention and reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection in the justice sector.
  • 17,141 (1,043 female) front line justice sector staff in 10 states provided with hygienic kits and personal protective equipment to enable safe delivery of justice and policing services.
  • 4,918 prisoners and suspects in police custody faced reduced risk of exposure to COVID-19 due to the disinfection of 58 police and prison facilities in 10 states.

Sierra Leone

  • 3 Correctional centres in Bo, Moyamba and Port Loko districts were equipped with boreholes and water towers to address poor sanitary conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic. The water facility will serve an estimated population of 600 to 1,000, including inmates and correctional officers (90% male and 10% female).
  • UNDP provided information and computer technology (ICT) equipment for the SGBV (sexual and gender-based violence) Court in Freetown. This support helped SGBV survivors access justice and remedy through effective prosecution and punishment of offenders. A total of 199 cases were received within four months since the establishment of the court, with 19 convictions secured.
  • As part of the mask-up campaign, 800 community volunteers distributed 50,000 face masks produced by the Sierra Leone Correctional Centre to remote communities in the provinces.
Africa Angola
Africa Burundi
Africa CAR
Africa Chad
Africa Côte d’Ivoire
Africa DRC
Africa The Gambia
Africa Guinea
Africa Guinea Bissau
Africa Liberia
Africa Mali
Africa Sao Tome e Principe
Africa Sierra leone
Africa Sierra leone


  • 2,000 boxes of protective gloves, 4,250 boxes of medical masks, and 4,300 boxes of hand sanitizers were provided to Iraqi Local Police.


  • A roster of 30 lawyers and legal assistants was established to support GBV (gender-based violence) survivors to respond to a drastic increase in domestic violence cases due to the outbreak of COVID-19 in Lebanon.
  • 50 people, including 30 women, benefitted from a UNDP-supported hotline for free legal aid established in late 2020 for women, girls and migrant workers.
  • 20 municipal police units and 3 prisons in Lebanon received personal protective equipment and hygiene items (over 200,000 masks, over 400,000 gloves, 1,500 sanitizer bottles).


  • Through the Global Focal Point support to the Banadir courts, prosecutors, the Criminal Investigation Department, and the Bar Association, complaint protocols were developed in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure safety of the detainees and the staff.
  • Training of burial teams in all Federal Member States (FMS) for safe burial of COVID-19 victims was provided.
  • COVID-19 awareness-raising workshops were conducted, and personal protective equipment was distributed to police stations in all FMS.
  • Over 1,000 at-risk detainees were released following the UNDP-led advocacy campaign with penitentiary institutions.
  • Human rights monitoring missions were carried out in the main prisons and police stations of Bosaso, Gardo and Galkayo by the Office of the Puntland Human Rights Defender (OPHRD)

State of Palestine

  • Through the support of the Sawasya project, an emergency protocol for SGBV (sexual and gender-based violence) survivors was adopted to place women who had suffered violence in quarantine centers, as well as test them for COVID-19. The protocol changed the previous practice that refused women who were escaping from their abusers a place in shelters owing to the risk of the virus transmission.


  • 5 prison directorates and police forces in Darfur, as well as the Darfur branch of Sudan National Human Rights Commission, received support for the COVID-19 emergency response and prevention.
  • 3 Justice and Confidence Centers in the Kalma, Kassab, Abuzar IDP camps were constructed and equipped with UNDP support. The Centers became platforms to increase the capacity of community members in the areas of livelihood skills; healthcare outreach, including COVID-19 prevention; human rights knowledge, with a focus on SGBV and conflict-related sexual violence; and mediation of community disputes, tribal clashes and land issues.


  • UNDP supported the Supreme Judicial Council in the development of a contingency plan which defined prioritized activities that would help ensure a continuity of services.
  • Inmates in 12 prisons (84 men and 49 women) were engaged in the prisons’ sewing departments to manufacture 200,000 masks and 8,650 protective suits to benefit the detainees, the staff of the General Committee of Prisons and Rehabilitation, the Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of Health. The financial compensation received was provided to the inmates’ families to support them through the crisis.
  • In total, more than 110 activities of prevention, disinfection of public institutional buildings and hospitals, fabrication and distribution of masks, as well as specific measures to support the protection of vulnerable groups were implemented.
Arab States Iraq
Arab States Lebanon
Arab States Somalia
Arab States State of Palistine
Arab States Sudan
Arab States Tunisia


  • 100 local volunteers were recruited to conduct public awareness raising campaigns on COVID-19 and combat stigma, discrimination, and fake news throughout the country.
  • An online trial system was established with standard operating procedures developed and approved to provide a legal basis for online trials.
  • Mobile health teams were established to enhance monitoring and registration of COVID-19 cases, in coordination with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Ministry of Public Health.


  • 275 courts were included in the ‘My Courts’ system allowing for online submission of applications and virtual hearings. In May-August 2020, 10,523 persons, including female inmates, were released on bail, setting a record for Bangladesh.
  • Over 21,000 households from Dalit and ethnic minority groups, as well as families with persons with disabilities, transgender persons and most vulnerable char land communities received solidarity food packages in 13 selected districts.
  • UNDP provided personal protective equipment, including safety gowns, hand sanitizers and face masks, to 950 human rights defenders and journalists in 10 priority districts of Bangladesh. In addition, 5,000 face masks were distributed among civil society activists and youth leaders.


  • UNDP’s project on Strengthening Accountability and the Rule of Law (SARL) provided large quantities of personal protective equipment to all its government and civil society partners, including significant amounts distributed to project beneficiaries in Rakhine.
  • Videoconference and IT equipment were provided to the Anti-Corruption Commission and Myanmar National Human Rights Commission to maintain business continuity.
  • An animated short film was produced for social media in four languages to counter stigma associated with COVID-19.


