Human Rights Throughout the Pandemic – Reviewed


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Oct 18, 2021
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Unless one has been stranded on a deserted island in the last 2 years, one should know that the COVID-19 pandemic has irreversibly changed the world in many ways. Most obviously, the pandemic put a standstill to the global economy. As importantly, the pandemic has intensified the divide between people of different political views.

The most basic personal protective measures such as wearing masks have been a point of contention -- those in the far right have dismissed the entire pandemic as false, and have touted their freedoms against mask mandates. Some, such as those in Anchorage Alaska, have gone so far as to link their loss of freedom from public health mandates with that of Jews during the holocaust. The University of Pennsylvania found that Americans are more aware of the fundamental rights that are guaranteed by the government, yet are less knowledgeable about other aspects and responsibilities of the government.

The study of human rights divides rights into three parts, or generations. The difference of the three generations of human rights can be seen in the French phrase “liberté, egalité, fraternité”, in that order. The first generation rights, put simply, protect the individual from the state. The state -- it is most often the state that ensures rights -- is required to take a step back in order to ensure first generation rights. The rights included in the First Amendment of the US Constitution are first generation rights. The second generation rights are rights that are guaranteed by the state. The state needs to actively work to ensure those rights. The third generation rights protect the rights of groups. Because of its broad nature, third generation rights are less relevant to everyday life as much as first or second generation rights.

Different states have different interpretations of human rights. European countries -- or rather, countries that are under the European Union -- generally put more emphasis on second and third generation rights than first generation rights. The US, on the other hand, usually puts much more emphasis on first generation rights. It is important to note, however, that a healthy balance among the different generations of rights is crucial to a healthy society.

The pandemic has pitted first generation rights and second generation rights together. The anti-vaxxers and the anti-maskers contend that it is within their right to choose whether or not they get vaccinated or masked. In short, they are invoking their first generation rights. Vaccine and mask mandates from governments actively try to ensure public health in a given ear. They, in turn, are upholding their second generation rights.

There are, of course, politicians who have used the divide to their advantage. Donald Trump, an avid denier of the severity of the pandemic, contracted COVID and had to get surgery. He continues to rally people to defy public health protocols. Texas, under a Republican majority, banned companies from instituting vaccine mandates.

The clash between the different generations of rights is not a new issue, as can be reflected in every political debate. It seems, however, that the addition of political identity and “fake news” have stopped the conversation between first generation and second generation rights. Considering the level of divide that is being shown in politics, this lack of communication between the proponents of such fundamental rights cannot but be a harbinger for more unease: even after the pandemic ends.

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