By Liao Fan
Some organizations and individuals in foreign countries, according to media reports, have filed “compensation claims” against China for not doing enough to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, and allowing it to become a pandemic.
Their claims, although different, can be roughly classified into three categories.
First, the lawsuits have been filed against the Chinese government in foreign courts. For example, a Florida-based law firm, on behalf of Florida residents, has filed a case in a southern Florida court against the Chinese government, accusing it of failing to curb the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, and letting it become a pandemic that has killed tens of thousands of people and caused huge economic damage. On Tuesday, another US state, Missouri, sued the Chinese government over its handling of the virus, seeking damages for what it described as deliberate deception and insufficient action to check the outbreak.
Ludicrous claims seeking irrational compensation
Second, some people have asked their home government to pressure China to pay compensation. For example, in an interview with Fox Television, a Republican congressmen from Indiana said China should pay the cost for the damage the pandemic has caused to the United States, and listed ways in which China can be made to pay the damages, including forcing it to write off most of the US’ debts. Also, an Australian parliament member has proposed taking back land owned by Chinese companies in Australia as compensation for China “transmitting” the virus.
And third, a few organizations and individuals have appealed to international agencies to hold China “accountable” for the pandemic and force it to pay “compensation”. For example, some NGOs in India have filed a complaint with the United Nations Human Rights Council, demanding that China be made to pay “compensation” to the international community for the losses the pandemic has caused.
Besides, an American lawyer has filed a “case” in the International Criminal Court accusing China of “intentionally developing” the novel coronavirus as a “deadly biological weapon”, claiming the failure of the Chinese government and military “to prevent the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s personnel from becoming infected with the bioweapon and then carrying the virus out into the surrounding community and proliferation into the United States”. Since this is tantamount to a “crime against humanity”, the lawyer claims, the ICC should probe the issue.
Nation has complete sovereign immunity
According to the “no jurisdiction” principle between sovereign states derived from the principle of “sovereign equality”, the court of one state does not exercise jurisdiction over another state, which is called “sovereign immunity”.China adheres to absolute sovereign immunity which rejects any jurisdiction from foreign courts. Even according to the US’ relative sovereign immunity, which allows for a commercial activity exception to sovereign immunity, China’s outbreak prevention and control work is governmental behavior rather than a commercial activity, and therefore also enjoys sovereign immunity.
The ICC is an international organization established under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court to investigate and try four categories of international crimes genocide, crime against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression.
According to the Rome Statute, the ICC’s investigation procedure can be initiated in three ways: by the prosecutors themselves, by the United Nations Security Council, and by a signatory state other methods, including the submission of materials by individuals or organizations, do not directly trigger an investigation. There can be an exception, though, but only if an ICC prosecutor believes the materials submitted are solid enough to initiate an investigation. The absurdity of the US lawyer’s claim suggests this possibility is very slim.
UN Human Rights Council not an international court
Moreover, the UN Human Rights Council is not an “international court” but an intergovernmental body affiliated to the UN and made up of 47 member states elected by the UN General Assembly, assigned to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights across the globe, and make recommendations to address human rights violations. The UNHRC mainly deals with inter-state interactions, and although, according to a 2007 resolution, individuals, groups and NGOs can appeal in case of consistent and serious violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms, the plea must meet certain strict conditions to initiate an investigation, which the Indian NGOs’ complaint doesn’t.
As for writing off US debts and seizing the land legally owned by Chinese companies in Australia, they would be illegal acts, not least because the claim illogically and forcibly attempts to link the novel coronavirus with a completely unrelated issue in an attempt to violate the contractual and property rights of the Chinese government and companies.
Also, there are three conditions for a state to be held legally liable for an act: the act should be attributable to the state, the state should be at fault, and the state should have violated its international obligations.
There is no proof virus originated in Wuhan
But the origin of the novel coronavirus is yet to be scientifically verified, and the fact that the epidemic was first reported in Wuhan, Hubei province, alone does not necessarily mean it originated in China.
Besides, in international law, the actions attributable to a state only include the actions of state organs and those of institutions or individuals authorized to exercise government power. The actions of other persons or entities cannot be attributed to the state. The unintentional transmission of a disease by an infected person to others is not an act committed on behalf of his or her country, so his/her behavior cannot be attributed to a government.
Since SARS-CoV-2 is a new coronavirus, how can people know everything about it when it’s still mutating? And by taking rapid and strict measures, China has largely contained the pandemic at home. By contrast, the US and some European governments did not take effective measures for almost two months to prevent the spread of the virus in their respective countries. And they can’t blame China for their own failure.
–The Daily Mail-China Daily news exchange item