Online | Epidemics and International Law
17 March 2021, 12:00 pm–1:00 pm
This lecture is part of the International Law Association (British Branch) Lecture Series
About the lecture
The history of epidemics can be traced back to the beginning of the history of humankind itself, with the first recorded epidemic being the “Plague of Athens” in 429-426 BC, on which Thucydides described vividly in his History of the Peloponnesian Wars. There have been numerous such instances of epidemics from the first human settlements to the modern day, some of which claimed millions of death toll. For instance, the number of deaths by the “Spanish Flu” of 1918 to 1920 was more than 100 million, three times as many as the victims of World War I. It is unbelievable that international law, while concerned with war and peace since the days of Hugo Grotius, it has never treated epidemics as a mainstream subject.
In only the past twenty years of this century, the world has witnessed the outbreaks of SARS (2002-2004), Dengue (2005-2006), Ebola (2007-present), H1N1 Influenza (2009), MERS (2012), Zika (2016) and now COVID-19 (2019-present), just to name a few.
This lecture poses the question why we should be concerned with epidemics from the perspective of general international law. Our submission is that we cannot just leave the matter to the WHO’s public health law. The problem of epidemics should be addressed by considering the overall interrelationships of the relevant rules of international law. Regulation of epidemics by international law may be considered in three stages, i.e., before, during and after epidemics.
International law on the control of epidemics should be guided by the principle of solidarity and international cooperation. Seeking responsibility of States and international organizations may face many difficulties, theoretical as well as practical.
About the speaker
Professor Dr. Shinya Murase is Professor Emeritus of Sophia University in Tokyo. Currently, he serves as Visiting Professor at Peking University Law School.
He obtained S.J.D. from the University of Tokyo in 1972. He was Visiting Scholar/Research Fellow at Harvard Law School in 1974-76, and Visiting Professor at Columbia Law School in 1995. He worked for the Codification Division, Office of Legal Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat between 1980 and 82. He is a Member of the UN International Law Commission (ILC) since 2009 and its Special Rapporteur for the topic on the “Protection of the Atmosphere” since 2013.
He has been a Member of the Institut de droit international (IDI) since 2011. He was also a member of the Curatorium of the Hague Academy of International Law in 2004-2016. Currently, he is directing the Hague Academy’s Online Centre for Studies and Research on Epidemics and International Law.
His major publications include: International Law: An Integrative Perspective on Transboundary Issues, Sophia University Press, 2011 (in English), and International Lawmaking: Sources of International Law, 2002 (in Japanese; its Chinese translation published by the Chinese People’s Public Safety University Press in 2012).
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