top of page

Future of Human Rights after COVID19

Due to the ensuing shocks implied by the Coronavirus crisis, governments, worldwide, had to reset their priorities. Human rights issues are among the priorities that are currently subject to massive re-arrangement and re-evaluation to their importance in maintaining the stability and security of human beings, within the global system, in times of crises. On the global level, international bodies, such as the United Nations and the Council of Europe issued several statements and guides urging governments to respect and protect human rights while dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic and its consequential political, economic, and social crises. They may take years to cure its damaging effects, after controlling the spread of the pandemic. Given the modest role of these international bodies in making a tangible contribution to solving the global pandemic crisis or mitigating its effects, since the outbreak of the Coronavirus in December, people around the world received their statements and guidance with indifference. This makes us wonder about the fate of human rights after the world recovers from the Coronavirus crisis. To what extent will people continue to believe in the importance of upholding human rights values? Will governments continue to show commitment to protecting human rights? Yet, the most important question, in this situation, is about the future roles and feasibility of the international bodies, such as the United Nations, which are responsible for preserving and protecting human rights, worldwide. The pandemic crisis came as a new reminder that these international bodies are dangerously detached and, thus, incapable of resolving the actual sufferings of the human race; except with media statements of solidarity or condemnation. Time and experience have proven the invalidity and lack of influence of their work on protecting human rights. They spent decades promoting a human rights discourse that is too idealistic and too unrealistic to apply in real life for most people and systems of governance. To be clear, this criticism is not directed at the bare principles of human rights, but rather at the rhetoric adopted to promote the high ideals of human rights, in our world today. Human rights and the international laws associated with them played a tremendous role in preserving the coherence and continuity of the world system during the post-World War era. However, the current human rights discourse has been abused and taken out of its context, in many instances, to serve the immediate interests of certain countries or political groups. Even worse, we have seen reputable human rights defenders and organizations using human rights rhetoric to justify their support of terrorist groups and political Islamist organizations like Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. This hazardous deviation in the human rights discourse came from the fact that the international community, in the last two decades, especially after the 9/11 attacks in the United States, gave priority to promoting civil and political rights at the expense of prioritizing social and economic rights. The gigantic political fluctuations, all over the world, that have been happening since then, limited peoples’ understanding of human rights to civil and political rights, and made social and economic rights more of a domestic issue that local governments should decide about without proper observation or evaluation from the international institutions responsible for protecting human rights. However, due to the horrific shock that the Coronavirus pandemic has caused in the fields of health care and economic prosperity, it seems that the human rights rhetoric prioritizing civil and political rights will be put on a years-long pause until governments fix the social and economic consequences of the pandemic. Some governments that are more committed to the concepts of individual freedom, open society, and free market, have already started to refrain from exercising these values while prioritizing the needs of the public society over economic security. In other words, it is expected that shortly, the interest of society will be given priority to the freedom of the individual. This will influence how the world system should perceive and handle the basic principles of human rights. We have already started to see a change to the traditional human rights rhetoric to keep up with the consequences of the pandemic crisis. In her statement on the COVID-19 pandemic informal briefing to the UN Human Rights Council, Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, adopted a balanced, but rare, vision of how the UN and similar bodies should handle the pandemic crisis. She noted that “the pandemic is exposing the damaging impact of inequalities, in every society. In developed countries, fault lines in access to health care; in labor rights and social protections; in living space; and dignity are suddenly very visible.” Then she emphasized the respect for civil and political rights during this crisis, as “difficult decisions are facing many governments. Emergency measures may well be needed to respond to this public health emergency. But an emergency situation is not a blank check to disregard human rights obligations.” The Coronavirus crisis may not cause huge alterations in the conventional relationships between nations or amongst world powers. But it would, inevitably, affect the relationship between governments and citizens, in terms of the extent of the state’s intervention in micro-managing the lives of individuals. Each country’s respect for human rights and individual freedoms would be highly affected by this change. Therefore, we should prepare for this change by restructuring the internal systems, goals, and visions of the international bodies commissioned with the task of promoting and protecting human rights values and principles, on the global level, and monitoring their application, on the domestic level.


bottom of page