The Hague Academy of International Law


Epidemics and International Law

 September 1st, 2020 - June 1st, 2021


Directors of Research: Prof. Shinya Murase (Sophia University, Tokyo) & Ms. Suzanne Zhou (McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, Melbourne)

The co-directors of the online Centre invite applications from researchers including students in the final phase of their doctoral studies, holders of advanced degrees in law, political science, or other related disciplines, early-stage professors and legal practitioners. Applicants should identify the specific topic on which they intend to write. Participants will be selected in August-September 2020 at the latest.

Provisional agenda of the online Centre for Studies and Research:

  • September 2020: allocation of sub-topics and tasks to the selected researchers by Prof. Murase and Ms. Zhou;
  • November 2020: first outlines to be sent in by the researchers, review by the Directors of Research;
  • February 2021: first drafts to be sent in by the researchers, review by the Directors of Research;
  • April-May 2021: second and final version of the articles to be handed in by the researchers;
  • August 2021 (approximately): publication of the best articles in the book of the Centre for Studies and Research. 

The history of epidemics can be traced back to the beginning of the history of humankind itself, with the first recorded epidemic being the “Plague of Athens” in 429-426 BC, the death toll of which was estimated at 100,000.[1] There have been numerous such instances of epidemics from the first human settlements to the modern day. In only the past twenty years of this century, we have witnessed the outbreaks of SARS (2002-2004), Dengue (2005-2006), Ebola (2007-present), Influenza (2009), MERS (2012), Zika (2016) and now Coronavirus (2019-present), just to name a few. 

International law began to address epidemics in the latter half of the 19th century. The first International Sanitary Conference was held in Paris in 1851 to standardize international quarantine regulations against the spread of cholera, plague and yellow fever. In total, there were 14 Conferences held between 1851 and 1938. In 1902, the first international organization specialized in health was created, the Pan-American Sanitary Bureau (now the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO)). This was followed by the creation in 1907 of a permanent international health office (Office International d’Hygiène Publique). During the inter-war period, the Health Organization of the League of Nations (HOLN) played an important role in the field of global health by disseminating information and providing technical assistance, which was the precursor of the World Health Organization (WHO), established in 1948. The WHO adopted the regulations as International Health Regulations (IHR 2005), which is today the basic binding instrument to cope with global health issues.

While there are international instruments that regulate public health worldwide, they nonetheless remain the purview of a patchwork of specific treaty and non-treaty instruments. The problem is not merely the matter of sanitary and health concerns covered by the WHO’s mandate. It warrants broader consideration in international law. A proper balance needs to be struck between coping with epidemics and protecting human rights in situations such as quarantine and travel restrictions. Consideration should be given to the impacts on international trade and other cross-border economic and social activities of the peoples all over the world. International trade law intersects with epidemic response in several ways, including as a legal framework for the free movement of medical goods and medical services, regulation of health risks, and intellectual property in medicines and other health technologies.

Accordingly, the problem of epidemics should be addressed, not by the single-issue approach of a special regime of international law, but by considering the overall interrelationships of the relevant rules of international law, including, but not limited to: global health law, international human rights law, international trade law, and international investment law, international financial law, international environmental law, intellectual property law, international labor law, maritime and air law, international law relating to peace and security, and arms control and international humanitarian law. Linkages among the relevant rules of these regimes should be addressed as far as possible. Additionally, issues of State responsibility may also be pertinent in considering the topic of epidemics.

Considering that, selected researchers will be called to work on the following topics – which will be refined in due course - under the guidance of the Directors of Research:

  1. History of epidemics and international law
  2. Legal definitions and practice (epidemics, pandemics, health emergencies, cf. disasters)
  3. Institutional framework: WHO, States, UN, regional organizations, other international organizations and entities
  4. Legal instruments (including the WHO IHRs (2005)
  5. Assessment of scientific evidence
  6. International cooperation (obligations of the affected State; assistance to the affected State)
  7. Epidemics and human rights 
  8. Epidemics and trade / investment / intellectual property / environment / humanitarian law
  9. Epidemics and international responsibility
  10. Epidemics and dispute settlement

[1] In his History of the Peloponnesian Wars, Thucydides describes vividly and in detail the “Plague of Athens”. Thucydides himself contracted the disease, but survived: Θουκιδίδης, Ιστορίαι, Β’, 47-54 (Thucydides, Histories, Vol. 2, 47-54).


Registration is free of charge. Given that the Academy is currently receiving a large number of applications for the Centre for Studies and Research – Online, the decision has been made to close the deadline to apply for this programme on August 1st, 2020 at 23:59 hrs. (GMT+1).

N.B.: This session of the Centre will be held entirely in English.

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