Advancing Rights and Justice During a Pandemic: An Online Event Series

The coronavirus pandemic is having sweeping economic, social, and political impact across the world and affecting all domains of our lives, from physical and mental health, to job security, housing, and family life. Inequalities that had already been growing for years are more visible than ever, as the burdens of the crisis fall much more heavily on some than on others. Some governments are exploiting the crisis to introduce emergency powers and crack down on civil liberties.

Four organizations are collaborating to bring leading scholars and practitioners around the world together for a discussion of the threats we face and to share their insights on how we might respond. The online event series, focusing on the human rights and social justice implications of the pandemic, is a joint effort of the Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute, Duke Law’s International Human Rights Clinic, Columbia Law School’s Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, and Just Security. The series is also co-sponsored by more than a dozen organizations, including many human rights centers and clinics, as well as Human Rights Watch, the International Commission of Jurists, the Open Society Justice Initiative, and Opinio Juris.

The discussions cover a vast array of critical issues, including governments’ coercive responses, the impacts of the pandemic on marginalized groups, socio-economic rights in crisis, surveillance and digital rights, coronavirus and armed conflict, and innovations in human rights advocacy and strategy.

These online events are open to the public, and members of the audience can submit questions on Twitter using the dedicated hashtag #COVID19Justice or by sending a message directly via the webinar’s chat function. The events hosted so far have been joined by hundreds of students, activists, academics, and others from around the world. Organizations, including universities, have hosted follow-up discussions and activities centered on the events.

Below, we share the recorded videos of each event. We will update as each new video becomes available within a few days after the event. We encourage Just Security readers to explore these discussions and to continue using them in their scholarly and advocacy work.

To view a schedule of upcoming online meetings in the series and join in, see the event page at the website of Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute.

VIDEOS OF PAST EVENTS

States of Emergency and Government Powers in and After the Pandemic (View on YouTube)
Tuesday, March 31, 2020

As governments respond to the novel coronavirus, many are declaring states of emergency and giving themselves expansive powers. Some censor information, surveil populations, and detain critics. Are governments overreaching? Will new powers be rolled back when the crisis is over? The discussion features Fionnuala Ni Aolain (U.N. Special Rapporteur on Counterterrorism), Isabel Linzer (Freedom House), and Yaqiu Wang (Human Rights Watch); moderated by Ryan Goodman (NYU/Just Security).

Impacts of COVID-19 on Marginalized Groups: Implications for Policy and Advocacy (View on YouTube)
Thursday, April 2, 2020

Pandemics affect individuals differently, with policy responses potentially worsening existing inequalities and discrimination for marginalized groups, such as women, children, older persons, those unhoused, people with disabilities, detainees, refugees, and migrants. This discussion focuses on the risks of deepened inequality within the COVID-19 pandemic, and how governments can use a human rights-based and intersectional approach to ensure the rights of all persons are protected. The panel features Amanda Klasing (Human Rights Watch), Charanya Krishnaswami (Amnesty), and Vince Warren (Center for Constitutional Rights); moderated by Professor Jayne Huckerby (Duke).

COVID-19’s Impact on Health, Housing, Water, and Sanitation: Socioeconomic Rights in Crisis (View on YouTube)
Tuesday, April 7, 2020

The pandemic spotlights and exacerbates socioeconomic inequalities caused by decades of neoliberal policies and failures to invest in social infrastructure. The basic rights to health, housing, and water and sanitation are at risk for millions of people around the world. How can human rights-based approaches ground an effective response to the pandemic now, and build a better world afterwards? The discussion features U.N. Special Rapporteur on Housing Leilani Farha, community advocate Catherine Flowers (Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice), and activist and epidemiologist Gregg Gonsalves (Yale); moderated by Aya Fujimura-Fanselow (Duke).

Flattening the Pandemic Curve While Upholding Digital and Information Rights (View on YouTube)
Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The novel coronavirus has led to millions of people working virtually, and more dependence than ever on access to reliable information and the internet. Some governments have responded to the pandemic by dramatically increasing surveillance on populations, and companies gather and retain huge amounts of our personal data. This discussion on the risks and opportunities for digital and information rights during the pandemic features experts Adebayo Okeowo (WITNESS), Diego Naranjo (European Digital Rights), Maria Luisa Stasi (Article 19); and Michael Pisa (Center for Global Development); moderated by Janlori Goldman (Columbia/NYU).

Innovating Advocacy: Legal Approaches in a New [Pandemic] Terrain (View on YouTube)
Tuesday, April 14, 2020

How are justice-seeking movements and organizations adapting to the rapidly-changing environment created by the spread of COVID-19? What tools are proving most effective in their responses? And what role can lawyers and courts play to curb deepened and emerging justice challenges? Tune in to the conversation with experts and advocates Amna Akbar (Ohio State), Dr. Hassan Jabareen (Adalah Legal Center) and Pamela Spees (Center for Constitutional Rights); moderated by JoAnn Kamuf Ward (Columbia).

