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Is There a Role for Human Rights Law in Flattening the COVID-19 Curve? 

Fletcher Professors Babbitt and Cerone discuss individual human rights vs. the public good in a time of COVID-19.

As coronavirus cases continue to surge across the globe – and as populations also begin to show signs of lockdown fatigue – we asked our experts at Fletcher whether international humanitarian law and international human rights law has any relevance for how governments respond to the outbreak? In this latest Fletcher Insights conversation, Fletcher Professor of Practice in International Conflict Management and former director of the Henry J. Leir Institute for Human Security Eileen Babbitt sat down with Fletcher Professor John Cerone to break down the issue.

“Most of human rights law is predicated on the balancing between the rights of the individual and the public good, or the good of the community,” said Cerone.

“For example, the freedom of movement, freedom of expression, freedom to manifest one’s religion; all of these rights may be limited by states parties in the pursuit of certain public goods, so long as those limitations are prescribed by law, and are necessary to achieve that public good,” Cerone said. “And one of those public goods that’s explicitly listed in those provisions of the covenant, is public health.” states are permitted to limit certain rights to serve the good of public health. But, of course, that’s where we need scrutiny […]” he said. 

“And who decides that?” asked Babbitt. 

For the answer to that question - and more about how human rights law applies to government responses to COVID-19, including who has the right to curtail human rights and who’s watching when it happens - watch this informative Fletcher Insights primer.