In December, 2019, it was already clear to China that SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19, could be transmitted between humans. This was even documented in a study published in The Lancet, a respectable scientific journal. China, however, chose to remain actively silent and try to cover up this disease. China’s conduct has triggered a major pandemic and the world is far from knowing what the results will be.
So far thousands of deaths have been recorded and the global economy has had to be stopped – this seems to be only the beginning. The human, financial and other losses are enormous even though they could have been potentially avoided at least in part had China behaved ethically. The consequences of this pandemic in poor countries, where basic sanitation is not available to all, are yet to be seen.
Yet, as the truth has become clearer, China has not issued a single note apologizing to the international community. On the contrary, it has kept its usual totalitarian and brutal attitude and has even threatened countries that dare raise their voices, including the United States. When the State of Israel correctly closed its borders to China in early February, the acting Chinese ambassador to Israel had the chutzpah to compare this decision to the refusal of refuge to Jews in the Holocaust. The bad faith is shockingly patent. A study has emerged indicating that if China had acted lawfully (or decently), the world would be a different place right now as the cases would have been reduced by 95%.
Under international law, China could not have suppressed information and covered things up. For example, under the International Health Regulations, China should have immediately notified the WHO. From the point of view of biological warfare (and China is party to the Biological Weapons Convention), China’s behavior – concealing this highly infectious disease while it controls the supply chain of important medications – is also unlawful. China also breached fiduciary duties under customary law.
Because China is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council with veto power and China may object to the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice, it is clear that a new order – far from the assumptions of the long shipwrecked UN – is required. Personal accountability should be the words of the day, as was the case in Nuremberg and the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, among others.
The people of China has long suffered in the hands of tyranny as has the people of Tibet. The people should not have to bear the consequences of the actions chosen alone by the heads of the Communist Party of China. The persons responsible for this tragedy – commencing with the leaders of the Communist Party – need to be identified and brought to justice under a new global order.