2021 — Between Peril and Potential: Human Rights Advocacy in the Wake of a Global Pandemic


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Deadline for submission: June 1, 2021. Submit proposal


The global pandemic has rapidly broken down boundaries and structures—from personal to social to institutional. Long-standing practices and norms have changed radically to respond to the current crisis, while some institutional and political dynamics contrary to human rights and democracy have become further entrenched. New pressures on human rights are also heightened by the pandemic, including rights to privacy, access to health, and digital capitalism. This crisis has shown that for human rights, the perils and potentials have increased hand in hand.

The stark upending by the pandemic provides proof-of-concept for the disintegration of silos and the erosion of exclusionary categories that can be harmful to realizing shared goals. To understand and address complex problems, academics trespass across disciplinary borders; researchers prioritize the co-production of knowledge through horizontal relations with subjects; advocates shape intellectual debates through collaborative engagement; and organizers increasingly harness movements of solidarity across identity groups.

The breaking down of artificial boundaries reveals the structures still intact, and the pandemic only heightens the urgency for structural change. While collaboration and mobilization have launched unparalleled social movements for justice, long-standing inequalities have been exacerbated, leading to further injury and marginalization. These forces have brought us to an historic moment in which we must question and reimagine different systems, institutions, practices, and norms and ask, “What is human rights advocacy in the wake of the pandemic?” How we grapple with this as a human rights community can contribute to collective efforts toward justice over corruption, solidarity over selfishness, and human dignity over oppression.

In this spirit, the Human Rights Center at the University of Dayton will convene the 2021 Social Practice of Human Rights (SPHR) conference to address the challenges and opportunities the pandemic has created for human rights advocacy. We will consider whether current human rights methods, strategies, and approaches are comprehensive, deep, and bold enough to meet this moment and what is needed to leverage this moment for improved human rights outcomes. And we will grapple with how we, as a human rights community, can address the new perils and potentials of this time.

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