The Role of UN Agencies and International Law in Containing Pandemics

Author- Nishtha Kheria, Amity University, Noida.

1. Introduction

The UN agency named WHO on 31st December 2019 had informed that there was widespread pneumonia with an unknown cause that was detected in the Wuhan city of China[i]. Later, on 7th January 2020, the Chinese authorities had confirmed that it was a new virus named coronavirus. On 11th March 2020, the WHO had declared the outbreak of coronavirus a global pandemic[ii]. In response to this, the United Nations secretary-general named Mr. Antonio Guterres had launched the COVID-19 global humanitarian response plan (Dag Hammarkjold Library, 2020).

2. Recommendations given by WHO

Due to this outbreak the WHO had given some recommendations to the general public which was to reduce the exposure and reduce the trans, mission by following some simple practices:

i) Wash hands frequently with an alcohol-based soap.

ii) Cover the mouth while sneezing and coughing.

iii) Avoid contact with people who have fever and cough.

iv) Consumption of undercooked animal products should be avoided.

The COVID-19 pandemic spreading has caused the UN to take a step to save the world from getting collapsed. Since the formation of the UN in 1945 it is known to be a symbol of international cooperation and global wellbeing. Coronavirus has caused great havoc in various countries in which thousand have been dead in Europe and Asia and around 5,00,000 people have been infected globally. Countries like China, Italy, Spain, and Iran are suffering badly as hundreds of people are dying per day (The Hindustan Business Line, 2020). The UN is working hard for social distancing because the COVID-19 contains the power of wiping out populations. The longer time this pandemic exist the longer injuries it will cause to the health of the global economy because the regions which are the most developed ones are facing the most threat of coronavirus[iii]. Europe has suffered the most deaths because of coronavirus (Gladstone, 2020). There are thousands of people who are facing their jobs at risk and unemployment which will continue even after this pandemic subsides (The Hindustan Business Line, 2020).

3. Significance of WHO

There are 5 very important reasons for which the world needs the WHO for fighting the COVID-19pandemic:

  • Helping countries to prepare and respond: the WHO ensures that the patients are given the care which they need and the workers are given the essential supplies and the information needed and they ensure that they are getting the development of vaccine and the treatment work in acceleration (UN NEWS, 2020).

  • Providing accurate information and clearing their minds with the dangerous myths: the WHO provides technical advice to the public, health workers based on the queries, and it even helps in removing all the myths present in the minds of the people. It even keeps a check that the information delivered is correct or not (UN NEWS, 2020).

  • Ensuring supplies for each worker: the WHO keeps in check that there are personal protective pieces of equipment that will help in making sure that the health workers can save the lives of the patients and even their own (UN NEWS, 2020).

  • Training and mobilization of the health workers: who is helping the workers for giving their support around the world. This is done through the WHO global outbreak alert and response network (GOARN).[iv] It has created a great network so that there is the right technical expertise and skills to the people when they need the most (UN NEWS, 2020).

  • Search for vaccine: WHO has bought about 400 worlds’ most efficient researchers for the search of the vaccine. It has involved about 90 countries for helping in finding an effective treatment. To find an effective drug that can help in slowing down the disease (UN NEWS, 2020).

4. The international alert system

A public health emergency of international concern was declared under the international health regulation by the director-general of WHO for taking some urgent measures for controlling the international spread and the domestic control of this pandemic (United Nation`, 2020). This coronavirus outbreak was declared as PHEIC on 30th January and asked for some recommendations on the trade restrictions[v]. The main purpose of declaring this as PHEIC was that there should be a serious focus on this event because it carries the implications on public health beyond the borders of the state and requires an instant international action. Around six PHEICs have been declared between 2019 and 2020. The act of PHEIC has become the act of political symbolism and media-friendly. But the implications of the internal legal are unclear besides the unlocking of the WHOs authority (Volkerrechtsblog, 2020).

5. Can China be sued on an international level?

Yes, china can be sued by the states in the International Court of Justice (IJC) and other international forums. The coronavirus was the first time detected in Wuhan, China because of which it got spread in the entire world[vi]. A prima facie case has been made against china to be held liable for the spread of the virus. This virus has caused china to gain economically rather than doing things with the help of wars (FirstPost , 2020).

i) Suing china in local courts across the world:

If we see the international states then the sovereign states have gained immunity from the courts of the other countries but there are exceptions. (FirstPost , 2020)

The various lawsuits filed are in Texas where a class action suit has been filed against China, in Florida another suit has been filed. They have filed suits on the basis that covid19 is an act of terrorism and the virus is being called the biological warfare. But this action suit may not pass the test of law because the foreign sovereign immunities act, (FISA) has been enacted by the US.

Some judges in the US think that they can make china pay billions of dollars as damage.

If we talk about India then the principle of sovereign immunity dictates the jurisdiction. There is an exception to this in the code of criminal procedure 1908. In this section, it is mentioned that a foreign state can only be sued in India in court if they procure a written consent by the central government and gets certified in writing by the secretary of the government. There are various conditions to it which are that, one is the waiver to immunity, this is in the case which involves the enterprise which is owned by the foreign states and not by using the foreign states itself.

6. International law violation and China

Under section 6(1) of the IHR, it is stated that a state is required to report the WHO within 24 hours about any events which are related to a public health emergency which is of the international concern (The Arab Weekly, 2020). Therefore, it is evident that China has violated international law because it had delayed informing the WHO about a month or two. It is a recent argument but a case can also be formed on chine about his delay in informing the WHO which has caused the retention of the microbial or any other biological agent[vii].

The criminal law in various countries has established some sanctions which are related to the biological agents which spread in the population:

  • In Article 160: use of genetic engineering to produce new biological weapons for the human species.

  • In Article 325: the release of various substances for conventions of law and other provisions of general nature.

  • In Article 348: the manufacturing, handling, transport, etc. following the safety standards.

  • Article 566 and 567: the manufacture or deposit of the biological weapons.

  • Article 573: carrying out a terrorist act.

7. Conclusion

The global spread of the covid19 has put various international law and other legal related fields into the limelight. But international law is not the main instrument which is used in fighting this pandemic but it is evident that any role of internationalism seems uncertain in such a crisis. This article shows that the international law in which in particular the WHO has set out the number of laws that are related to this which is made after consultation with great expertise.

REFERENCES- [i]. "A novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) causing pneumonia-associated respiratory syndrome". [ii]Norman Howard Jones, Scientific Background of the International Sanitary Conferences 1851-1938, History International Public Health 1 (1975). [iii]The Role of WHO and Guidelines for National and Regional Planning [iv] "We Alerted the World' To Coronavirus on Jan. 5, WHO Says in Response to U.S. [v] "How COVID-19 Spreads". Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2020 [vi] "Wuhan lockdown 'unprecedented', shows commitment to contain virus: WHO representative in China". Reuters [vii]



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