Scales of justice and gavel on table.

Limiting Human Rights During Pandemics: Recommendations for Closing Reporting Gaps and Increasing International Oversight

This post was originally published on the Verfassungsblog as part of our joint symposium on international pandemic lawmaking.

By Cassandra Emmons

Sovereign governments have the prerogative to declare states of emergency when sudden, unanticipated events threaten the lives of the nation and its people. In so doing, government decrees sometimes must contradict other international human rights commitments, balancing the individual versus the collective. Established derogation procedures are supposed to ensure such restrictions are proportionate, non-discriminatory, and last only as long as necessary (for an overview, see Emmons 2020). COVID-19 has proven that public health emergencies are not equally recognized in either international law or national constitutions; some international treaties permit “limiting” rights in the name of public health rather than requiring derogation, and nationally some governments authorize emergency measures in practice without ever doing so in name. These parallel processes and conceptual gaps create space for governments to restrict individuals’ rights with little to no international accountability during pandemics.

In this piece, I recommend a new international instrument on pandemic response be explicit about reporting requirements when governments suspend rights during such emergencies. These suggestions incorporate advice from the American Association for the International Commission of Jurists’ Siracusa Principles on the Limitation and Derogation Provisions in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1985), the International Law Association’s Queensland Guidelines for Bodies Monitoring Respect for Human Rights during States of Emergency (1990), case law of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), and learned experience from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Globe.

Killing Locally or Killing Globally? Inequalities in Framing Cooperation Through Pandemics

This post was originally published on the Verfassungsblog as part of our joint symposium on international pandemic lawmaking.

By Luciano Bottini Filho

COVID-19 made “pandemic” a buzzword. The world expressed anxiety on the eve of a pandemic declaration from the WHO, a decision monitored as closely as the white smoke for a newly elected pope. Yet, “pandemic” has no legal value in international law by contrast with a declaration of public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC). It is no accident that the 12th Commission of the Institute of International Law issued a report on Epidemics and International Law, which bluntly avoided the term pandemic.

Despite this, for the general public, the role of a PHEIC determination remains unknown. Given the inconsistency in declaring PHEIC (only 6 events between 2007 and 2020), many epidemics of considerable proportion were ignored by the international community. Yet the mismatch in the general public consciousness regarding the legal implications triggered by a WHO declaration of a PHEIC is not as problematic as the way lawyers and public health practitioners reinforce the centrality of a pandemic, a concept that still requires a more solid definition.

As an international instrument potentially moves forward to galvanize “pandemics” as a legally defined term — and part of global health governance — we must understand the implication that this word has in relation to disparities between developing countries‘ problems and the interests of their richer counterparts. After all, any pandemic would have originated from one or more national epidemics, but it would require a globally recognized procedure to trigger stronger international obligations. As opposed to pandemics, though, epidemics have persisted for decades and raged in low- and low-middle income settings from Zika to Ebola, demanding support from international actors.

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Globalization concept illustration.

Human Rights and Global Responses to the Pandemic in the Age of Hyper-globalization

This post was originally published on the Verfassungsblog as part of our joint symposium on international pandemic lawmaking.

By Sakiko Fukuda-Parr

In 1999, the Human Development Report called for stronger international arrangements to govern people in a globalized world, stating: “the present era of globalization, driven by competitive global markets, is outpacing the governance of markets and the repercussions on people…. An essential aspect of global governance is responsibility to people – to equity, to justice, and to enlarging the choices of all.” As the 21st century sped into an era of hyper-globalization, new global institutions are urgently needed to protect the public interest. The architecture of global health emergencies is a case in point. Its core agreement, the International Health Regulations (2005) (IHR) remains state centric, catering to national interests, bound to colonial epistemic frameworks, and silent on market power that can trample on human rights. The age of hyper-globalization requires global institutions that enable global – collective – responses to contain pandemics worldwide, that build on international solidarity and human rights norms, and structures that break free from North-South hierarchies of power and knowledge.

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