The Age of Extreme

The COVID-19 and Human Rights Crises

  • Tien-Duc Nguyen Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences, Vietnam
  • Thu-Thuy Thi Tran Hanoi Law University, Vietnam


The COVID-19 pandemic caught the entire world off guard; presenting policy-makers with various thorny issues to address. This article probes the intersection of the COVID-19 pandemic and human rights. We argue that, on the one hand, there is a growing concern about excessive and disproportionate restrictions on human rights under the guise of ‘emergency powers’. On the other, the fact that rights are not taken seriously renders every effort to ward off the infectious disease faltering. Hence, we suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic should serve as a wake-up call for countries to step up their rights commitments. Despite the exceptional nature of the pandemic, human rights must remain at the heart of the States’ legal and policy choices.


Agence France-Presse, “Norway suspends virus-tracing app due to privacy concerns”, The Guardian (15 June 2020).

Allafrica, “Uganda: Police Shoot Two on Bodaboda for Defying Museveni COVID-19 Order”, (29 March 2020).

Altshuler, Tehilla Shwartz & Rachel Aridor Hershkowitz, “How Israel’s COVID-19 mass surveillance operation works”, (6 July 2020), online: Brookings.

Amnesty International, “Bahrain, Kuwait and Norway contact tracing apps among most dangerous for privacy”, (16 June 2020).

———, “Governments and police must stop using pandemic as pretext for abuse”, (17 December 2020).

Arkin, Fatima, “Asian COVID-19 lockdowns clear the air of pollutants”, (28 October 2020), online: Asia & Pacific .

Bachelet, Michelle, “Statement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights”, OHCHR (12 May 2020).

Barberá, Marcel Gascón, “Romania Police Accused of Abuse as COVID-19 Fines Soar”, Balkan Insight (23 April 2020).

Blue, James, Privacy in Peril – How We Are Sacrificing a Fundamental Right in Exchange for Security and Convenience (Oxford University Press, 2007).

Booth, Robert, “UK Healthcare Regulator Brands Resuscitation Strategy Unacceptable”, The Guardian (1 April 2020).

Bozorgmehr, Kayvan et al, “COVID and the convergence of three crises in Europe” (2020) 5:5 The Lancet Public Health 247–248.

Braunschweiger, Amy, Witness: Doctors Reveal What Nicaragua Tries to Hide, by Amy Braunschweiger, Human Rights Watch (Human Rights Watch, 2019).

Busby, Mattha, “Welsh Surgery Apologises Over ‘Do Not Resuscitate Instruction”, The Guardian (31 March 2020).
Case, Anne & Angus Deaton, “America Can Afford a World-Class Health System. Why Don’t We Have One?”, The New York Times (14 April 2020).

Chachko, Elena, “The Israeli Supreme Court Checks COVID-19 Electronic Surveillance”, (5 May 2020), online: Lawfare Blog .

Cheong, Mark W L, Pascale Allotey & Daniel D Reidpath, “Unequal Access to Vaccines Will Exacerbate Other Inequalities” (2020) 32:6–7 Asia Pacific Journal of Public Health 379–380.

Dang, Hai-Anh & Trong-Anh Trinh, The Beneficial Impacts of Covid-19 Lockdowns on Air Pollution: Evidence from Vietnam (Rochester, NY, 2020).

Dantas, Guilherme et al, “The impact of COVID-19 partial lockdown on the air quality of the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil” (2020) 729 The Science of the Total Environment 139085.

Deutsche Welle (DW), “Rich nations stockpile swine flu vaccines”, (27 July 2009).
Dictionarycom, “World of the Year”, (2020).

Duc, Nguyen Tien & Bui Duc Hien, “Silver Lining or Red Herring – The Impact of COVID-19 on Vietnam’s Air Quality” (2020) Special issue 2020 on Impact of Coronavirus Emergency Opinio Juris in Comparatione 285–290.

Dutheil, Frédéric, Julien S Baker & Valentin Navel, “COVID-19 as a factor influencing air pollution?” (2020) 263 Environmental Pollution.

Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Committee, General Common No. 14, E/C.12/2000/4. (2000).

———, Statement on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and economic, social and cultural rights, E/C.12/2020/1 (2020).

European Federation of Journalists, “COVID-19: journalists threatened with imprisonment in Hungary”, (23 March 2020).

European Society of Cardiology, “Study estimates exposure to air pollution increases COVID-19 deaths by 15% worldwide”, (27 October 2020).

