The Carr Center for Human Rights Policy serves as the hub of the Harvard Kennedy School’s research, teaching, and training in the human rights domain. The center embraces a dual mission: to educate students and the next generation of leaders from around the world in human rights policy and practice; and to convene and provide policy-relevant knowledge to international organizations, governments, policymakers, and businesses.
In our third Covid-19 Discussion Paper, Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights, Jacqueline Bhabha; Technology and Human Rights Fellows Laurin Leonard and Teresa Hodge; and Carr Center Fellow, Laura Cordisco-Tsai, outline how Covid-19 disproportionately impacts the world's most vulnerable communities. From prison populations to survivors of human trafficking, "Vulnerable communities often are not positioned to ensure their human rights are preserved in times of a crisis—they are often a historical afterthought."
Close to 370,000 infections and nearly 11,000 deaths in the United States. Nearly 10 million Americans filing unemployment claims. Unimaginable heartbreak and hardship, with worse to come. Given this still-developing emergency, and the fatal inadequacy of the U.S. government’s domestic preparedness and response so far, it is very hard to focus on the devastation that is about to strike the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.
But if President Trump doesn’t overcome his go-it-alone mind-set and take immediate steps to mobilize a global coalition to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, its spread will cause a catastrophic loss of life and make it impossible to restore normalcy in the United States in the foreseeable future.
The global pandemic claimed its first democracy on March 30 when Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban won approval from his parliament to rule Hungary indefinitely by decree. Orban’s new powers give him unlimited authority to fight the coronavirus by suspending parliament and all future elections, overriding Hungarian law and imprisoning persons found guilty of the new crimes of “violating a quarantine” and “spreading false information.”
Democratic governments all over the world are undertaking temporary emergency measures to address the pandemic crisis, but none are as sweeping as Hungary’s. Temporarily restricting freedom of movement and prescribing social distancing are reasonable limits on civil liberties aimed at containing the virus. But the Hungarian case demonstrates how the public-health crisis can be used as an excuse to promote authoritarianism far beyond the current emergency.
“The Carr Center is building a bridge between ideas on human rights and the practice on the ground. Right now we are at a critical juncture. The pace of technological change and the rise of authoritarian governments are both examples of serious challenges to the flourishing of individual rights. It’s crucial that Harvard and the Kennedy School continue to be a major influence in keeping human rights ideals alive. The Carr Center is a focal point for this important task.”
- Mathias Risse