Call for Contributions: COVID-19 and “New” Human Rights


COVID-19 has spread all over the world, unequivocally reaching countries of very different socio-economic development. Yet, COVID-19 has unequally affected different groups and communities around the world and continues to highlight and exacerbate inequalities. The urgent and all-encompassing nature of the efforts to stop the pandemic has led it to overtake and complicate most preexisting problems in unpredictable and unprecedented ways. The imminent vaccine comes with its own challenges in terms of equality, non-discrimination, and human rights more generally. This symposium aims at shedding light on these challenges from an international legal perspective.

Together with the containment measures, but also with the question of a possible vaccination and future recovery plans, comes a vivid debate about human rights protection: The need to prevent the spread of the virus puts high pressure on human rights all around the world. Regions overwhelmed with high inequality, including the Americas, face an even greater challenge in trying to set in motion much needed measures to address and contain the virus while adequately protecting their peoples under human rights law. The global pandemic also highlights and exacerbates inequalities and power-dynamics between the Global South and North, questions that are bound to become even more salient with the soon-to-be availability of large-scale vaccination in some parts of the world. The pandemic is affecting certain groups more deeply, including Indigenous groups and traditional communities. This, at the same time, reinforces their vulnerability under government measures that attempt to provide timely, comprehensive, and non-discriminatory care. While there have been widespread debates (for an example see here) on the role of the so‑called first and second generation’s human rights (civil and political rights as well as socio-economic rights), the challenge for “new” human rights, including the right to water, the right to food, the right to a healthy environment, and the right to energy, to name a few, is particularly grand.

After a year under the spread of COVID-19 throughout the world, certain conclusions can be drawn as to the human rights most affected by the pandemic, and the people most vulnerable to it. At the same time, new challenges emerge, in light of the beginning or impeding vaccination campaigns in some countries. Focusing on the “new” human rights highlighted above, this virtual symposium asks: How have the rights to water, food, a healthy environment, and energy, or other “new” human rights been affected in different countries and regions of the world by the current COVID-19 pandemic? Can “new” human rights support measures aiming at limiting the spread of COVID-19? To what extent, if at all, does the way that “new” human rights are affected by the pandemic differ from more firmly established human rights? Which groups are particularly vulnerable, both, to the pandemic and its impacts and to the infringements of their “new” human rights? How can states address these vulnerabilities? In what way (if at all) is the notion of vulnerability helpful to address the inequalities sharpened by the pandemic situation?  Contributions are particularly invited to consider the power-dynamics and inequalities from a post- or decolonial perspective, addressing relationships of power and domination between the Global South and North as well as between different majority and minority groups within a given state.

Contributions could further take up questions such as what kind of state obligations with respect to these “new” human rights need further codification and what form such codification could take: (How) Did the pandemic help or hinder current efforts to include such “new” rights in human rights’ instruments focusing merely on so-called first and second generations rights? Which legal measures have been taken by countries (by courts) to protect these rights where they already exist? How does the pandemic challenge the already fragile “new” human rights?

This symposium is jointly hosted by Völkerrechtsblog and the Global Pandemic Network, in particular its ecological rights working group. We invite contributions on the above‑mentioned questions and related topics. They should be around 1.000–1.500 words long and are welcome in English, German, and French. Please note that contributions in Spanish and Portuguese will be gladly accepted but will be translated into English prior to publishing. Contributions will be received under until 17 February 2021.

Maria Antonia Tigre

Maria Antonia Tigre (S.JD. Candidate, LL.M., Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University, J.D., Pontifícia Universidade Católica of Rio de Janeiro) is the Global Climate Litigation Fellow at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School and the Deputy Director for the Global Network of Human Rights and the Environment (GNHRE).

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Nesa Zimmermann

Nesa Zimmermann is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Geneva and Co-director of the Law Clinic for the Rights of Vulnerable Persons. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Geneva, a LL.M. from King’s College, London, and a MLaw from the University of Neuchâtel. Her fields of expertise include human rights law, migration law and constitutional law. Completed in 2020, her Ph.D. analyses particular aspects vulnerability-reasoning in the caselaw of the ECtHR. She is an editor at Völkerrechtsblog.

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Anna-Julia Saiger

Anna-Julia Saiger (Dr. iur., LL.M.) is a legal trainee at the Higher Regional Court in Karlsruhe. She graduated from King’s College, London, Humboldt University, Berlin, and La Sapienza, Rome, and is currently working as a research assistant at the Institute for Media and Information Law at Albert-Ludwigs University Freiburg i. Br. Her research focuses on climate change and international law. She is an editor at Völkerrechtsblog.

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  1. Dear colleagues,
    I am excited to hear about your thinking and work in the field of COVID and human rights.I have been teaching, writing and speaking about climate change and human rights since 2005 at Albany Law School and the State Univ. of NY – but these days I am thinking about a human rights claim against Donald Trump based on at least reckless disregard for human life in a year of lies, disinformation, and actions needlessly exposing the US people – and especially the most vulnerable first nations and people of color – to infection, suffering and deaths of almost a half million people. Is this inquiry within your purview? Best wishes, Eleanor

    • Dear Eleanor,
      Thank you for your interest in the symposium. We will answer to you via email, please do not hesitate to contact us via in case you have further questions.
      Your Völkerrechtsblog team

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