GoJIL Vol. 7, No. 1 (2016)
Pandemic Declarations of the World Health Organization as an Exercise of International Public Authority: The Possible Legal Answers to Frictions Between Legitimacies
Pedro A. Villarreal
The institutional decisions regarding the 2009–2010 influenza A(H1N1) pandemic displayed how the World Health Organization’s (WHO) role as the international organization in charge of coordinating the pandemic response amounts to an exercise of authority. Notably, the 11 June, 2009 Pandemic Declaration was grounded in the WHO’s guidelines that do not have a binding nature according to international law. However, this is not an obstacle for considering them as an act of authority, since their effects can constrain the decision-making of States. If these non-binding acts have an authoritative nature, then it is necessary to address various legitimacy issues that may be present. This is where the concept of international public authority (IPA) can prove useful, since it enables to combine the non-binding nature of Pandemic Declarations and the respective guidelines with broad legally-oriented figures such as transparency and accountability. The controversies surrounding the 2009 Pandemic Declaration illustrate how the strictly technical-scientific elements that led to such a decision were not necessarily harmonious with other aspects more related to political decision making in general, such as transparency and accountability. This can be considered as an example of how so-called ‘technocratic legitimacy’ sometimes generates friction with lato sensu ‘political legitimacy’. As the 2009–2010 pandemic period unraveled, it became clear that expertise-based legitimacy is not sufficient in itself to consider the act as generally legitimate. On the contrary, the strongest criticisms directed at the decision-making process of the WHO during this event were leveled against deficits of transparency and accountability. This article purports to discuss the issue of how both types of legitimacies, technical-scientific and political, are necessary components for deeming Pandemic Declarations as legitimate enough, since they amount to an exercise of international public authority.
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