The Co-opting of Human Rights Language

As human rights-based organisations, we are calling out the COVID “anti-lock down movement” for its dangerous co-opting of human rights frameworks and language.   

The “anti-lockdown movement” uses words like freedom, democracy and human right, which serve to hide harmful, conspiratorial and far-rightideologies within the movement. Many of these ideologies are in opposition to human rights.  

The COVID public health measures have undeniably human rights impacts. But the misuse of human rights language by anti-lockdown activists confuses, hampers and undermines genuine human rights work.  

Far-right and neo-Nazi 1 2 groups have actively organised anti-lockdown protests, and have used them to recruit 3. They use the language of human rights to provide cover. The anti-lock down movement also uses slogans from other movements to paint the anti-lockdown movement as a civil rights struggle – it isn’t.  

The language of human rights has a deeply rooted history in protest movements, like the American civil rights movement, the movement against apartheid in South Africa, the struggle for liberation in Palestine, and the fight for land rights by First Nations peoples in Australia. We see the use of rights-based language being co-opted for what is essentially a movement around individual wants, rather than the needs of others.  

Particularly disturbing is the use of the word’s ‘segregation’ and ‘apartheid’. Both are descriptions of organised structural discrimination against people based upon race, and are underpinned by centuries of systemic white supremacy. Segregation and apartheid denied access to land, economy, politics; and destroyed culture, history, and identity. To compare that level of structural oppression with collective health measures is deeply abhorrent and misinformed.  

Civil or human rights struggles do not ignore vulnerable members of our communities, do not ignore horrific global death rates, or ignore what is happening in places like Indonesia, India, Myanmar or many places where COVID is rampant.  

There are a great many genuine civil rights struggles taking place right now in this pandemic—those fighting for adequate financial support for people to stay home safely; for stronger workplace health and safety; for access to life-saving vaccines for Indigenous and migrant communities; for better pay and conditions for frontline health workers; for fair global distribution of vaccines; for adequate funding of our public health systems; for decarceration and those working against discriminatory and coercive policing during the pandemic, and movements protecting the environment and climate change. All of these are important human rights campaigns which need your support.   

We encourage those who are genuinely concerned about human rights, and civil and political rights, to look for campaigns and movements that are firmly based upon care and compassion for others; that are grounded in a clear analysis of structural oppression, and that are actively working toward a better and fairer society for all.   




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