Introducing Roojin Habibi
The 2005 International Health Regulations (IHR) governs the world’s response to infectious diseases. Like most international treaties, implementation of the IHR must be consistent with prevailing rules of international law, including the norms of international human rights law. Although the collective right to public health may sometimes warrant the curtailment of certain individual rights, justifications for such restrictions are circumscribed by a robust set of criteria most potently expressed by the non-binding but widely cited Siracusa Principles on the Limitations and Derogations Provisions in the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (Siracusa Principles).
The Siracusa Principles were adopted in 1984 against the backdrop of a world besieged by ‘epidemics’ of political unrest and the Cold War. In our interdependent era, threats to stability, peace and security emanate increasingly from global phenomena that are either too small to see, such as emerging infectious diseases, or too diffuse to fathom, such as climate change. When they strike, these global hazards not only expose the world’s languishing momentum towards realizing the “larger freedom” etched in the preamble of the Charter of the United Nations – they also threaten to unravel modest but hard-earned progress that has inched us closer to a global community where no one is left behind.
More acutely than any crisis in recent history, the COVID-19 pandemic lays bare the need for close kinship between international human rights principles and multilateral responses to public health emergencies of international concern. During my term as a Fellow with the Canadian International Council (CIC), I will lead a consensus-building effort with legal experts from universities and organisations located in all regions of the world to articulate a new set of international human rights principles, firmly moored in international law and applicable to all countries in times of global public health emergency. It is only fitting that this standard-setting exercise be fostered in Canada, one of the earliest champions of the United Nations human rights system and a longstanding defender of the international rule of law. Supported by the unique platform of the CIC, it is hoped that these principles inspire Canadian leaders to steward the international community towards a human rights-based response to the inevitable public health emergencies of the future.
Roojin Habibi is an international consultant and lawyer specialized in global health law, governance and justice. She has worked for the right to health of marginalized communities at the local and international level through civil society and intergovernmental organizations including the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, the Canadian Medical Association, the Namibian Legal Assistance Centre and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). She is a Research Fellow at the Global Strategy Lab, York University, and a doctoral candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School York University. She holds a law degree (J.D.) from the University of Ottawa, a specialization in transnational law from the University of Geneva, and a Master’s of Science in Global Health from McMaster University. She is fluent in English, French and Farsi. Connect with her on twitter @roojinh.