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A Roadmap for Recovering Rights: New Series on Economic Responses to COVID-19

May 27, 2020
As well as the tragic human toll of the virus itself, the COVID-19 pandemic is laying bare the grave injustices of our economic model.  As country after country has struggled to respond, millions of people around the world have been displaced, unemployed, and impoverished.  The urgency of reshaping our economies to serve everyone, not just elites and powerful corporations, has become more and more glaring. 
How could our economies be transformed in the wake of COVID-19 if our rights and dignity are placed at their center? Today, CESR is pleased to publish the first in the Recovering Rights series of issue briefs that we hope helps spark collective debate on this question. 
There is widespread agreement that we need a massive investment of resources to tackle COVID-19 and address the impact of its economic fallout on people’s lives and livelihoods. But there is less consensus about what a just distribution looks like. Holding governments accountable to their human rights commitments can help us push for the right choices when it comes to mobilizing and allocating resources. Socioeconomic rights standards give us a roadmap: away from an unsustainable economic model based purely on the pursuit of profit and growth, towards a resilient one based on caring for people and the planet.
That said, these standards are often described in the abstract. They use specialist terms and legalistic language. In some contexts, that’s important. But it can also feel disconnected from the hardships so many people are confronting every day. To achieve meaningful action, these standards can’t just be the domain of human rights lawyers and experts. We need to translate them into useful tools for making clear demands for change in policy and practice and winning broad support. 
The Recovering Rights series lays out how human rights standards can be used to shape economic responses to the pandemic. By unpacking relevant standards and discussing how they relate to concrete policies, our aim is to help social justice activists make the case for action. The first in the series looks at governments’ obligation to use “maximum available resources” to realize socioeconomic rights and considers how it should guide decisions about COVID relief and recovery packages. The next will focus on how human rights obligations to cooperate internationally apply across borders in our globalized world, even when multilateralism is under strain.  Over the coming weeks, we’ll analyze different components of governments’ pandemic relief and recovery packages—such as social protection measures, business bailouts, and tax reforms, through the lens of human rights obligations. We’ll also examine other actions that need to be taken at the global level, including debt relief and cancellation. 
We hope that you use the ideas, analysis and proposals of these briefs in your advocacy. If you find them helpful, please share in your networks and on social media, tagging @social_rights.
We want to hear from you! Give us feedback and suggest future topics at To have future Recovering Rights briefs sent to your inbox as soon as they are released, sign up for the special series here.
Photo by: Shameer Pk/Pixabay