Pandemic Pass? Treaty Derogations and Human Rights Practices During COVID-19


Lewis and Clark College

Arizona State University

Georgia State University


This research note asks whether states issuing pandemic-era human rights treaty derogations implemented emergency provisions as intended or used them to abuse human rights during a time of crisis. In an effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries declared states of emergency and derogated (temporarily suspended) from their international human rights treaty obligations. Using data from the Varieties of Democracy PanDem dataset and the Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker, we find that states that derogated from their international human rights obligations imposed emergency measures that were temporary and did not violate non-derogable rights. On the other hand, states that did not derogate were more likely impose discriminatory measures, enact emergency measures without time limits and violate non-derogable rights. Our results support the role that flexibility mechanisms such as derogations play in international law and show that states are being sincere about their intentions and not, generally, using these mechanisms to cover abusive behavior.