Innovating Human Rights: Responsibility, Hope, and Strategy in Crisis (View on YouTube)
Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Hear leading human rights thinkers discuss how the pandemic spotlights the need for the human rights field to innovate. Kathryn Sikkink (Harvard) will talk about her new book The Hidden Face of Rights: Toward a Politics of Responsibility, in which she argues that more emphasis needs to be on the responsibilities of all to implement rights. César Rodríguez Garavito (NYU/Just Labs) will discuss his new research, scholarship, and advocacy on forward-looking, hope-based strategies for advancing rights.  Moderated by Gulika Reddy (Columbia).

COVID-19 in Conflict: What to Expect? And What Can be Done? (View on YouTube)
Tuesday, April 21, 2020

In conflict-affected countries, healthcare systems have been neglected or destroyed, basic services such as water are often lacking, and civilians are already living under extreme stress, often in crowded conditions. As the pandemic spreads, the consequences will likely be devastating, and the U.N. secretary-general has recently called for a global ceasefire. This discussion focuses on the pandemic in conflict, responsibilities of warring parties under international humanitarian law, and how advocates are working to promote both peace and health, with Azadeh Moaveni (International Crisis Group), Cordula Droege (International Committee of the Red Cross), Farea Al-Muslimi (Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies), and Kate Kizer (Win Without War); moderated by Priyanka Motaparthy (Columbia).

COVID-19 and its Response: Risks to Refugees, Migrants, and Asylum-Seekers (View on YouTube)
Wednesday, April 22, 2020

As governments respond to the novel coronavirus, asylum-seekers, migrants, and refugees are increasingly being left behind. Housing in overcrowded camps and informal reception centers undermines access to adequate health care, sanitation, and water that is needed to protect against COVID-19. And some governments are taking advantage of the pandemic to enact discriminatory prevention and treatment measures, including by rejecting asylum-seekers. Join us for a discussion with Bill Frelick (Human Rights Watch), Gillian Triggs (UNHCR), and Sana Mustafa (Asylum Access/ Network for Refugee Voices); moderated by Kate Evans (Duke).

Movements, Organizing, and Empowerment in the Time of COVID-19 (View on YouTube)
Tuesday, April 28, 2020

The pandemic is, quite literally, pushing people apart. Physical distancing makes traditional forms of organizing and activism—rallies, protests, Know Your Rights trainings; the people power generated by physical proximity—impossible. The pandemic exacerbates preexisting inequities, disproportionately affecting communities and people already marginalized. How are organizations and social movements shifting tactics to continue to build the power of marginalized communities in this new era?  What are the greatest challenges? How can human rights organizations and academic institutions best provide solidarity that centers the leadership and calls to action from those most affected? Check out this talk with experts Antonio Gutierrez (Organized Communities Against Deportations), Michelle Morse (Equal Health), Tawana Petty (Detroit Community Technology Project), and Shawn Sebastian (People’s Action); moderated by Sukti Dhital (NYU).

COVID-19 and Mental Health: Wellbeing and Resilience During the Pandemic (View on YouTube)
Thursday, April 30, 2020

Covid-19 has profoundly disrupted how we conduct human rights work. Advocates around the world are adapting to new challenges brought on by lockdowns, including needing to balance responding to new and exacerbated human rights concerns, increased personal and family responsibilities, and the challenges of remote working. Further, many traditional strategies for resilience and wellbeing such as maintaining strong social bonds and organic peer support networks, are being tested as we remain physically apart. This discussion on navigating mental health concerns during COVID-19 and strategies for individual, organizational, and movement-wide wellbeing features Yvette Alberdingk-Thijm (WITNESS), Yara Sallam (Egyptian Feminist & Human Rights Advocate); Douglas Mawadri (Associates for Health Rights Uganda), Margaret Satterthwaite (NYU); moderated by Anjli Parrin (Columbia).

The Deployment of COVID-19 to Undermine Sexual and Reproductive Health (View on YouTube)
Tuesday, May 5, 2020 

As COVID-19 threatens to collapse our healthcare system, sexual and reproductive health and rights are in grave jeopardy. Opportunistic policymakers are exploiting the pandemic to restrict or outright ban abortion care and access to contraception. In what ways has the health emergency exacerbated already existing vulnerabilities, and in what other ways has it created new problems? What advocacy strategies are being used to combat the exploitation of a state of emergency to curtail sexual and reproductive health? How is access to medical treatment for trans people negatively affected by the pandemic? What lessons can be learned from the HIV epidemic in relation to the increased use of the criminal law in the name of protecting public health? How can human rights principles be used to protect bodily autonomy and sexual/reproductive health during this crisis? View the discussion with Brigitte Amiri (ACLU), Eszter Kismodi (Sexual and Reproductive Health Matters), Melissa Murray (NYU), and Quita Tinsley (Access Reproductive Care-Southeast); moderated by Katherine Franke (Columbia).