Fhon, Jack Roberto Silva et al, “Hospital care for elderly COVID-19 patients” (2020) 28 Revista Latino-Americana de Enfermagem e3396.

FIDH & Civil Rights Defenders, “Analysis of Cambodia’s state of emergency draft law”, (7 April 2020), online: .

Forman, Lisa & Jillian Clare Kohler, “Global health and human rights in the time of COVID-19: Response, restrictions, and legitimacy” (2020) 19:5 Journal of Human Rights 547–556.

France24, “Solidarity? When it comes to masks, it’s every nation for itself”, (3 April 2020).

———, “World may be tired, but virus ‘not tired of us’: WHO chief”, (9 November 2020).

Freedom House, “Freedom in the World 2020: A Leaderless Struggle for Democracy”, (2020).

Frontline Defenders, “Two years since coming into force, Bangladesh’s Digital Security Act continues to target human rights defenders and suppress free speech”, (8 October 2020).

Gallup Pakistan, Coronavirus attitude tracker survey Pakistan – Wave & Results, by Gallup Pakistan (2020).

Gonzalez, José, “Challenges Beyond Public Health – Guatemala and the Covid-19 Crisis”, (28 April 2020), online: Verfassungsblog.

Grazhdani, Drini, “Kosovo’s Constitutional Court finds COVID-19 Measures Unconstitutional”, (June 2020), online: OxHRH Blog .

Greene, Alan, “States should declare a State of Emergency using Article 15 ECHR to confront the Coronavirus Pandemic”, (1 April 2020), online: Strasbourg Observers.

Gunitsky, Seva, “Corrupting the Cyber-Commons: Social Media as a Tool of Autocratic Stability” (2015) 13:1 Perspectives on Politics 42–54.

Hafner-Burton, Emilie M, Laurence R Helfer & Christopher J Fariss, “Emergency and Escape: Explaining Derogations from Human Rights Treaties” (2011) 65:4 International Organization 673–707.

Harari, Yuval Noah, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (Harvill Secker, 2015).

Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, “Coronavirus and Air Pollution”, (2020).

Hernández, Jesús María Casal & Mariela Morales Antoniazzi, “States of Emergency without Rule of Law: The Case of Venezuela”, (22 May 2020), online: Verfassungsblog.

HM Government, The Coronavirus Act (2020).

———, The U.K., The Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 (2020).

Human Rights Committee, CCPR General Comment No. 16: Article 17 (Right to Privacy), The Right to Respect of Privacy, Family, Home and Correspondence, and Protection of Honour and Reputation. (1988).

———, “General Comment No 29: States of emergency (Article 4).”

———, Statement on derogations from the Covenant in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic. CCPR/C/128/2. (2020).

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Pandemic and Human Rights in the Americas, Resolution 1/2020 (2020).

Jackson, Vicki C, “Constitutional Law in an Age of Proportionality” (2015) 124:8 The Yale Law Journal 3094–3196.

Jaraczewski, Jakub, “An Emergency By Any Other Name? Measures Against the COVID-19 Pandemic in Poland”, (24 April 2020), online: Verfassungsblog.

Kanniah, Kasturi Devi et al, “COVID-19’s impact on the atmospheric environment in the Southeast Asia region” (2020) 736 The Science of the Total Environment 2.

Kidwai, Rasheed & Naghma Sahar, “Let’s talk about how Tablighi Jamaat turned Covid hate against Muslims around”, The Print (12 July 2020).

Kurlantzick, Joshua, Addressing the Effect of COVID-19 on Democracy in South and Southeast Asia, by Joshua Kurlantzick (Council on Foreign Relations, 2020).

Kurlantzick, Joshua ———, How China Ramped Up Disinformation Efforts During the Pandemic (Council on Foreign Relations, 2020).

Landau, David & Rosalind Dixon, “Abusive Judicial Review: Courts Against Democracy” (2020) 53 UC Davis Law Review 1315.

Landau, David, “Abusive Constitutionalism” (2013) 47 UC Davis Law Review 189.

Lazarus, Liora, Introduction In A preliminary human rights assessment of legislative and regulatory responses to the Covid-19 pandemic across 11 jurisdictions, by Liora Lazarus, Bonavero report No.3/2020 (Bonavero Institute of Human Rights, Oxford University).

Lim, David & Darius Tahir, “Pharmacies’ starring role in vaccine push could create unequal access”, (18 December 2020), online: POLITICO.

Loughlin, Martin, “The contemporary crisis of constitutional democracy” (2019) 39:2 Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 435–454.

