Can China Be Sued Over Coronavirus?

After looking at the death toll and the positive cases of COVID-19 around the world, there might be a point where every human might have thought of suing China for releasing a deadly virus into the world. Many countries, organisations as well individuals have already filed lawsuits against China.

They unanimously believe that because of China‘s irresponsibility of not letting the other countries know about an outbreak caused a blockade from taking early actions. The Chinese authorities have chosen denial, censorship and bluster instead of transparency that might have saved lives. The regime’s transmission of patently false information has made matters worse.

Various lawsuits filed against China over coronavirus

Lawsuit 1 –

On March 12, as the coronavirus pandemic began meddling daily life across the US, a Florida attorney –Matthew Moore– filed a federal class-action lawsuit against the Chinese government. It accused China of a slow response that caused “injury and incalculable harm” to people and businesses.

The lawsuit also alleged that President Xi Jinping of China initially declared that he directed officials to check the virus on January 7. However, it was later found out that he hadn’t done it and waited until January 22 to do direct containment, still did not make any attempts public till it was too late.

Chinese authorities, “acting from their economic self-interest and looking to defend their country as a superpower, failed to report the outbreak as quickly as possible; underreported cases; and was unable to contain the epidemic despite knowing the seriousness of the situation,” the lawsuit stated.

Lawsuit 2 –

Similarly, a 20 trillion dollars lawsuit has been filed against Chinese authorities in the US over coronavirus outbreak. American lawyer Larry Klayman and his advocacy group Freedom Watch along with Texas company Buzz Photos have registered the lawsuit in US District Court for the Northern District of Texas against: the Chinese government, Chinese army, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Director of Wuhan Institute of Virology Shi Zhengli and Chinese army’s Major General Chen Wei.

In the lawsuit, he alleged that the COVID-9 was “designed by China to be a biological weapon of war”, and that whether or not the country planned to release it, China violated “US law, international laws, treaties, and norms.” However, plaintiffs have solicited 20 trillion dollars, which is a more substantial amount than China’s GDP.

Lawsuit 3 –

Robert Eglet’s filed another lawsuit on behalf of five Las Vegas small businesses against the Chinese government over the new coronavirus. The lawsuit states that, as the officials hid information about the outbreak and US small business should receive billions of dollars in damages. The case seeks class-action status for 32 million businesses for the lost income and profits.

However, whether China can be held accountable under international law, or it can be made to compensate those crippled by the outbreak, is far from clear.

Behind the scene – China

COVID-19 is believed to have originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan. According to the city’s public health commission, the first case was confirmed on December 12. This was not reported to the World Health Organization’s Chinese office until December 31 days later, as “pneumonia of unknown aetiology.” The Chinese authorities shut down the seafood market on January 1, where most of the earliest known cases were clustered.

Chinese officials affirmed until mid-January that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission. However, a report by Chinese researchers later that month notified the evidence of virus being transmitted from humans as early as mid-December.

The US says that China’s delay in taking action cause the virus to spread worldwide. The Politburo Standing Committee, China’s top decision-making body, in a meeting on February 3 admitted “shortcomings” in the country’s response to the outbreak and a need to improve.

Guiding principles of International Outbreak Alert and Response

If the reports are true, China did delay its feet, leading to violating the International Health Regulations. This legally binding instrument of international laws specifies that parties must inform the WHO, “within 24 hours of assessment of public health information, of all events which may constitute a public health emergency of international concern.”

Countries are also obliged to “continue to communicate to WHO timely, accurate and sufficiently detailed public health information available to it on the notified event.”

The rules comprise a mechanism for concluding whether a given event qualifies as an emergency, which was amended in 2005 to include any new contagious diseases, following China’s inactive response to the severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, in 2002 and 2003.

What has to be looked into?

Answer to the question of compensation is determining by Beijing’s way of tackling COVID-19 runs counter to prevailing international law.

Draft articles adopted by the International Law Commission, a United Nations agency, in 2001 state that the country liable for a wrongful act “is under an obligation to make full reparation for the injury caused.” This would be the case even if the predicament originated with local authorities.

Experts view

It is uncertain, whether China can be made to pay compensation, in this case. As per the experts, monetary damages will be difficult to claim without proving a causal link to the harm done.

They said plaintiffs would need to prove that Chinese authorities had a scientific understanding of the perils and yet failed to take prudent caution, that led directly to Americans, for example, catching the disease.

Furthermore, even if there was a breach of the procedures set out by the International Health Regulations, the most that could be done is to direct steps for prevention.

The articles on international responsibility have been adopted only by the International Law Commission (ILC) and are not binding on countries in the same way as an endorsed treaty. Taking the matter to the International Court of Justice would require Beijing’s consent. The decisions to file the lawsuits in US courts emphasise the challenge and of bringing such cases to an international venue.

Matters of national responsibility are often resolved by diplomatic rather than legal means.

It’s more likely that the issue will be brought out for debate through a multinational forum, like the UN General Assembly or the WHO, than that the responsibility issue will be settled in court.

Finally, experts state that International society’s mechanisms for punishing wrongdoers don’t work that well.

Kautilya Sharma

Founder @NewsAurChai & @RockShaftIND, | @NMIMS_India | Alumnus | Writer | Passionate Chai Drinker | Political Nerd | Traveller #Beingबंजारा | Optimist । Practical

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