Global Responses to COVID-19: Rights, Democracy, and the Law

Introducing the Digital Symposium: Global Responses to COVID-19: Rights, Democracy, and the Law

By Alicia Ely Yamin, Senior Fellow

The COVID-19 pandemic is not merely a health crisis, or an economic crisis, or even just a balancing act between the two. It is also a crisis for the legitimacy of democratic institutions and the rule of law, which were already frayed in many countries by growing autocracy and staggering social inequality. This symposium presents a snapshot of the spectrum of rights-related measures adopted in dozens of countries to date, and, in scrutinizing the rationales and quality of justification for legal action, it seeks to highlight the complex relationship between population well-being and the functioning of democratic institutions.

The symposium will run for approximately a month as a series on Bill of Health each Monday and Thursday after its launch on May 12th, 2020. As the entries are published they will populate the interactive map above. In addition to individual country analyses, I will write a series of pieces that synthesize key themes across contexts. Although the United States is not a part of the official symposium, we are including links to Bill of Health posts regarding diverse legal and policy issues implicated in the notoriously shambolic federal response, as well as varied situations across states.

In designing this digital symposium, we sought to ensure broad comparability among a large number of contributions, without prescribing a script. We posed the same three questions to legal scholars from countries representing every region of the world:

  • In response to the novel Coronavirus, has your country adopted legal measures that restrict civil rights or undermine the democratic rule of law? If so, what form do these measures take?
  • What is the main regulatory vehicle used to enact these changes? Has the judiciary evaluated the legality of such measures?
  • Have these measures had, or are they likely to have, disproportionate impacts on certain groups, including women, disabled persons, minorities and/or marginalized and poor populations? Although “the public” is never monolithic, how would you characterize the overall reaction to these restrictions among the population? If there is political resistance or dissent, how is that being manifested?

However, we deliberately sought varied perspectives from legal scholars drawn not just from across the world but also from an array of fields — e.g., health law, constitutional law, specialists in disability and human rights. The complex challenges raised by the pandemic are not the province of any narrow field of expertise. Further, as is revealed in the contributions, these different perspectives at times produce distinct approaches to evaluating the legitimacy and impacts of state (in)actions, and distinct understandings of how willing we should be to accept measures in the interest of a broadly-construed social contract.

The effect of collecting these many diverse contributions — with all the limitations of the format — constitutes a shared basis for future dialogue. Indeed, we hope it provides one opening of many for an important set of discussions to have at this critical moment in time.

We will continually update this page with the responses we receive. Browse the full list of submissions below, or click on the interactive map above to read individual posts.

Follow the conversation and share the articles in this symposium using #GlobalCOVIDSurvey!

Back to Symposia Library

Framing the Digital Symposium – Global Responses to COVID-19: Rights, Democracy, and the Law by Alicia Ely Yamin

Anti-COVID Measures Restricting Civil Liberties in Italy: Issues of Legality and Legitimacy by Stefania Negri

Legal Tools Used in China in the COVID-19 Emergency by Wang Chenguang

Sweden’s Response to COVID-19: A Tale of Trust, Recommendations, and Odorous Nudges by Behrang Kianzad and Timo Minssen

COVID-19 in Brazil: Institutional Meltdown in the Middle of a Pandemic by Octávio Luiz Motta Ferraz

Switzerland’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic by Gian Luca Burci and Jennifer Hasselgard-Rowe

COVID-19 in Australia: Protecting Public Health by Restricting Rights & Risking the Rule of Law by Paul Harpur

Restrictions in the Name of Health During COVID-19 in Finland by Kaisa-Maria Kimmel and Rosa Maria Ballardini

The Novel Coronavirus and Civil Rights: A Snapshot from Chile by Lidia Casas Becerra

COVID-19 in India: Lockdown, Legal Challenges, and Disparate Impacts by Anand Grover

COVID-19, Civil Rights, and the Rule of Law: The Case of Iceland by Hrefna D. Gunnarsdóttir

Germany’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic by Sara Gerke

COVID-19 and the State of Alarm vis-à-vis Human Rights in Spain by Dorothy Estrada-Tanck

Kenya’s Growing Anti-Rights Public Health Agenda During COVID-19 by Allan Maleche and Nerima Were

General Quarantine, Social Emergency, and Economic Crisis: COVID-19 in Colombia by Isabel C. Jaramillo Sierra

Emerging Themes from the “Global Responses to COVID-19” Symposium by Alicia Ely Yamin

Restrictions on Liberty in the United Kingdom During COVID-19 by Keith Syrett 

New Zealand’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic by Paul Rishworth

COVID-19, the Netherlands, and Human Rights: A Balancing Act by Brigit Toebes

How Denmark’s Epidemic Act Was Amended to Respond to COVID-19 by Janne Rothmar Herrmann

COVID-19 in France: Health as a Constitutional Value and Limitations on Civil Liberties by Stéphanie Dagron

The Canadian Response to COVID-19 by Vanessa Gruben

Rights Restrictions and Securitization of Health in Israel During COVID-19 by Aeyal Gross

Norway and the COVID-19 Lockdown by Malcolm Langford and Kristin Bergtora Sandvik

Human Rights at Risk During the Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic in Mexico by Sofía Charvel

Rights, Democracy, and the Law in the United States During COVID-19 (a collection of resources previously published on Bill of Health)

Key Themes in “Global Responses to COVID-19” Symposium: Privacy and Health Rights by Alicia Ely Yamin

Human Rights, the Rule of Law, and COVID-19 in South Africa by Mark Heywood

Peru and COVID-19: Quick Response Hampered by Structural Failures by Eduardo Dargent and Camila Gianella

COVID-19 Lays Bare Ireland’s Selective Approach to Care by Ruth Fletcher

The Law and Human Rights in Nigeria’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic by Cheluchi Onyemelukwe

Argentina: Facing Coronavirus in the Shadow of the Rule of Law by Roberto Gargarella

COVID-19 in South Korea: Privacy and Discrimination Concerns by Woosung Hwang

Hungary’s Response to COVID-19 Vastly Expands Executive Power by Csaba Győry

Global Responses to COVID-19: An Inflection Point for Democracy, Rights, and Law by Alicia Ely Yamin

Editor-in-Chief: Chloe Reichel