Necessity and the COVID-19 Pandemic

Capital Markets Law Journal (2020 Forthcoming)

9 Pages Posted: 13 May 2020

See all articles by Mark C. Weidemaier

Mark C. Weidemaier

University of North Carolina School of Law

G. Mitu Gulati

Duke University School of Law

Date Written: May 12, 2020


As the global economic downturn from the coronavirus worsens, many sovereign debtors will have to choose between paying creditors and fighting the virus. As of this writing in May 2020, official sector creditors have taken steps to grant relief to the poorest nations, but there is little sign that private creditors will coordinate to voluntarily grant relief. And that raises the likelihood that creditors who do not receive their payments will litigate. Customary international law, through the rarely applied doctrine of “necessity,” may provide sovereign debtors with some respite. This doctrine allows sovereigns to temporarily delay performance of international obligations when necessary to mitigate a grave and imminent danger to the populace.

Keywords: necessity, international law, COVID-19, sovereign debt

JEL Classification: F33, F34, K12, K22, K33

Suggested Citation

Weidemaier, Mark C. and Gulati, Gaurang Mitu, Necessity and the COVID-19 Pandemic (May 12, 2020). Capital Markets Law Journal (2020 Forthcoming), Available at SSRN: or

Mark C. Weidemaier (Contact Author)

University of North Carolina School of Law ( email )

Van Hecke-Wettach Hall, 160 Ridge Road
CB #3380
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380
United States
919.843.4373 (Phone)

Gaurang Mitu Gulati

Duke University School of Law ( email )

210 Science Drive
Box 90362
Durham, NC 27708
United States

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