• The Law Gazette

Is COVID-19 an opportunity to create a New United Nations? A Lesson from World War II

One of the direct impacts of the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) is challenging international organizations, specifically the United Nations and its related institutions. The emergence and outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) has put in doubt the effectiveness and efficiency of world governance during the global crisis. The pandemic has shown the ineffectiveness of international law and the inefficiency of international institutions to solve global crises. Besides, numerous regulations and treatises have been accepted, signed and ratified by the States regarding global health issues; yet they remain, inapplicable. Therefore, the pandemic has opened a window of opportunity to a modern era of globalization based on the new rules and structures.

The world is experiencing an unprecedented crisis after World War II. The Covid-19 pandemic is not only a health crisis, but it is also a humanitarian, socio-economic, political and development crisis that has threatened the entire humanity. The response to this crisis requires global efforts to take appropriate measures for reducing harmful effects on the security, health are, food, water and sanitation of all human life around the world. The actions taken in this situation should guarantee health care to everyone and protect human dignity. Further measure should be taken which would help in the restoring the economy, development and peace through a sustainable approach.


Unfortunately, in such a situation, the United Nations has failed to manage and lead the global crisis. For instance,the UN has failed to implement the right to health as an element of human rights globally. International human rights law is generally based on the inalienable, universal, interdependent and indivisible rights. It imposes obligations on the States, especially in times of crisis.

Human rights are applying to everyone without any discrimination. Besides, the States should adopt a policy to ensure that all levels of government, including executive authority, apply the strategic, legal, regulatory, emergency and public health measures that they are adopting to manage the COVID-19 pandemic on a human rights-based approach. International organizations, specifically the United Nations and the Security Council, had a crucial role to play for reinforcing the rules of international law or universal values such as the rule of law and respect to human rights. However, the UN and its specialized agencies are unable to deal with global problems.


The United Nations is mainly created for a mission to maintain international peace and security. Dealing with global challenges requires global participation and international cooperation in a sustainable manner. The world after pandemic will raise the interest of the debates regarding the reform of the functioning of international institutions such as the United Nations and, more specifically, the Security Council. The current composition of the Security Council would no longer reflect contemporary international society. The right to veto and the formation of permanent members require providing a solution for the functioning of the council and the maintenance of international peace and security.


Under the immense human and economic loss caused by the pandemic, some individuals and countries are willing to file lawsuits or complaints against China or other countries. In the current state of international law, the Claimant State or individual required to prove negligence, violation, or breach of an international obligation to receive any compensation from the defendant state. In fact, according to the fundamental principles of international law, violation of state international obligations or commission of any internationally wrongful act engages its international responsibility[i].

Thus, the claimant states or individuals should prove that China or other countries have violated their international obligations. In this case, the potential legal action against each other could be additional competition between States. The Charter of the United Nations of 1945 invites States to settle their international disputes by using peaceful means, including arbitration and judicial settlement (Article 33)[ii]. However, the International justice system seems confronted with several limitations and efficiencies.


The pandemic proves that health issue has no borders, and international health has become "global health." Based on this fact, countries and international institutions can no longer view health as a border issue, as they often did in the past-pandemic. The rapid development of communication across national borders through travel and trade has facilitated the transmission of diseases from country to country. In this context, it is important to determine if one can expect the emergence and development of International Health Law as a new branch of international law.

The widespread of the disease, both developed and developing countries have shown that the World Health Organization[iii] leadership had failed to manage the growing threat in the world. Some states have declared the ineffectiveness of the WHO explicitly at the time of the global crises.


The international crisis management regarding the pandemic led to the emergence of new actors in international law, which now plays a more prominent role globally and in multi-actor and multilevel governance in the world. In such a situation, some developing countries are willing to possess more authority and positions in global governance.


The coronavirus and biodiversity protection are linked closely. According to some reliable scientists' reports, the Covid-19 disease started from the Wuhan (China) seafood market[iv], where wild animals, including marmots, birds, rabbits, bats and snakes, are traded illegally. Some of the scientists believed that the new coronaviruses' genetic is almost identical to the one found in bats. In this regards, the environmental protection, specifically, biodiversity protection, is related directly to the pandemic.


Social distancing and working remotely are supporting to determine how social media and virtual communications are crucial for humanity. Existing international law based on the traditional approach will transform into a new form of law based on new technologies and virtual life. International organizations are working to develop a new paradigm to create a new workspace for their employees and clients. In this context, new technologies change not only international legal institutions but also international actors' behaviours and communications.


The global coronavirus pandemic, which has already caused unimaginable devastation and hardship to the international community, has proved the inefficiency of international organizations to solve global crises. The COVID 19 put in question the principles of the charter of the UN, such as international cooperation, non-recourse to violence, the peaceful settlement of international disputes, the establishment of peace by law, the fight against poverty, the respect for human rights, precisely right to health and the right of peoples to self-determination.

International law to maintain its effectiveness requires reform of the United Nations based on the democratization of international institutions. The reform of the organization may empower the decision-making process, simplify its structures and improve its transparency in the world.

ENDNOTES [i] Dr. Abbas Poorhashemi, Can China Be Sued under International Law for COVID-19?, JURIST – Professional Commentary, May 21, 2020, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2020/05/abbas-poorhashemi-lawsuits-china-covid19/. [ii] Charter of the United Nations, https://www.un.org/en/charter-united-nations/

[iii] World Health Organization, https://www.who.int/

[iv] Wuhan Seafood Wholesale Market, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huanan_Seafood_Wholesale_Market


This blog has been authored by Dr. Abbas Poorhashemi, who is the President of the Canadian Institute for International Law Expertise (CIFILE). He is also the Founder and Senior Partner of an International Law Firm as well as the Editor-in-Chief of the CIFILE Journal of International Law (CJIL), Canada.