Lodestar in the Time of Coronavirus? Interpreting International Obligations to Realise the Right to Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Judith Bueno de Mesquita, Claire Lougarre, Lisa Montel, Sharifah Sekalala

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While the right to health has gained significant momentum in international law over the past two years, there is little clarity on what it means for States to comply with this right in times of COVID-19. Taking Articles 2(1) and 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as a starting point, our article follows an approach guided by the rules of treaty interpretation under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties to suggest how right to health obligations to prevent, treat and control infectious diseases should be interpreted in relation to COVID-19, and how these obligations interact with general obligations of immediacy, progressive realisation, minimum core and international assistance and cooperation in this context. This article makes a novel contribution to clarifying the right to health during COVID-19, thus enhancing capacity for the oversight of this right; its incorporation in global health law; and the understanding of its corresponding obligations in future global health emergencies.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberngac036
Pages (from-to)1-25
Number of pages25
JournalHuman Rights Law Review
Issue number1
Early online date20 Feb 2023
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1 Mar 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank colleagues and experts who kindly commented on earlier drafs of this article: Professor Carla Ferstman and Dr Koldo Casla at the University of Essex, Professor Nina Jørgensen at the University of Southampton, Dr Amanda Cahill-Ripley and Dr Azadeh Chalabi at the University of Liverpool, as well as two anonymous peer reviewers. All errors are our own.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Author(s) [2023].


  • Right to health
  • States' obligations
  • Covid-19
  • Articles 12 and 2(1) International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights
  • Global health law
  • COVID-19
  • epidemics
  • global health law
  • obligations
  • right to health


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