Communicable and Non-communicable diseases – HIV, Malaria, Cancer, Mental Health, etc.

The law cannot fall silent

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2-In fight against covid-19 epidemic we must follow the principles of international laws and treaty obligations.

Context

Amid the many developments in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic one of the facets that is also discussed is-How to read international law in the context of the pointers to the future?

Constitutional duty regarding international laws

  • Respect for the norms and standards of international law is among the paramount constitutional duties of the state under Article 51 of the Constitution.
  • The duty is regardless of the quibbles on whether the language here refers only to treaty/obligations or also to customary international law.
  • International norms remain relevant: Despite US President Donald Trump’s recent threat of actions against the WHO, international norms, standards, and doctrines remain relevant to making national policy and law.

Possibility of discussion over pandemic at UNSC

  • The difference between the United Nations as a site of normative discursivity and as a site of doing global power politics is sadly manifest even now in the accelerated pace of the pandemic.
  • Discussion extremely unlikely: President Trump’s insistence on calling it a “Chinese virus” renders it extremely unlikely that the pandemic will be discussed during the current monthly presidency of the UN Security Council by China.
  • Possibility of veto: The threat of veto by China and Russia will always loom large whenever the matter is placed for discussion.

Role of the UN in the codification of law

  • The UN is also a site of systems of norm enunciation.
  • Along with the International Law Commission, it is responsible for the progressive codification of law.
  • The UN system has developed lawmaking and framework treaties as well as provided auspices for systems of “soft” law that may eventually become the binding law.
  • There are three types of international laws which are described below.

1. The fundamental overriding principle of international laws

  • Jus cogens: Some of the norms of international law are robust and deeply relevant. For example, the peremptory jus cogens — a few fundamental, overriding principles of international law such as crimes against humanity, genocide, and human trafficking apply to all states.
  • And Article 53 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties goes so far as to declare that a “treaty is void if, at the time of its conclusion, it conflicts with a peremptory norm of general international law”.
  • And even when ingredients of genocide remain difficult to prove, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has held, in 2007, that states have a duty to prevent and punish acts and omissions that eventually furnish elements for the commission of crime of genocide.
  • Erga omnes: There also exist erga omnes rules prescribing specifically-determined obligations which states owe to the international community as a whole.
  • This was enunciated by the ICJ in 1970 for four situations — the outlawing of acts of aggression; the outlawing of genocide; protection from slavery; and protection from racial discrimination.
  • A great significance of this judicial dictum is that it lays down obligations which transcend consensual relations among states.
  • In addition, there are three other sets of international law obligations.
  • These are primarily derived from the no-harm principles crystallised in the International Law Commission’s 2001 Draft Articles on the Prevention of Transboundary Harm (DAPTH) and the Paris Framework Agreement on Climate Change, 2015.
  • The DAPTH has carefully developed norms of due diligence, stressing all the way that these may be adapted to contextual exigencies.
  • But due diligence obligations certainly extend beyond local and national boundaries, especially because the environmental problems have a transboundary impact.
  • Each state is obliged to observe these standards in the fight against COVID-19 as a matter of international law.

2. International laws dealing with core human right measures

  • 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.
  • Respect for the inherent dignity of individuals in combating COVID-19 and for the rights of equal health for all, non-discrimination, and the norms of human dignity further reinforce accountability and the transparency of state and other social actors.
  • Panicky and sadist policing, including shoot-a- sight orders in collective exodus situations, and militaristic responses to food riots de-justify health lockouts and curfews.

3. International humanitarian law

  • The third set of obligations arises out of international humanitarian law. The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) is pertinent here.
  • India did not subscribe to any conspiracy or racist theory about the origins of COVID-19 — in fact, India’s foreign minister rightly affirmed the BTWC obligations on March 26 (on the 40th anniversary of that Convention).
  • Surely, this global and non-discriminatory disarmament convention deserves applause because it outlaws a whole range of weapons of mass destruction.
  • India has, and rightly so, called for “high priority” to “full and effective implementation by all states parties”.

Conclusion

The starting point of a determined fight against COVID-19 has to be a full-throated repudiation of an ancient Latin maxim, inter arma enim silent leges (in times of war, the law falls silent). Combating this fearsome pandemic calls for re-dedication to nested international law obligations and frameworks.

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