Reading International Law in the context of Covid-19: Narratives and Responses

Chinmaya Vishwavidyapeeth (CVV) along with the Centre for Public Policy and Research (CPPR), and Study Group on International Law and Relations, Ernakulam, hosted a webinar on 23 May 2020, bringing together international law scholars and public policymakers. The discussion was on ‘Reading International Law in the context of Covid-19: Narratives and Responses’.

The distinguished panellists for the discussion included Dr. Aniruddha Rajput, Member of the UN International Law Commission (2017-21), Dr. Eliana Cusato (School of Law at Essex University) and Dr. Prabhash Ranjan, (South Asian University, New Delhi). Dr. Harisankar K. Satyapalan, Asst. Prof. at CUSAT and Research Fellow in International Law and Dispute Settlement at CPPR moderated the session. Shri Gazi Hassan, a Senior Research Associate at CPPR delivered the introductory remarks, while Shri Nithin Ramakrishnan, Assistant  Professor of International Law at CVV, offered the concluding remarks.

Dr. Harisankar initiated the discussion by requesting Dr. Aniruddha Rajput to discuss the role of General International law of state responsibility in all of the United Nations. Dr. Aniruddha started by pointing out the limited response of the UN Security Council as compared to its active role during the Ebola epidemic in 2014. He briefly discussed the ways to ensure state responsibilities and further proposed the possible avenues available for redressing the arising tension between nations.

Adding to the opinions of Dr. Aniruddha, Dr. Eliana Cusato identified conceptual frames of International law to play a vital role in understanding the Covid19 pandemic and clarified that our frames come both with opportunities and dangers on legal, political and economic order. She briefly discussed the dangers and limitations of the powerful (war) narrative, with Covid-19 as the current war fought by humanity. Dr. Cusato expressed that she finds the war metaphor to be a distraction, which conceals the structural, social and economic violence that pre-exists and persists beyond the pandemic.

Dr. Prabhash Ranjan brought to notice a decelerated trend in globalisation in the past few years. While addressing the issue from the investments angle, he acknowledged that developing countries may face a struggle in paying huge amounts to the foreign investors in the form of Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) claims. Dr. Prabhash said that this pandemic has been used by several countries to attack the international trade regime and that this should not be encouraged during these times of crises where we need more international cooperation.

Dr. Harisankar moderated the discussion by putting forth questions from the participants, who were students and scholars of international law. The panellists answered them constructively. Asst. Prof. Nithin Ramakrishnan delivered the concluding remarks and also expressed how he finds the accusations against international organisations for their shortcomings to be a disturbing trend. He also shed some light on further bringing into discussion the applicability of WHO mechanisms as an alternative to the moratoriums of WTO and on the possibilities of the International law Commission studying public emergencies.

Lastly, Prof. Nithin established a link with the traditional Indian Knowledge Systems by expressing a doubt whether a global narrative of ‘sushrusha’ (care) can be built as an alternative for the securitisation of health and health law. He also raised doubts whether the WHO can be strengthened to address the vacuum presently felt at the international dispute settlement arena. Dr. Harisankar concluded the webinar by thanking the panellists for an engaging discussion and the participants for their active involvement.