JURIST Guest Columnist David M. Crane, the founding chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, discusses the increased how human rights relate to the upcoming US elections amid COVID-19...
In this election year and beyond, rightfully, the focus of our national attention and the world’s concern is COVID-19, the economy, healthcare, and jobs. That’s it. The world is reeling from a true pandemic the likes we may not have seen since 1918. The United States struggles in how to rationally tackle not only the virus but re-opening America in a way that does not ratchet up the death toll. America is largely doing this without a centralized effort, the States left to their own devices in large measure, so much so that they are creating regional organizations to provide a cogent path forward. This is a first in our history.
Overlaid on all of this is the dynamic of a national election and thousands of local and state elections, the outcome of which will forever shape the destiny of the United States. The concerns created by the virus and the consequences of the shutdowns are exacerbated by politics, it’s almost gasoline on the fire of division that has been blazing away since that fateful day in November 2016. Unlike in most nations, America’s response to the virus has become political. The wearing of a mask or not identifying our political affiliation. Our President refuses to wear a mask because to him it appears it’s a sign of weakness. Followers across the country watch his actions and do likewise endangering us all. There is no moral leadership to help America rally around the flag and tackle the challenge of COVID-19 as responsible citizens.
As the United States transitions to a second Trump administration or a new Biden administration, human rights concerns around the world will be a looming challenge. The virus has set back the entire international paradigm of a “global village.” Strongmen consolidate power, stressed and vulnerable populations suffer as the virus takes its toll, minimizes aid, exacerbates food supplies, and breaks down medical support as societies unravel around the edges. Human rights are trumped by survival. It will go badly for many around the world in the coming years. Human stresses will become an open sore and challenge a pathway for the international community to rebalance itself.
It is important that world leaders and the next administration factor human rights into policies that will help the United States and the international community return from the abyss. Under a Trump administration this will most likely not happen. Its’ track record, actually and perceived is not one of leadership in the human rights realm. A Biden administration offers more hope as the former Vice President has stated clearly that human rights will be important to his administration and the United States. Despite this laudable declaration, one which he does sincerely believe in, renewing an American space again in human rights leadership will be overwhelmed by the tsunami of challenges that COVID-19 confront us with.
Yet despite all of this, I posit that a renewed nurturing of a human rights approach to the virus will actually assist the United States returning in a realistic way to the world community and act as a cornerstone to a viable American and international response to the virus. Human rights will be the floor upon which we can reconstruct our society in a way that allows all of our efforts to be sustained. Leaving the less advantaged, the sick, the poor, the minority populations and other vulnerable peoples behind or out of any recovery efforts will weaken and set back those efforts.
We see this clearly in how the virus has damaged our vulnerable populations in America. This is going on across the globe. Considered policy to take on the virus, grounded upon the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and even our own American Bill of Rights, gives us an opportunity to renew that important declaration that all lives matter under law. Let’s tackle this virus using law, policy, science, and the compassion of our right to live free from want and fear. Mankind, and America, will be the better for it and heal itself more effectively. As Nelson Mandela declared: “You will achieve more in this world through acts of mercy than you will through acts of retribution.”
David Crane is the founding chief prosecutor of the international war crime tribunal called the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
Suggested citation: David M. Crane, Human Rights Matter Too In Reestablishing Society Under the Rule of Law, JURIST – Professional Commentary, May 28, 2020, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2020/05/david-crane-human-rights-matter-covid19/.
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