Human Rights, Social Justice & COVID-19

Opening Plenary Panel

The COVID-19 pandemic presents a dramatic, evolving challenge to human rights around the world. Curfews, lockdowns, quarantine and other coercive state responses trench on civil and political rights. Deprival of education, denial of access to food and health care, loss of livelihood and other consequences of these interventions, undo hard-won gains for social and economic rights. Gender, race and class are fatal determinants of infection, mortality, and material hardship. The increasing burden of care labour and its unequal distribution is insufficiently accounted for. The interests of corporate actors and defensive governments threaten to skew access to treatments and vaccines. Our opening plenary draws together distinguished speakers to reflect on the consequences of COVID-19 for human rights and social justice at all levels from international law and diplomacy to the UK and its regions, from government to the home.

Professor Lawrence Gostin

Georgetown University

Lawrence Gostin is Founding O’Neill Chair in Global Health Law, Professor of Medicine (Georgetown University) and Professor of Public Health (Johns Hopkins University). He directs the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law and is the author of leading texts on global health and public health law. He served on the Director-General’s Advisory Committee on Reforming the World Health Organization (WHO); and on numerous WHO expert advisory committees, including on the Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Framework, smallpox, and genomic sequencing data. He co-chairs the Lancet Commission on Global Health Law. He is the Legal and Global Health Correspondent for the Journal of the American Medical Association, founding Editor-in-Chief of Laws and former Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics.

Ann James

Social Worker, Academic and Policy Lead

Ann James’ professional life has been shaped by her commitment to social justice and human rights for people in need of care and support. She has personal experience of the impact of impairment and disability as a mother and carer for her late son Rhydian. Since retiring Ann has worked with Professor Luke Clements (Leeds University) to deliver the online journal, Rhydian: Social Welfare Law in Wales, promoting the rights of people in need of care and support in Wales and beyond through provision of timely information, clarification of law and policy, and enabling critical debate and discussion.


Professor Michael Fakhri

United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food


Michael Fakhri is Professor of Law at the University of Oregon, and teaches in the areas of international economic law, commercial law, and food law. His research focuses on the right to food and agroecology. His theoretical agenda involves investigating law’s role in imperial and capitalist adventures. He is a faculty member of the Environmental and Natural Resource Program where he co-leads the Food Resiliency Project. In this work, he investigates how law may be used to increase biodiversity through food-making practices. A leading figure in the Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL) movement, he is contributing editor of EJIL: Talk! He also has been a guest contributor for Legal Form and Afronomicslaw.


Image credit: Statue of Aneurin Bevan in Cardiff By Philip Halling, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.