Coronavirus: Covid-19

Should Hold China Accountable

The coronavirus, originating from the Wuhan province of China, has gradually spread across the world. A total of 185 countries have been affected so far and, according to the latest figures furnished by Johns Hopkins University, 1,21,897 people have died so far while the number of those infected stands at 1,945,055.

The pandemic has disrupted the social life and economy of almost every country. The global spread of the pandemic raises an important question of international law – the liability of the State, the criminal negligence of whose instruments led to the dissemination of the virus beyond its frontiers to different parts of the world.

Available information shows that China’s first known patient of coronavirus was detected as far back as December 10, 2019. A week later, health officials in Wuhan found a link between the symptoms of the disease and a wild life market in the city. On December 30, Dr. Li Wenliang told his colleagues about the virus on a WeChat group. Soon after, accused of rumor mongering, Li and seven other physicians were brought before China’s security police and compelled to sign a document admitting to “spreading lies”. According to another report, the first case was actually reported on November 17 in Hubei province. In any case, the incontrovertible fact is that China tried to suppress information about the outbreak of coronavirus for about a month. There was cover-up at the state-level.

What was worse, a massive Lunar New Year banquet was permitted to be held in Wuhan on January 18, 2020, in which thousands of people gathered and they, in course of time, spread the virus exponentially.

According to Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, an Israeli based attorney who specializes in international law, “China had signed treaties and had a duty under international law to report the virus and not cover it up.” While China may not be blamed for creating the virus, she added, the country can be held accountable “for not sounding the international alarm and trying to conceal it from the world.” A study recently released by UK’s University of Southampton shows that if the Chinese authorities had acted three weeks earlier than they did, the geographic proliferation of the pathogen would have been significantly smaller and the number of cases would have reduced by 95%. US National Security Advisor also stated that Beijing’s concealment in the early phase “cost the world community two months”.

It is significant that the Asian Bird Flu in 1996 and SARS in 2002 also originated from China.

According to Article 93, Chapter XIV of Charter of the United Nations, “All Members of the United Nations are ipso facto parties to the Statute of the International Court of Justice”. China being the original member and member of the Security Council is thus under the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice. A country, just because it has economic clout and military muscle, cannot be allowed to get away with what has been a crime against humanity

Author: Prakash Singh
The Author is a former Director General of Border Security Force

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