Sunday, December 11, 2011


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"Soft law" does not fall into any of the categories of international law set forth in Article 38, Chapter III of the 1946 Statute of the International Court of Justice.32 It is, however, an expression of non-binding norms, principles, and practices that influence state behavior.33 Certain declarations and resolutions of the UN General Assembly fall under this category.34 The most notable is the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which this Court has enforced in various cases, specifically, Government of Hongkong Special Administrative Region v. Olalia,35 Mejoff v. Director of Prisons,36 Mijares v. RaƱada37 and Shangri-la International Hotel Management, Ltd. v. Developers Group of Companies, Inc..38

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a specialized agency attached to the UN with the mandate to promote and protect intellectual property worldwide, has resorted to soft law as a rapid means of norm creation, in order "to reflect and respond to the changing needs and demands of its constituents."39 Other international organizations which have resorted to soft law include the International Labor Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization (in the form of the Codex Alimentarius).40

WHO has resorted to soft law. This was most evident at the time of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Avian flu outbreaks.

Although the IHR Resolution does not create new international law binding on WHO member states, it provides an excellent example of the power of "soft law" in international relations. International lawyers typically distinguish binding rules of international law-"hard law"-from non-binding norms, principles, and practices that influence state behavior-"soft law." WHO has during its existence generated many soft law norms, creating a "soft law regime" in international governance for public health.

The "soft law" SARS and IHR Resolutions represent significant steps in laying the political groundwork for improved international cooperation on infectious diseases. These resolutions clearly define WHO member states' normative duty to cooperate fully with other countries and with WHO in connection with infectious disease surveillance and response to outbreaks.

This duty is neither binding nor enforceable, but, in the wake of the SARS epidemic, the duty is powerful politically for two reasons. First, the SARS outbreak has taught the lesson that participating in, and enhancing, international cooperation on infectious disease controls is in a country's self-interest x x x if this warning is heeded, the "soft law" in the SARS and IHR Resolution could inform the development of general and consistent state practice on infectious disease surveillance and outbreak response, perhaps crystallizing eventually into customary international law on infectious disease prevention and control.41



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