Critical Features of International Authority in Pandemic Response: The WHO in the COVID-19 Crisis, Human Rights and the Changing World Order
33 Pages Posted: 14 May 2020 Last revised: 25 Feb 2021
Date Written: May 13, 2020
During the COVID-19 pandemic, unprecedented national authority seems the motto of the day, and international authority largely irrelevant. By contrast, the article will show that international authority does play a core role in the global response, and that some governments, by failing to see this, may even be facilitating shifts in the multilateral world order. To this end, the article will first present some essentials to grasp the WHO’s authority, an embattled instance of global governance. It then analyzes three key contributions to the current pandemic response with the respective controversies: Its detailed regulatory framework, its framing of the 2020 health crisis, including its much criticized postponement for a week, and its recommendations on what to do concretely, in particular not to restrict travel which is accused of hindering national governments. The article then moves to two broader questions.The first is how the WHO’s positioning in the clash between more democratic and more authoritarian forces, as it emerges in its recommendations on how to square human rights with quarantines. The second issue relates to its positioning in the current competition between China and the West, in particular the US.
Keywords: Coronavirus pandemic, COVID-19, World Health Organization, international health law, mass quarantines, human rights, international public authority, authoritarian international law, China
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