FAREWELL TO THE F-WORD? FRAGMENTATION OF INTERNATIONAL LAW IN TIMES OF THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC

Sivan Shlomo Agon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations

Abstract

The proliferation of international legal regimes, norms, and institutions in the post-Cold War era, known as the ‘fragmentation’ of international law, has sparked extensive debate among jurists. This debate has evolved as a dialectical process, seeing legal scholarship shifting from grave concern about fragmentation’s potentially negative impacts on the international legal order to a more optimistic view of the phenomenon, with recent literature suggesting that the tools needed to contain fragmentation’s ill-effects are today all at hand, thus arguing that the time has come ‘to bid farewell to the f-word.’ Drawing on the COVID-19 crisis as a test case and considering the unresolved problems in existing fragmentation literature that this crisis brings to the fore, this article asks whether such calls have perhaps been premature. Existing works on fragmentation, the article submits, including those bidding farewell to the f-word, have mainly focused on the problems of conflicts between international norms or international institutions, especially conflicts between international courts over competing jurisdictions and interpretations of law. But, as the COVID-19 case – and, particularly, the deficient cooperation marked between the numerous international organizations reacting to the crisis – shows, the fragmentation of the international legal order does not only give rise to the potential consequences of conflicts of norms and clashes between international courts. Fragmentation also gives rise to pressing challenges of coordination when a proactive and cohesive international response is required to address global problems like COVID-19, which cut across multiple international organizations playing critical roles in the creation, administration, and application of international law. By foregrounding cooperation between international organizations as a vital-yet-deficient form of governance under conditions of fragmentation, the article argues, the COVID-19 crisis not only denotes that the time is not yet ripe to bid farewell to the f-word. It further points to the need to expand the fragmentation debate, going beyond its conflict- and court-centred focus, while probing new tools for tackling unsettled problems that arise from the segmentation of international law along sectoral lines.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-49
Number of pages49
JournalUniversity of Toronto Law Journal
Volume72
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO PRESS.

Keywords

  • COVID-19 pandemic
  • Fragmentation of international law
  • Global governance
  • Institutions
  • International cooperation
  • International law
  • International organizations
  • Norms
  • Proliferation of international legal regimes

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