COVID-19 and the Rights of Persons With Disabilities (View on YouTube)
Thursday, May 7, 2020

The global pandemic is exacerbating discrimination against, and challenges faced by, persons with physical and mental disabilities. Some may face increased risk of becoming infected or seriously ill with COVID-19, including in institutions, and others may face obstacles in accessing healthcare and other necessary services and supplies. How can advocates promote a disability rights-based response to the pandemic, including one that centers persons with disabilities in decision-making on prevention and containment measures? This discussion features Catalina Devandas Aguilar (UN Special Rapporteur on Rights of Persons with Disabilities), Mohamed Farah (Somali Disability Empowerment Network), Ben Gauntlett (Disability Rights Commissioner, Australia), and Amanda McRae (Women Enabled International); moderated by Elizabeth Emens (Columbia).

Education Rebound for All During and After COVID-19: Charting the Way Forward (View on YouTube)
Wednesday, May 13, 2020

The impact of COVID-19 on education is tangibly felt across the globe, with school closures, disparities in access to remote education, disruption to free meal and vaccine programs, risk of increased dropout rates, and more. How can we ensure an accelerated recovery that doesn’t widen educational attainment —and related power— gaps between the rich and the poor, between boys and girls, and between the Global North and the Global South? Check out this discussion with experts Helen Abadzi (UT Arlington), Elin Martínez (Human Rights Watch), and Gustavo Payan (DAI/ INEE); moderated by Maya Alkateb-Chami (Columbia).

Rethinking Essential: Business, Work, and Human Rights in the Covid-19 Pandemic (View on YouTube)
Thursday, May 14, 2020

As society grapples with an unprecedented pandemic, the most vulnerable workers and communities bear the brunt of its immediate and long-term devastating effects, even as they provide essential services to our societies. But can the pandemic also present opportunities to address market failures and position workers’ rights as central to a more sustainable, just, and resilient economy? Watch this salient discussion with Anita Ramasastry (UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights), Alison Kiehl Friedman (ICAR), Kim Cordova (UFCW), and Janhavi Dave (Homenet South Asia); moderated by Aminta Ossom (Harvard) and grounded in the experiences of workers in the food and agricultural sector, and in the informal economy.

COVID-19 and the Human Rights of LGBTI People (View on YouTube)
Tuesday, May 19, 2020

As governments respond to the novel coronavirus, the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people are under increasing threat. Some face increased risks from stay-at-home orders when home is not a safe environment or when health care discrimination deters LGBTI people from seeking COVID-19 treatment. Discriminatory measures that stigmatize and blame LGBTI people for outbreaks as well as governments’ crackdown on LGBTI rights defenders, heighten vulnerabilities and violence. Instead, solutions must be found that center the rights of LGBTI people, including through economic measures to mitigate the adverse impacts of the crisis, as well as ongoing support services. Catch up on this conversation with Ymania Brown (ILGA World/PHRI), Gloria Careaga (UNAM), Victor Madrigal-Borloz (U.N. Independent Expert), and Danilo da Silva (LAMBDA); moderated by Larry Helfer (Duke Law).

 

Due to strong interest in the speaker series, it may resume in September 2020 at the start of the new academic year. We invite panel topic proposals from advocates, students, and scholars. To submit a proposal, please contact Balfour Smith at bsmith@law.duke.edu.

IMAGE: A protester looks at riot police officers during a protest against the government of President Sebastian Piñera on March 20, 2020 in Santiago, Chile. Protests resumed despite the fact that Piñera declared a ‘state of catastrophe’ due to the coronavirus (COVID-Q9) emergency. This decision gives the government extraordinary powers to restrict freedom of movement and assure food supply and basic services for 90 days to confront the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Marcelo Hernandez/Getty Images)

 

About the Author(s)

Sarah Knuckey

Associate Clinical Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, Director of the Human Rights Clinic, Co-Director of the Human Rights Institute, Former Special Advisor to the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions (2007-2016). Member of the editorial board of Just Security. Follow her on Twitter (@SarahKnuckey).

Jayne Huckerby

Clinical Professor of Law and the Director of the International Human Rights Clinic at Duke University School of Law. Follow her on Twitter (@jaynehuckerby).