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COVID-19, despite what some have said, is not a great equalizer. As we bear witness to its devastating impact on marginalized, discriminated against, or poor communities, the full cost of our structural inequities has never been clearer: this is not just a health crisis, it is a human rights crisis.

Overnight, human rights defenders have been transformed into first responders, as the pandemic reveals the true scope of global inequality and injustice.

“Grassroots justice workers are on the front line of this pandemic,” says Pakistani human rights lawyer Hina Jilani. “They are supporting women experiencing domestic violence, advocating to release low risk prisoners at risk of mass infection, and helping people from discriminated minority groups access economic relief measures.”

But as authoritarian regimes from Central Europe to Sub-Saharan Africa exploit the crisis to consolidate power and our global systems sputter under the strain of a world on fire, grassroots human rights defenders are not just responding to the needs of vulnerable communities—they are their last line of defense against injustice, inequality, and the forces of tyranny.

The COVID-19 Grassroots Justice Fund will support urgent humanitarian relief and long-term systemic change work led by grassroots activists and organizations.

“Their work is even more vital in this pandemic,” says Mary Robinson, former United Nations high commissioner for human rights and the seventh president of Ireland. “We need to support them to adapt to the challenges and new justice problems created by this unprecedented pandemic.”

That’s why the Fund for Global Human Rights—along with the Legal Empowerment Network; the Elders; Namati; Justice for All; and Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just, and Inclusive Societies—is excited to announce the creation of the COVID-19 Grassroots Justice Fund.

The COVID-19 Grassroots Justice Fund will support both urgent humanitarian relief and long-term systemic change work led by grassroots activists and organizations. Working in tandem with our partners, the Fund for Global Human Rights will help administer one-time grants to qualified grassroots justice defenders to help save lives and address the intertwined health, economic, and justice crises.

Over the next year and a half, we aim to raise $1 million to support 100 grassroots justice groups across the globe. We hope the COVID-19 Grassroots Justice Fund’s unique model—which seeks to catalyze changes as our return on investment—will serve as inspiration for other rights-based efforts to address the effects of COVID-19.

“We welcome initiatives such as this COVID-19 Grassroots Justice Fund,” says former United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon. “COVID-19 is exacerbating inequality and injustice. We need to ensure that justice is included as part of the COVID-19 response and long-term recovery efforts.”

This historic global moment has exposed the devastating effects of ignoring systemic inequality and injustice. If we are to equitably rebuild in the aftermath of COVID-19, we must first address the underlying failings that have left so many people vulnerable or marginalized in the first place.

Human rights activists and organizations—the same people who have steered their communities through the spread of the virus—are already doing that work: providing aid and relief to those who need it, advocating for equitable policies, and addressing systemic inequalities.

They are ready with the locally led solutions their communities deserve. Together with our partners, we are committed to providing the support and resources they need.

Please join us in supporting grassroots justice defenders, and learn more about the COVID-19 Grassroots Justice Fund here.

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