25 May 2020

VB Live: “Universally respected but temporarily neglected?” – COVID-19 as a crisis for human rights and multilateralism

The COVID-19 pandemic presents unprecedented constitutional challenges to states worldwide, and to their regional and international cooperation. The Institute for International Law of Peace and Armed Conflict (IFHV) and Verfassungsblog are bringing together internationally recognized experts in a three-part online discussion series to reflect on these challenges and ways to address them.

Session III: 26 May 2020 – 4:00 – 6:00 pm

“Universally respected but temporarily neglected?” – COVID-19 as a crisis for human rights and multilateralism

Multilateralism and international human rights have been met with increasing scepticism for quite some time now. So far, the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly not made international cooperation easier. But what exactly does this pandemic mean for multilateralism and the international protection of human rights? And what will international cooperation look like once the virus is under control? This panel will discuss the implications of COVID-19 in this regard and identify some lessons to be learned for the international community.


PHILIP ALSTON (NYU/ Former UN Special Rapporteur Extreme Poverty and Human Rights)

COVID-19 from the Perspective of Human Rights and Global Poverty

MARCO SASSÓLI (Geneva Academy of IHL and Human Rights/ Université de Genève)

The COVID-19 Pandemic and its Implications for (Existing) Conflicts

GIAN LUCA BURCI (Graduate Institute Geneva, Former Legal Counsel of WHO)

COVID-19 as an Institutional Crisis for the WHO and Multilateralism

KATRIN RADTKE/ EVA JOHAIS (IFHV, Ruhr-Universität Bochum)

COVID-19 as an International Challenge for Humanitarian Governance

NICO KRISCH (Graduate Institute Geneva)

International Law after COVID-19

Chair: PIERRE THIELBÖRGER (IFHV, Ruhr-Universität Bochum)

Previous sessions:

12 May 2020 – 4:00 – 5:45 pm

Session I: “Schaffen wir das?” – COVID-19 as a Crisis for German Law and Politics

Session II: 19 May 2020 – 4:00 – 5:45 pm

Session II: “Whatever it takes?” – COVID-19 as an (existential) crisis for the European Union

SUGGESTED CITATION  , : VB Live: “Universally respected but temporarily neglected?” – COVID-19 as a crisis for human rights and multilateralism, VerfBlog, 2020/5/25, https://verfassungsblog.de/vb-live-universally-respected-but-temporarily-neglected-covid-19-as-a-crisis-for-human-rights-and-multilateralism/.


  1. Christian Tue 26 May 2020 at 16:30 - Reply

    Is there a need for a “Global Compact on Pandemics” – something that prepares the international system, commits states to mechanisms of burden-sharing and underlines the specific protection needs?

  2. Congratulations to the organizers and all panelists for addressing this timely issue. One question for Gian Luca Burci: In light of the overview of the International Health Regulations you provided, namely how states’ obligations unfolded during the COVID-19 pandemic, could you identify specific points that might be improved through reform? If so, would it necessarily entail states having to cede more authority to the WHO? Greetings

  3. Dr Raphaël Maurel Tue 26 May 2020 at 16:38 - Reply

    Thank you for these presentations and this debate. What do the speakers – in particular Pr Gian Luca Burci – think about the prospect of reforming the International Health Regulations? The French Minister of Foreign Affairs proposes an in-depth reform, including especially the creation of an “IPCC Santé” composed of experts. He also promotes the inclusion of a verification system (international inspection) concerning the information provided by States in case of a public health emergency of international concern. Do you think this reform is realistic? Would it be relevant and useful ?

  4. Ludovica Vecchio Tue 26 May 2020 at 16:39 - Reply

    What is your opinion on Contact-Tracing Apps and their human rights implications.

  5. Simon Thies Tue 26 May 2020 at 16:43 - Reply

    Thank you very much for this very interesting webinar.

    I have a question regarding limitations and derogations of human rights: Would you consider an officially declared derogation better in terms of human rights protection than the simple use of limitation clauses, because derogations have the effect of an increased regulation and supervision of such derogations by the relevant international organs?