McNamara, Courtney L et al, “The socioeconomic distribution of non-communicable diseases in Europe: findings from the European Social Survey (2014) special module on the social determinants of health” (2017) 27:1 European Journal of Public Health 22–26.

McVeigh, Karen, “Rich countries leaving rest of the world behind on Covid vaccines, warns Gates Foundation”, The Guardian (10 December 2020).

Mehrotra, Kartikay, “Dark Web Has Become a Marketplace for ‘Vaccines’ and Other Pandemic Scams”, Bloomberg (11 November 2020).

Menezes, Naveen, “Government publishes details of 19,240 home-quarantined people in India to keep a check”, Bangalore Mirror (25 March 2020).

Meyer, Brett, Pandemic Populism: An Analysis of Populist Leaders’ Responses to Covid-19, by Brett Meyer (Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, 2020).

Miller, Franklin G, “Why I Support Age-Related Rationing of Ventilators for Covid-19 Patients”, (9 April 2020), online: The Hastings Center.

Muller, Amrei, “Limitations to and derogations from economic, social and cultural rights” (2009) 9:4 Human Rights Law Review 557–601.

NAACP, Fumes Across the Fence-Line The Health Impacts of Air Pollution from Oil & Gas Facilities, by NAACP (African American Communities, 2017).

Nabben, Kelsie, Trustless Approaches to Digital Infrastructure in the Crisis of COVID-19: Australia’s Newest COVID App, Home-Grown Surveillance Technologies and What to Do About It (Rochester, NY, 2020).

National Assembly of Cambodia, Cambodian Law on Governing the Country in a State of Emergency, Art. 5(10).

Neuman, Gerald L, “Constrained Derogation in Positive Human Rights Regime, in (ed)” in Evan J Criddle, ed, Human Rights in Emergencies (Cambridge University Press, 2016) 15.

New Zealand Parliament, What was the Epidemic Response Committee?, by New Zealand Parliament (2020).

Newburger, Emma & Amelia Lucas, “Plastic waste surges as coronavirus prompts restaurants to use more disposable packaging”, CNBC (28 June 2020).

Nguyen, Duc Tien & An Thanh T Chu, “Weathering the Storm: Viet Nam’s legal and policy measures in the time of COVID-19” (2020) 6 Public Administration Issues 7–32.

Nguyen, Duc Tien, “Authorized to Depart from the Law’: The Curious Case of Viet Nam in Times of COVID-19” (2021) Statute Law Review 1–9.

OHCHR, “COVID-19: ‘Not an excuse’ to roll back environmental protection and enforcement”, UN rights expert says (15 April 2020).

Paquette, Mitchell & Ariela Levy, “How OSINT helps us hold governments to account during the COVID-19 pandemic”, (1 May 2020), online: Amnesty International Citizen Evidence Lab.

Parashar, Neha & Subrata Hait, “Plastics in the time of COVID-19 pandemic: Protector or polluter?” (2021) 759 The Science of the Total Environment.

Patrício Silva, Ana L et al, “Increased plastic pollution due to COVID-19 pandemic: Challenges and recommendations” (2021) 405 Chem Eng J 126683.

Pils, Eva, “China’s Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic: Fighting Two Enemies”, (25 May 2020), online: Verfassungsblog.

Pozzer, Andrea et al, “Regional and global contributions of air pollution to risk of death from COVID-19” (2020) 116:14 Cardiovascular Research 2247–2253.

Pugh, Jonathan, “The United Kingdom’s Coronavirus Act, Deprivations of Liberty, and The Right to Liberty and Security of the Person” (2020) International Journal of Biosciences and the Law.

Riedel, Eibe, Gilles Giacca & Christophe Golay, Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights in International Law: Contemporary Issues and Challenges (Oxford University Press, 2014).

Rough, Peter, “How China Is Exploiting the Coronavirus to Weaken Democracies”, Foreign Policy (25 March 2020).

Ruggiu, Daniele, Human Rights and Emerging Technologies – Analysis and Perspectives in Europe (Pan Stanford Publishing, 2018).

Scheinin, Martin, “The COVID-19 Emergency in Finland: Best Practice and Problems”, (16 April 2020), online: Verfassungsblog.

Schmidt, Harald, “The Way We Ration Ventilators Is Biased”, The New York Times (15 April 2020).

Scotford, Eloise AK, “Rethinking Clean Air: Air Quality Law and COVID-19” (2020) 32:3 Journal of Environmental Law 349–353.

