Minnesota Law

Spring 2022
Faculty Focus

Amanda Lyons '09: Author in Question

Executive Director, Human Rights Center, and Lecturer in Law

Amanda Lyons '09, executive director, Human Rights Center, and Lecturer in Law

COVID-19 and Human Rights is a timely collection that explores the COVID-19 pandemic and its wide-ranging effects on human rights. The book was edited by Amanda Lyons, executive director of the Law School’s Human Rights Center, and two co-editors, Morten Kjaerum, director of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law in Sweden, and Professor Martha F. Davis of Northeastern University School of Law.

What inspired you to put together a book on this topic?

Martha Davis, Morten Kjaerum, and I were wrapping up nearly two years of joint work on a book called COVID-19 and Human Rights when the pandemic hit. We each began to track different dimensions of the pandemic from our respective research centers. Morten suggested that we could continue our partnership across institutions and fast-track a unique and accessible compilation of diverse human rights analyses and proposals.

What are some of the issues the book delves into?

The first section covers the history, trends, and relevant principles of human rights in health crises. The second section on inequality looks at systemic racism, gender-based violence, disability, prisons, and the rights of migrants. The third part focuses on social cohesion, discussing the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals, food, water, land, global supply chains, vaccines, and climate change. The conclusion offers ideas for a post-crisis human rights agenda.

What differentiates this book from other works on this topic?

This is one of the first books on human rights in the pandemic.
The book stands out for the diversity of expertise of the 23 contributing authors—academic researchers, U.N. experts, and advocates from leading human rights organizations. Together the chapters cover an impressive range of issues, perspec- tives, and proposals, including global assessments and region-specific reflections from the U.S., Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

What are a few key takeaways from the book?

Olivier de Schutter, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, summarizes a major takeaway of the book in the foreword: human rights can and ought to serve several roles during the crisis, namely to shield against state overreaches and abuses, to guide just and effective recovery efforts, and to catalyze new forms of international cooperation. The contributions to the book show that in addition to imposing limits to state action, as human rights are traditionally conceived, human rights also require intensified state action in other areas, tailored to address immediate needs as well as systemic inequality and vulnerability.

Who is the target audience for the book?

Our aim is to contribute to human rights classes, policy debates, and research agendas. Around the launch of the book, we organized a series of six webinars with authors and other leading experts to debate the book’s core themes and to deepen our reflections as the pandemic has played out. It has been great to hear from instructors who are incorporating the book and webinar recordings into their classes.

What is something you were surprised to discover in preparing this book?

For the research for my own chapter on the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals and the role of the private sector, I was struck by how universal the call for transformative recovery is. Virtually no conversation about COVID-19 recovery focuses on returning to the status quo. Although there is an ambiguous consensus that the pandemic is an opportunity to course-correct—a fork in the road, a defining moment—behind that there are of course drastically divergent ideas of what needs correcting.

What do you hope to accomplish with this book?

Impress my grandma (check), make it into the faculty lobby bookcase (check), and take my (pre-taxes) 40-cent royalty on every book sold all the way to the bank.

What is your best pitch for why someone should pick up this book?

The COVID-19 pandemic is already a defining moment for human rights. For anyone interested in how human rights do and can relate to efforts to respond effectively and justly to this and other related global crises, this book offers a wide range of perspec- tives, expertise, and proposals with important examples. It is a valuable jumping-off point to explore the many human rights dimensions of the protracted COVID-19 pandemic and new agendas as we emerge from it.

Anything else to share?

We turned in the manuscript on December 31, 2020. I was surprised how meaningful it felt to close out that impossible year by delivering this collective project. In the blur of fear, loss, and lockdown with small kids, it was a huge privilege to be able to spend those months reflecting with Martha and Morten, and with the great group of researchers and activists who came together for this book. I was especially grateful to count on the exceptional support of Human Rights Center student researchers Cooper Christiancy ’21, Kristin Trapp ’21, and Verónica Cadavid González, MHR ’22.