    Thank you very much.

  6. Karolina Wierczyńska Tue 26 May 2020 at 16:47 - Reply

    1. To organisers: Why there are only 2 women discussing, and additionally “sharing” the time?
    2. I wonder whether covid could teach us sth? for example to project international treaties as forseeing future pandemias and consequently to control measures that could be involved by states to reduce hr?

  7. Tomas Morochovic Tue 26 May 2020 at 16:49 - Reply

    Thank you for the excellent discussion – I think it is interesting to note how the discourse around the response to the Covid-19 crisis focuses almost exclusively on the responsibilities and failures of states and, to a lesser extent, the WHO. In contrast, private actors (such as tech companies) are very much left out of the picture. Yet they play a major role – Facebook with its Covid-19 information centre is arguably the major resource of information relating to the virus, telecommunications companies are the ones directly responsible for tracking of potential cases, and Apple and Google play a crucial oversight role in relation to tracking and quarantine applications as they decide whether they can or cannot be made accessible on their respective application stores. Should we be paying more attention to these actors?

  8. Benedikt Behlert Tue 26 May 2020 at 16:54 - Reply

    It was argued that both, authoritarian regimes and democracies have failed to respond adequately to the current COVID-19 crisis. What does this finding mean for the discussion on the link of human rights and democracy?

  9. Timeela Manandhar Tue 26 May 2020 at 16:57 - Reply

    How can we overcome the paradox that socio-economic rights (esp. right to housing and social security) are so important for pandemic-resilient societies, while at the same time the effective implementation socio-economic rights will very likely suffer due to austerity? (How) can socio-economic rights “after” the crisis come out stronger?

  10. Max Steuer Tue 26 May 2020 at 16:59 - Reply

    Many thanks for the webinar. A set of questions on the future of international judiciaries for those speakers interested in commenting on them: How do you see the role for the ICJ, regional human rights courts but also domestic courts reacting to international developments in tackling the negative implications of the pandemic for human rights and the spread of executive power? In which respects and under what conditions may they be able to push back against violations of all kinds of legal guarantees and defy the thesis that in circumstances of emergencies, courts exhibit greater deference to executive decision makers? Or is the pandemic signaling a twilight of relevance of international judiciaries for protecting human rights and (some) standards of well-being?

  11. Apostle Tue 26 May 2020 at 17:02 - Reply

    To Philip Alston:

    Do you think the increasing fragmentation of international law ( the development of expert organizations and regulations) could be an undermining factor for the protection of human rights? Is there any danger that expert assessments in the current era of multiple crises can deviate from the language of human rights under the title of emergency measures?

  12. Timeela Manandhar Tue 26 May 2020 at 17:03 - Reply

    Adding to the comment of Tomas Morochovic: Beyond the sphere of technology, what role does businesses’ human rights responsibilities, as laid out by the UN Guiding Principles, play in the COVID-19 crisis?
    For example regarding granting/restricting access to medical supplies and a future vaccine, or responsibilities of businesses for the health of their employees and workers in their supply chains?

  13. Mark Dawson Tue 26 May 2020 at 17:04 - Reply

    Why has the (seemingly) organic link between growing inter-dependence and trans-nationalisation been broken? I have the impression from your contributions of strong inter-dependence (most notably in the cross-border nature of Covid and the tools needed to counter it). In the past, this could be expected to lead to renewed efforts for re-enforcing state capacity through trans-national efforts. Yet many of you argue that we will or do see re-nationalisation of various forms. Why? Why such a dis-connect between functional needs and legal/institutional forms? Maybe there is no ‘meta’ explanation for this but I would be interested in your takes. thanks!

  14. Jule Giegling Tue 26 May 2020 at 17:05 - Reply

    I would like to thank all the speakers very much for your enlightening contributions. I would be interested in your opinion on how international law could assist with controlling the crisis and the prevention of potential future crises? Is, for example, the AU approach a best practice to be followed? A consolidated approach from international institutions seems to be preferable to a multi-fora response.

  15. Hajime Akiyama Tue 26 May 2020 at 17:09