COVID-19: International Law cannot fall silent

  • IASbaba
  • April 10, 2020
  • 0
UPSC Articles
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Topic: General Studies 2:

  • Important International institutions, agencies and fora- their structure, mandate
  • International Ethics

COVID-19: International Law cannot fall silent

In the wake of COVID-19 spreading from Wuhan, China to nearly 180 countries, there has been a debate raging on two fronts

  • Need to strengthen the powers of State to handle the crisis effectively 
  • The projection of the crisis as an opportunity for building a new future for global politics marked by empathy, fraternity, justice, and rights.

UN is a site for discussion of norms and is responsible for the progressive codification of law. However, it has become playground for power politics. 

Power Politics, UN and Pandemic

  • US President Trump has called the Coronavirus as “Chinese virus”
  • Pandemic was not discussed in UN Security Council during the month of March when the presidency of UNSC was held by China.
  • Allegation on WHO about delay in declaring the disease as pandemic due to pressures from China

International Principles that Nations need to follow

  • The peremptory jus cogens apply to all states  – certain international norms like prevention of slavery, racial discrimination etc. hold true even during the fight against pandemic
  • The erga omnes rules prescribe specifically-determined obligations which states owe to the international community as a whole. This was enunciated by the ICJ in 1970 for four situations
    • Outlawing of acts of aggression
    • Outlawing of genocide
    • Protection from slavery
    • Protection from racial discrimination

Three sets of international law obligations on States

  • Draft Articles on the Prevention of Transboundary Harm (DAPTH) 
    • These are drafted by International Law Commission in 2001 to prevent transboundary harm arising out of country’s actions
    • There are carefully developed norms of due diligence that can be adapted to contextual exigencies
    • Each state is obliged to observe these standards in the fight against COVID-19 as a matter of international law.
  • Human Rights Obligations: No law or policy to combat epidemics or pandemic can go against the rights of migrant workers, internally displaced peoples, and refugees and asylum seekers
  • The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) – 
    • This convention gains significance especially when there are conspiracy theories about the origins of COVID-19 
    • India has not subscribed to those theories and has instead called for high priority to full and effective implementation of the convention.


  • Combating this fearsome pandemic calls for re-dedication to nested international law obligations and frameworks

Connecting the law:

  • Article 51 of Indian Constitution
  • International Court of Justice and International Criminal Court

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