The Case for Reparations for the Color of COVID

The Case for Reparations for the Color of COVID


This Article surveys the data demonstrating that COVID-19, far from being the great equalizer, has generated starkly skewed adverse outcomes, including grossly disproportionate deaths, among persons of color in the U.S., Brazil, and India, and in all likelihood globally. The “color of COVID” results from governmental actions and inactions that, when combined with long-standing socio-economic vulnerabilities, produce deadly results for certain groups.

Global health reformers are not addressing these injustices. Like those who resist reparations for African-Americans, for the global victims of slavery, colonialism and its legacies, or for all of the current pandemic’s victims, those seeking to reform the WHO resist state responsibility or accountability for COVID.

This Article argues that since, under international law, states owe a duty to provide remedies to persons within their jurisdiction who are denied fundamental rights because of de facto or de jure discrimination, there will be a substantial number of COVID-related claims presented in national courts and international venues, such as human rights courts and treaty bodies. States will face a choice between allowing judges to respond to actions or anticipating the most serious of them by establishing reparations mechanisms or commissions to address the color of COVID. As students of transitional justice can attest, there are advantages to doing both: allowing tort-like claims to proceed in judicial fora while establishing, at the national and possibly sub-national levels, mechanisms to enable contextually sensitive responses—from government apologies to forms of recompense. Intrastate reparations are more politically viable than interstate claims seeking to establish blame for the spread of COVID. National efforts to provide a measure of restorative justice to those harmed within each country by discriminatory practices are justified morally, legally, and from a utilitarian perspective. Bringing out the facts of the color of COVID and making states accountable may deter discriminatory actions (and inactions) that have furthered COVID-19 and its variants. Enabling accountability for the color of COVID can help mitigate the impact of future pandemics. Reparations would also advance the idea that all persons, irrespective of color of skin, have a basic right to life and health.

Author: José E. Alvarez

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Lead Intern

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