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The COVID-19 Pandemic and International Law

Oona A. Hathaway, Preston J. Lim, Alasdair Phillips-Robins & Mark Stevens

22 Mar 2022

How does the COVID-19 pandemic affect States’ obligations under international law?  This is a question of not just academic interest but real importance for people’s lives. After all, whether States abide by international law—and whether international law is fit for purpose—is vitally important for everyone from refugees exposed to the virus in unsanitary detention centers to national leaders fighting disinformation campaigns and safeguarding vaccine supply chains.  International law has been central to the world’s response to the pandemic from the start—even if the participants did not always realize it.

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Gerard C. and Bernice Latrobe Smith Professor of Law, Yale Law School; J.D., Yale Law School (2021); J.D. Candidate, Yale Law School (2022); J.D., Yale Law School (2021), respectively. We are grateful to Kate Brannen, Chris Ewell, Tess Graham, Annie Himes, Brian Kim, Thomas Kuehne, Randi Michel, Nicole Ng, and Ellen Nohle for their helpful input from the earliest stages of this project. We are grateful, as well, to Just Security, where portions of this article were initially posted, and to Ambassador John E. Lange, for his thoughtful insights about global pandemic preparedness. This Article was written prior to the employment of one of the authors at the U.S. Department of State and any views expressed herein are solely those of the authors, and are not necessarily those of the United States or the U.S. Department of State.