Health and Human Rights in This Moment

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The United Nations defines human rights as “rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status.” We are all equally entitled to these human rights without discrimination, and as human beings we are equipped with the power of mental awareness, the power of articulation, and the power to stand up for what is right. It has never been more important to be clear about the hard-won principles which bind us as a human race.

Structural racism and police violence exist the world over, with devastating impacts on human rights and our collective health – here in Los Angeles and globally. With the overlay of the global COVID-19 pandemic, their lethal impacts, alongside rising inequalities, in the last weeks have been laid bare in ways that governments and institutions of power can no longer ignore.

We see daily instances of government forces failing to protect our human rights, taking actions against health care workers, and using police power against reporters, peaceful protestors and people out to access basic food and medications. We must address the challenges posed by both crises; including how all people can stay safe from infection, access the health care they need, protest safely, and speak out against injustice.

Deep-rooted inequalities and power imbalances cannot continue to present obstacles to addressing the barriers faced by those whose voices have been stifled or ignored. Action at the local, national, and international levels is critical to create the foundations for reconciliation, and to gradually begin building confidence for a return to “normalcy,” albeit under no circumstances a return to the status-quo.  

We must seize this opportunity to move towards a more equal and just society, and not allow the seizure of authority and cementing of oppressive policies. Actions are needed that address the intersections of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, and religion, with equal attention to gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, immigration status, and criminal justice history. The legal system and the health care system are inextricably tied to the social realities around us, and both have been, and will remain, fundamental to ensuring the conditions in which we can be healthy.

The USC IIGH team is committed to doing our part, joining the many who have devoted their lives to raising awareness and fighting for concrete improvements. In our research, our teaching, our work, and our lives, we pledge to engage in collective action and reforms. We are committed to participating in hard conversations that propel this work forward not only within our team but alongside our partners across the world.

We pledge to bring all the public health, legal and policy resources that we have to carry out the bold actions needed. We have and will continue to do this in genuine partnership with — and respectful of the leadership of — the local, national, and global groups who have been dedicated to eradicating structural racism and police violence. We will listen and learn – and we must not be silent.

We look forward to engaging with you. We must take care of one another, and work together, to make the ideals of human rights real for everyone.


Valerie Childress| Alexandra Endara| Laura Ferguson|Sofia Gruskin| William Jardell |Shubha Kumar| Miles Lambert-Peck | Shervan Sebastian| Mellissa Withers

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