Robert Sanders, associate professor and chair of national security at the University of New Haven's Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice & Forensic Sciences, reviews the legal implications of lawsuits against China for botching that country's response in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
China could become the target of multiple lawsuits, filed by claimants from around the world, for failing to take proper measures against the spread of COVID-19 in the early days of the virus’s outbreak. The legal actions, some of which have already been initiated, would allege that China didn’t follow regulations set forth by the World Health Organization, thereby endangering the health and safety of people in multiple countries.
Many of those suits are likely to originate in the U.S. But problems could arise at the domestic level, Sanders says, due to the concept of sovereign immunity — the doctrine that one nation state is immune to suits filed by another. That is currently active law in the U.S., although some senators have proposed legislation that would strip China of sovereign immunity in this country, and give state attorneys general the ability to sue in American courts.
Such a development would, of course, be likely to result in retaliation in kind by China, removing the corresponding immunity that the U.S. current enjoys there. But other options exist, including pursuing the matter through an international body. Sanders cites the example of the Philippines suing China for violation of its fishing grounds in the South China Sea, through a multi- country body overseeing international maritime activities. There’s also the International Court of Justice in The Hague, which can adjudicate civil as well as criminal matters. But regardless of how plaintiffs decide to take action, Sanders says, they’ll face a difficult burden of proof.
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