One of the direct impacts of Covid-19 is how it’s challenged international organisations, especially the United Nations and its related institutions like WHO.

The coronavirus has made many doubt the effectiveness and efficiency of our global leadership and international law. Numerous regulations and treaties on global health issues have been written, accepted, signed and ratified by the States; they remain, however, inapplicable. In fact, the primary purpose of the UN is to create the conditions necessary for implementing and ensuring respect for international law, including the implementation of the States’ obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law. It codifies the main principles of international relations, from the sovereign equality of states to the respect to human rights.

Therefore, the pandemic has opened a window of opportunity to a modern era of globalisation based on the new rules and structures.

A crisis of global leadership

The world is in the midst of an unprecedented crisis. It is not only a health crisis but also a humanitarian, socio-economic, political and development crisis that threatens humanity itself.

We need global efforts to reduce the harmful effects on the security, health care, food, water and sanitation of all human life around the world. The actions taken in this situation should guarantee health care to everyone and protect human dignity. They also should be based on the pathway that will restore economic, development and peace in a sustainable approach. In such a situation, the United Nations has failed to manage and lead the global crisis.

Dealing with global challenges requires global participation and international cooperation in a sustainable manner

For instance, regarding the human right to health, the UN and its related institution (WHO) have failed to manage the crisis. In reality, they uphold their duties under international human rights law which is generally based on inalienable, universal, interdependent and indivisible rights. It imposes obligations on the States and the international community as a whole, especially in times of crisis. Human rights apply to everyone — no exceptions. According to international law, the UN and its related institutions should ensure that all states use a human rights-based approach to apply the strategic, legal, regulatory, emergency and public health measures to manage the Covid-19 pandemic.

Below I cover some of the current predicaments for the UN and associate institutions.

1. Institutional and structural crisis

The United Nations was mainly created to maintain international peace and security. However, the structural reorganisation, whereby the UN takes on a more expansive role, is widely accepted by many states. In fact, dealing with global challenges requires global participation and international cooperation in a sustainable manner. But the current composition of the Security Council, unchanged since World War II, no longer reflects contemporary international society. For the functioning of the UN Security Council and the maintenance of international peace and security, there are two main obstacles, the right to veto and the formation of permanent members. Such issues should be solved by the international community collectively.

2. Increased international pressure for judicial action

Under the immense human and economic loss caused by the pandemic, some individuals and countries have floated the idea of filing lawsuits or complaints against China or other countries for their handling of the pandemic. In the current state of international law, the Claimant State or individual is required to prove negligence, violation, or breach of an international obligation to receive any compensation from the defendant state. In fact, according to the fundamental principles of international law, violation of state international obligations or commission of any internationally wrongful act may invoke the state’s international responsibility.

Thus, the claimant states or individuals would need to prove that China or other countries have violated their international obligations. In this case, potential legal action could add to the animosity between states. The Charter of the United Nations of 1945 invites states to settle their international disputes by using peaceful means, including arbitration and judicial settlement (Article 33). However, the International justice system seems confronted with several limitations and efficiencies.

3. Failing to solve global health issues

The pandemic proves that health issues respect no borders, and international health has become “global health.” Based on this fact, countries and international institutions can no longer view health as a border issue, as they often did before the pandemic. The rapid development of communication across national borders through travel and trade has facilitated the transmission of diseases from country to country. In this context, can we expect the emergence and development of International Health Law as a new branch of international law?

Existing international law based on the traditional approach will transform into a new form of law based on new technologies and virtual life

The fact that the virus is now so widespread, both in rich and developing countries, is a threat to the legitimacy of the World Health Organisation. Some states have lambasted the ineffectiveness of the WHO explicitly in this time of global crisis.

4. The emergence of new actors in global governance

The international crisis management regarding the pandemic led to the emergence of new actors in international law, which now plays a more prominent role globally and in multi-actor and multilevel governance in the world. In such a situation, some developing countries pursue more authority and influence in global governance.

Functional challenges in the UN system

The main issue here is whether the United Nations is capable of dealing with the global crisis. The United Nations has failed to achieve its objectives and purposes as defined in the Charter. The issues such as non-respect to human rights, environmental degradation, the composition of the Security Council, implementation of the right veto are only some examples of the functional challenges and problems in the system of the UN.


Social distancing and remote working underscore just how crucial social media and virtual communication are for humanity. Existing international law based on the traditional approach will transform into a new form of law based on new technologies and virtual life. International organisations are working to develop a new paradigm to create a new workspace for their employees and clients. In this context, new technologies change not only international legal institutions but also international actors’ behaviours and communications.

The global coronavirus pandemic, which has already caused unimaginable devastation and hardship to the international community, has proven the inefficiency of international organisations to solve global crises. Covid-19 raises questions about the principles of the charter of the UN, such as international cooperation, non-recourse to violence, the peaceful settlement of international disputes, the establishment of peace by law, the fight against poverty, the respect for human rights, precisely right to health and the right of peoples to self-determination.

Suggested citation: Dr. Abbas Poorhashemi, Reforming the United Nations for the post Covid-19 World, apolitical, September 24, 2020,