Groningen Journal of International Law

International Law Under Construction

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Locating Human Rights in the Heart of the New ‘International Pandemic Law’: A Reply to Steve Charnovitz

Dr I-Ju Chen

The COVID pandemic has caused significant and evolving challenges to every nation in the world since it occurred in December 2019. It has resulted in, for example, export prohibitions and restrictions in international trade, cross-border sharing of scientific data for global health efforts, and has affected human rights. These unprecedented disruptions have required countries to navigate solutions for the pandemic, and further revealed gaps and challenges in international law. In the Opinio Juris Symposium entitled ‘COVID-19 and International Law’ held in March 2020, Professor Philippe Sands, a leading international law scholar, pointed out that ‘the birth and transmission of the Sars-Cov-2 virus, and the COVID-19 illness it generates, and the response to it – are matters for international law’. Moreover, the 2005 International Health Regulations have been criticised for their ambiguity in the COVID pandemic, according to Armin von Bogdandy and Pedro A Villarreal’s research. The function of this governing regulation has generated many discussions on how to reform international health law. The COVID pandemic is thus a matter for international law, and rule-of-law responses for the pandemic under international law are necessary.

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Grand Challenges for Global Health Law: from Ebola, to Cancer and Diabetes

By Brigit Toebes, University of

In 2014, the largest and by far most serious outbreak of Ebola since the virus was first detected in 1976 occurred. With an overall death toll of 11.300, there were more cases and deaths in this outbreak than in all others combined. The disease quickly spread between countries, starting in Guinea and then spreading to Sierra Leone and Liberia.

The International Health Regulations, adopted by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2005 to monitor such outbreaks, provide for a chain of responses requiring the country where the outbreak occurs to report to the WHO and the WHO to respond and to interfere. However, while the affected States were slow to report to the WHO, the WHO waited five months before it declared the epidemic a ‘public health emergency of international concern’. Consequently, the UN Security Council interfered with the adoption of UNMEER, the first UN emergency health mission. The Ebola outbreak reveals that the WHO, the primary organization to manage global health, is ill-equipped to deal with a global health security crisis. The International Health Regulations lack an enforcement mechanism and do not provide for the possibility to sanction States in case of non-compliance. The WHO itself lacks the financial means and the capacity to be the key player when a health emergency that potentially poses a threat to global health occurs. Continue reading