COVID-19 Op-ed

A Reflection on Striking the Balance between Rights and Duties in the Wake of Covid-19

Written by admin

Zainab NasirStudent, Asia
Pacific MA Human Rights and Democratisation
Global Campus
of Human Rights Asia Pacific
Institute of Human Rights
and Peace Studies, Mahidol University

Human dignity is protected by the interrelation of human
rights and corresponding duties. The structure of the society and the social
actors facilitate participation in all spheres of the social order through
inter-related rights and duties. Attribution of rights means social rights or
the rights to support for the development of life i.e. food, clothing,
shelter, rest, medical care and the necessary social services such as
security of life, etc. Social rights include the rights to an adequate
standard of living, affordable housing, food, education, an equitable health
system, and social security based on respect, not sanctions. There is
evidence that they improve the lives of individuals and communities (Hun,
P.H.M., 2017). Likewise, all citizens have a duty to respect the human
dignity of others and to fulfill their responsibilities towards each other
and to the society at large, It’s also termed as social responsibility. This
ethical framework implies that an entity, be it an organization or an
individual, their primary duty is to live in solidarity, that is, a firm and
persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good.This ethical
framework can rightly be used in the context of the new spread of pandemic
disease of coronavirus for it evolves both range of social rights, such as
the right to health, right to food, right to education, freedom of movement,
right to social gathering, and responsibilities of several social actors.
Those social norms and responsibilities are not written anywhere in the
constitution in contrast to the rights that are protected by written law of
land but understood through social practice. In order to enjoy rights, one
should understand the social connection between rights and duties and
therefore must perform upon those duties which are not always defined. For
example, to protect the right to health, one needs to realize that although
one has the freedom of movement and social gathering, a right to education,
the society owes them a responsibility to restrict themselves in a certain
circumstance of collective good and therefore, adopt and accept alternative
means to reach them.A general misconception that could be observed during the
ongoing global health crises includes public complaints regarding national
government performance to stop the spread of disease. We should realize that
responsibilities not only lie on national and local governments,
institutions, the media and organizations but it also lies upon individuals.
For example, at an individual level, one should be mindful of the safety of
oneself and others by taking safety measures such as to stay home, wash
hands, sneezing and coughing below the elbow and to cover mouth and nose, be
rightly informed and not to spread panic in their surroundings.Iris Marion
Young finds social connection models as an alternative to the concept of
responsibility. It proposes that all those who contributed by their actions
to the structural processes with some unjust outcomes share a responsibility
for the injustice. She suggests a responsibility that is forward-looking.
This kind of responsibility does not emphasize the blame game but it rather
asks for constructive contribution in the social structure (Responsibility
for Justice, 2011). This doctrine of forward-looking responsibility could be
useful to address the current health situation in the world in terms of how
we can individually and collectively fulfill our responsibilities in order to
ensure the wellbeing of the community at large.Considering the
interdependency of rights and responsibilities and the major challenges posed
to the efficient realization of human rights to all people in the new
century, the Declaration of Human Duties and Responsibilities (DHDR) was
written for implementation of Human Rights in 1998 on the 50th anniversary of
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). It formulated related duties
and responsibilities for our interdependence. It’s incorporated in its
preamble that the effective enjoyment and implementation of human rights and
fundamental freedoms are linked to the assumption of the duties and
responsibilities implicit in those rights. It defines “duty” and
“responsibility” as moral or ethical obligations. It further explains in
detail the complexity of the exercise of responsibilities. The bearers are
the members of the global community that have collective as well as
individual responsibilities.This interdependence of rights and duties is also
foreseen in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which
incorporates in these words “respect the rights and freedoms of others”.
It confirms it in its preamble that every human owes duties to the community
and all are responsible to promote rights. therefore, It is important to see
that all rights have a corresponding responsibility. Those, who claim their
own rights, yet altogether forget or neglect to carry out their respective
duties, are people who build with one hand and destroy with the

  1. Tétrault-Farber. G., 2020. China to Russia: End
    discriminatory coronavirus measures against Chinese.
    Reuters.  26 February. Available at: <>
  2. Khan, M.S., Lakha, F., Tan, M.M.J., Singh, S.R.,
    Quek, R.Y.C., Han, E., Tan, S.M., Haldane, V., Gea-Sánchez, M. and
    Legido-Quigley, H., 2019. More talk than action: gender and ethnic diversity
    in leading public health universities. The Lancet,
    393(10171), pp.594-600.
  3. Young,
    I.M., 2010. Responsibility for justice. Oxford
    University Press.
  4. Harden, V.A., 1986. Collected Essays on
    Public Health and Epidemiology. Resources in the History of Medicine Series
    No. 1.
  5. Office of the High Commissioner for Human
    Rights, 2020. Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: 30
    Articles on 30 Articles – Article 21
    .  Available at <>
    [Accessed l1 March 2020).


About the author