Human Rights Treaty Derogation and COVID-19

In this virtual workshop, Audrey Comstock presented her recent work on the Covid-19 pandemic and the response of WHO and state actors.

Paper Abstract

What explains when states derogate from international human rights law during the COVID-19 pandemic?  Conventional understanding of treaty derogations suggests that domestic democratic structures, not the crisis at hand, explain derogation submissions. I argue that during COVID-19, global crisis measures mattered.  Specifically, I argue that WHO legitimacy along with its issue framing and information provision of the crisis made states more likely to perceive the pandemic as a severe one and derogate from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  Using country-day level from January 2020 – February 2021 analysis of over 70,000 observations, I test the determinants of ICCPR derogations during the COVID-19 pandemic. I find that global crisis measures of WHO responses and global COVID-19 deaths were significant, positive indicators of ICCPR derogations while domestic crisis measures were not.  This piece contributes to our understanding of how states use international law during crises, derogations, international organization legitimacy, and of human rights law during the COVID-19 pandemic.


  • Audrey Comstock (presenter) is Assistant Professor in the School of Social and Behavioural Sciences at Arizona State University.
  • Kyle Rapp is a Political Scientist at the Kolleg-Forschungsgruppe, “The International Rule of Law – Rise or Decline?” which examines the international laws and the international legal order. 
  • Gino Pauselli is a PhD candidate in International Relations at the University of Pennsylvania.