Most countries didn't fulfill international legal obligations during Covid-19: Legal Experts

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on December 08, 2020

A research by consortium of 13 leading global health law scholars revealed that most countries are not abiding by the international legal obligations during the Covid-19 other public health emergencies.

Last year, the member of the Global Health Law Consortium examined key aspects of the International Health Regulations (IHR) to interpret what countries are legally allowed to do to each other during future public health crises like Ebola and SARS.

Their study became more relevant after the Covid-19 outbreak. They then analysed how countries reacted to the outbreak. This was based on the International Health Regulations that legally bind 196 countries in how they prevent, detect, and respond to public health crises.

The team of legal experts developed consensus statements that authoritatively interpret Article 43 of the IHR, which identifies the additional health measures countries can legally enact when responding to public health risks. They also highlighted Article 44 that outlines countries' legal duty to collaborate and assist one another in building national public health systems.

The consensus statements were published in the journal International Organizations Law Review.

"Many countries have taken overbroad measures, both in the past and now during the coronavirus outbreak, which indicate that the provisions within Article 43 of the International Health Regulations are not well understood and perhaps not fit for purpose," said Roojin Habibi, a research fellow at the GSL and doctoral candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.

Duty under the Article

Under Article 43 of the IHR, countries are permitted to exercise their sovereignty in taking additional health measures to respond to public health emergencies, provided that these measures are proportionate to the risk at hand, aligned with human rights imperatives, and backed by scientific evidence.

Researchers said: Based on our analysis, we believe that the global community needs a common understanding of the law at hand. We recommend revision and clarification of legal obligations contained in these Articles to facilitate collaboration and enhance pandemic responses in the future.

According to Article 44, there is a shared responsibility among countries to make it possible for every country to achieve the core public health capacities identified in the IHR, which is monitored by the World Health Organization.

"Most countries in the world are currently violating their international legal obligations under Articles 43 and 44 of the International Health Regulations," noted Hoffman.

The researchers added, "This means that the rules that were supposed to guide governments' responses to pandemics like Covid-19 are either misunderstood, toothless, or insufficient - most likely a combination of all three.”

The Global Health Law Consortium's analyses of the International Health Regulations that were published today will help bring clarity to countries' legal obligations during global health emergencies, but ultimately these regulations need to be urgently updated to better reflect the realities of the globalized world in which we all live, the researchers stated.

Published on December 08, 2020

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