Original Text of Louise Arbour's Response to Covid-19

  • Louise Arbour, 2016 Tang Prize Laureate in Rule of Law
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Dear Jesse,


Thank you for reaching out to Tang Prize recipients. At this time of global crisis, their collective knowledge and wisdom is more important than ever.


Here are some of my own reflections as this tragedy unfolds.


This pandemic, foreseeable and actually foreseen, if not in the details of the exact proportions of how lethal and contagious it would be, represents, on the international scene, a demonstration of the failure of short-termism in policy making. This is a scenario that we can no longer afford in an era of dramatic climate change and its foreseeable consequences.


The evidence of the inadequacy of our mechanisms of international collaboration calls for a renewed investment in effective multilateralism. This will be challenging as countries will tend to double down on closed borders and calls for self-sufficiency, particularly in food and essential medicines.


It will therefore be critical going forward to emphasize our inter-connectedness and the global aspect of future threats, and to capitalize the domestic solidarity that many have experienced at home, and expand it to our collective humanity, not just nationality.


I believe it will also be important not to concede an alleged superiority to autocratic regimes over democratic ones in cases of emergencies, so as to suggest that only authoritarianism can guarantee collective security.


Legal systems respectful of individual freedoms work mostly by compliance, not by coercion. This is being amply demonstrated in a multitude of democratic countries where people have voluntarily sacrificed a larger part of their individual liberties, including freedom of movement, for the collective good. This compliance comes for the transparency of leaders, their willingness to put scientific arguments ahead of ideological or partisan ones, and to rally broad support in public opinion, well informed by a professional and responsible press.


Leadership has therefore never been more important, and will be going forward in the face of looming global challenges. The current pandemic has provided remarkable examples of credible, courageous leadership, as well as blatant demonstrations of mediocrity reflecting ignorance and self-interest.


Moreover, the pandemic has highlighted the gross discrepancies, in most countries, between the providers of essential services and their remuneration, and the discriminatory vulnerabilities of marginalized communities. Of the many opportunities that the recovery will provide, redressing social injustices should be at the forefront.


For most of us, never before in our lifetime have we had a clearer demonstration that no one is safe until all are safe. This should be a good starting point for the reconstruction of our economies, our health care systems, and, I suggest, our international institutions, and for the vindication of the fundamental idea that the ultimate purpose of law in a free society is to liberate, not to restrain.