  • UNDP developed guidelines and a checklist for the provision of legal aid services during the pandemic, and a practitioners’ guide for the members of the Judicial Committees in times of COVID-19.
  • Opportunities for women, law students and young lawyers from marginalized communities to benefit from scholarships and legal internship programmes were sustained.


  • To better understand the impact of COVID-19 on Pakistan’s most vulnerable groups, UNDP, in cooperation with the Ministry on Human Rights, presented a multi-sector analysis of the government’s response to the pandemic from a human rights perspective, encouraging the integration of a health emergency lens in Pakistan’s National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights.

Sri Lanka

  • Over 10,000 petitions for bail were heard in 23 courts and 10 prisons as a result of the UNDP-pioneered remote court hearings.
  • Uninterrupted access to justice was provided through technical support to the Legal Aid Commission and the Prisons Department, which facilitated remote legal counselling for 85 individuals.
  • 12,000 indigent female clients of the Legal Aid Commission, ordinarily reliant on court-ordered maintenance, received government financial relief packages due to UNDP’s technical collaboration with the Legal Aid Commission.
  • 200 judicial officers and over 300 attorneys received up-to-date laws and regulations on Quarantine, Infectious Diseases and Restriction of Movement compiled by UNDP in consultation with the Legal Aid Commission and judiciary.
Asia Pacific Afghanistan
Asia Pacific Bangladesh
Asia Pacific Myanmar
Asia Pacific Nepal
Asia Pacific Pakistan
Asia Pacific Sri Lanka


  • Approximately 1,000 residents of 100 collective centers for IDPs (internally displaced persons) were provided with hygienic and sanitary supplies, including masks and face shields, surface disinfectant and disinfection doormats, hand sanitizers and antibacterial hand soap. 
  • 20 conflict-affected young people and their families will be provided with laptops, internet access and additional educational resources/training to promote online education during the pandemic. 
  • 300 IDPs (240 women and 60 men) living in Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti, Imereti and Shida Kartli will benefit from legal assistance through the UNDP’s partnership with the Legal Aid Service in Georgia.


  • Almost 120 participants of the National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) benefitted from training sessions on visiting closed institutions in the times of the pandemic.

Kyrgyz Republic

  • 1,068 legal consultations were provided, including to 653 women and 25 people with disabilities, during the COVID-19 state of emergency. A legal aid hotline was established due to the UNDP partnership with the Ministry of Emergency and the Ministry of Justice.
  • UNDP supported the development of the guidelines for law enforcement and justice authorities during COVID-19 and distributed personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitary kits to the Supreme Court, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Office of the General Prosecutor and the Bar Association.


  • UNDP in Ukraine supported the Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights in monitoring how human rights were observed during the lockdown. Specifically, the regional network of the Ombudsperson’s Office conducted a monitoring of access to public information about protective measures against COVID-19 in all regions of Ukraine. UNDP experts provided recommendations on how local authorities can improve access to public information.


  • 6 awareness-raising videos were developed in Albanian, Serbian, Turkish and Romani languages about the COVID-19 impact, the role of institutions and protection measures.
  • Approximately 40,000 people were reached through the awareness raising campaign ‘Love and Care’ to combat stigma and discrimination of individuals affected by COVID-19 and provide information on the services available to victims of discrimination.

*References to Kosovo shall be understood to be in the context of Security Council resolution 1244 (1999)

Europe and Central Asia Georgia
Europe and Central Asia Kazhakstan
Europe and Central Asia Kyrgyz Republic
Europe and Central Asia Ukraine
Europe and Central Asia Kosovo


  • Within a massive campaign to encourage participation in the constitutional referendum, UNDP developed and disseminated a concept note on the electoral processes during the pandemic.
  • 15 radio and TV interviews were broadcasted to promote a safe and participatory plebiscite.
  • UNDP facilitated 2 formal presentations before the Congress on international best practices in promoting safe and participatory electoral processes.


  • 10,000 face protection devices were delivered to the indigenous communities in Cauca, in cooperation with the UN Resident Coordinator.
  • Support to Cauca also included 10,000 face masks purchased from the urban production project of ex-combatant women; 398 food kits produced on indigenous reservations and marketed through the solidarity economy cooperative, CENCOIC; and 35 digital thermometers.
  • 5,000 of 10,000 face protection devices were given to the indigenous guards from Cauca who safeguard the lives of their communities.


  • 8 prisons and 20 police stations were monitored and received preventative and protection materials to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • 2,250 people were directly sensitized for the promotion of the rights of detainees and the respect of principles of non-discrimination in the times of the global crisis.


  • 9 police stations and 1 judicial violence unit in the Puente Piedra-Ventanilla judicial district received IT equipment to ensure access to justice during the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, Bluetooth speakers allowed justice operators to attend the hearings and abide by the social distancing requirements.
  • The Public Ministry of Peru approved the guidelines for single interviews in Gesell Chambers with victims of violence, especially with girls, boys and adolescents during the COVID-19 emergency, with a gender and disability approach applied for the first time. UNDP provided technical assistance to elaborate the guidelines.
  • In partnership with the Public Ministry and the Forensic Sciences Institute, UNDP developed an online platform that enabled prosecutors to have direct access to forensic reports, saving up to 3-4 weeks when investigating violence against women.
Latin America and the Caribbean Chile
Latin America and the Caribbean Colombia
Latin America and the Caribbean Haiti
Latin America and the Caribbean Peru

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