Ebola Does Not Fall from the Sky: Structural Violence & International Responsibility

84 Pages Posted: 26 Mar 2018 Last revised: 7 May 2018

See all articles by Matiangai V. S. Sirleaf

Matiangai V. S. Sirleaf

University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law; University of Maryland School of Medicine

Date Written: March 21, 2018


This Article challenges the conventional understanding that international crises are limited to instances of direct physical violence. Instead, it argues that the disproportionate distribution of infectious diseases like Ebola is a form of structural violence that warrants international intervention. In the field of global public health, structural violence is a concept used to describe health inequities and to draw attention to the differential risks for infection in the Global South, and among those already infected, for adverse consequences including death, injury, and illness. This Article clarifies how the concept of structural violence can be operationalized in law. It illustrates the ways in which actors can facilitate conditions for structural violence by analyzing the international public health and peace and security regimes.

This Article has several important contributions. First, the way international actors conceptualize crises should be expanded beyond merely addressing direct physical violence, but to also include remedying structural violence. Additionally, this study indicates that the complicated relationship between infectious diseases and conflict deserves more robust attention and resources. Moreover, this study examines the limits of the law governing international responsibility and concludes that shared international responsibility norms should be developed to assist in expanding the tools available for the protection of human rights. Lastly, this Article finds that the burgeoning field of international disaster law holds promise for responding to the challenges posed by infectious diseases like Ebola and the alleviation of large-scale human suffering caused by such diseases.

Keywords: public international law, international human rights law, international responsibility, international organizations, infectious diseases, structural violence, global public health law, post-conflict peacebuilding, third world approaches to international law, public health crises, causation

Suggested Citation

Sirleaf, Matiangai V. S., Ebola Does Not Fall from the Sky: Structural Violence & International Responsibility (March 21, 2018). Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, Vol. 51, No. 3, 2018, U. of Pittsburgh Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2018-09, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3144899

Matiangai V. S. Sirleaf (Contact Author)

University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law ( email )

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University of Maryland School of Medicine ( email )

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