Sebag, Gaspard & Hugo Miller, “Virus Curfew in French Town Blocked in First Rebuke of Lockdowns”, Bloomberg (8 April 2020).

Selanec, Nika Bačić, “Croatia’s Response to COVID-19: On Legal Form and Constitutional Safeguards in Times of Pandemic”, (9 May 2020), online: Verfassungsblog.

Shammas, Brittany et al, “Record numbers of covid-19 patients push hospitals and staffs to the limit”, The Washington Post (17 December 2020).

Sharma, Anshu, “COVID-19 environmental roll back ‘irrational and irresponsible’: rights expert”, UN News (15 April 2020).

Sousa, Fabiula de, “Pros and Cons of Plastic during the COVID-19 Pandemic” (2020) 5:4 Recycling 27.

Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Report on corruption and the right to health, by Special Rapporteur on the right to health, A/72/137 (2017).

Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Cambodia’s state of emergency law endangers human rights, warns UN expert, by Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia (OHCHR, 2020).

The Associated Press, “Egypt Arrests Doctors, Silences critics over virus outbreak”, (6 July 2020).

The Siracusa Principles on the Limitation and Derogation Provisions in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, E/CN4/1985/4 1984.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, 1948.

Thomson, Stephen & Eric C Ip, “COVID-19 emergency measures and the impending authoritarian pandemic” (2020) 7:1 Journal of Law and the Biosciences.

Tobin, John, The Right to Health in International Law (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).

Tran, Bach Xuan et al, “Understanding Global HIV Stigma and Discrimination: Are Contextual Factors Sufficiently Studied?” (2019) 16:11 International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 1899.

Twohey, Megan, Keith Collins & Katie Thomas, “With First Dibs on Vaccines, Rich Countries Have ‘Cleared the Shelves’”, The New York Times (15 December 2020).

UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Older Persons and COVID-19, Issue Brief, by UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (2020).

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Guidebook on Anti-Corruption in Public Procurement and the Management of Public Finances: Good Practices in Ensuring Compliance, by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (New York: United Nations, 2013).

United Nations, “COVID-19 and Human Rights - We are all in this together” (2020) UN Policy Brief.

University of Cambridge, “Popular COVID-19 conspiracies linked to vaccine ‘hesitancy’”, (14 October 2020).

Wang, Qiang & Min Su, “A preliminary assessment of the impact of COVID-19 on environment - A case study of China” (2020) 728 The Science of the Total Environment.

Warburton, Eve, “Indonesia: Polarization, Democratic Distress, and the Coronavirus - Polarization and the Pandemic”, (28 April 2020), online: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace .

WHO, “Air pollution and Coronavirus disease (COVID-19)”, (2019).

———, Closing the gap in a generation: Health equity through action on the social determinants of health - Final report of the commission on social determinants of health, by WHO (2008).

———, “Fair Pricing Forum 2020-2021”, (2021).

———, “Naming the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and the virus that causes it”, (2019).

Wong, Wendy H & Eileen A Wong, “What COVID-19 revealed about health, human rights, and the WHO” (2020) 19:5 Journal of Human Rights 586–581.

Wu, Katherine J, “No, there are no microchips in coronavirus vaccines.”, The New York Times (17 December 2020).

Yamada, Tadataka, “Poverty, wealth, and access to pandemic influenza vaccines” (2009) 361:12 The New England Journal of Medicine 1129–1131.

Yari, Saeed & Hanns Moshammer, “The Effect of Ambient Air Pollution on Severity of COVID-19: Hospitalization and Death” (2020) 3:1 Asian Pacific Journal of Environment and Cancer 15–16.

Yusingco, Michael Henry, “The Philippines’ Dalliance with Authoritarianism in Times of National Emergency”, (21 April 2020), online: Verfassungsblog.

Zangari, Shelby et al, “Air quality changes in New York City during the COVID-19 pandemic” (2020) 742 The Science of the Total Environment.

Zappula, Antonio, “Media freedom must not fall victim to Covid-19”, (4 May 2020), online: EUobserver.
How to Cite
NGUYEN, Tien-Duc; TRAN, Thu-Thuy Thi. The Age of Extreme. Journal of Southeast Asian Human Rights, [S.l.], v. 6, n. 1, p. 72-100, june 2022. ISSN 2599-2147. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 23 feb. 2024. doi:

Most read articles by the same author(s)

Obs.: This plugin requires at least one statistics/report plugin to be enabled. If your statistics plugins provide more than one metric then please also select a main metric on the admin's site settings page and/or on the journal manager's settings pages.