The alarming spread of the global COVID-19 pandemic—now infecting nearly 19 million and claiming more than 700,000 lives worldwide—has made it increasingly urgent to define international law protections for the health care sector against malicious cyber operations.

In May 2020, malicious cyberattacks on organizations at the frontline of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic—including the World Health Organizationmedical providersresearch institutespharmaceutical manufacturershospitals and hospital networks—triggered a two-day virtual workshop at the University of Oxford. That workshop—co-sponsored by the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict (ELAC) at the Blavatnik School of Government, Microsoft, and the Government of Japan—yielded the first Oxford Statement on the International Law Protections against Cyber Operations Targeting the Health-Care Sector.  More than 130 international lawyers from across the globe (including some of the field’s most experienced and accomplished figures) have become signatories to this Statement. It articulated a short list of consensus protections that apply under existing international law to cyber operations targeting the healthcare sector. Its announcement sparked discussion at a May 2020 Arria-Formula meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Cyber Stability, Conflict Prevention and Capacity Building.

As the pandemic continues to unfold, vaccine research has emerged as a new, critical vulnerability. Last month, the United Kingdom, the United States (US) and Canada issued a joint advisory accusing Russian intelligence services of targeting COVID-19 vaccine development “with the intention of stealing information and intellectual property.” A few days after, the US Department of Justice unsealed an indictment accusing individuals linked to China’s Ministry of State Security of hacking entities working on COVID-19 treatments, tests, and vaccines. International law must protect this research from external interference to ensure that a safe, effective and universally available vaccine can reach afflicted, needy populations in the near future.

This urgency led Oxford’s ELAC to host a second virtual workshop on July 31, 2020, again co-sponsored with Microsoft and the Government of Japan, to hear from vaccine researchers and information security experts about the special challenges of protecting vaccine research from cyber-intrusion. Those experts explained that cyberattacks or intrusions into ongoing Phase III clinical trial research, for example, could corrupt or tamper with the relevant data needed to establish a vaccine candidate’s efficacy, leading to the trial’s failure, and the loss of time and lives in the fight against COVID-19.

The workshop clarified both the cyber protections needed by vaccine research, and how international law applies to the protection of the development, testing, manufacture, and distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine. That discussion has now led to The Second Oxford Statement on International Law Protections of the Healthcare Sector During Covid-19: Safeguarding Vaccine Research, reproduced below.

Once again, the aim of the Second Oxford Statement is not to cover all applicable principles of international law but, rather, to articulate a short list of consensus protections that apply under existing international law to malicious cyber operations targeting vital vaccines. The Oxford Statement was opened, and remains open, for signature by international law scholars, with hopes that it will spur discussion and clarification of the international legal framework in this area. It is part of an ongoing “Oxford Process”, which aims to articulate points of consensus on international legal rules with respect to urgent global problems, ranging from cyberattacks on the healthcare sector to election security.

Global crises create unique opportunities for international lawmaking. There is no better moment to make explicit and unambiguous—in real and virtual space, in times of war and peace—that when a global pandemic rages, international law must protect the means to ending it. Why does international law exist, if not to save innocent people from needless death?

The Second Oxford Statement on International Law Protections of the Healthcare Sector During Covid-19: Safeguarding Vaccine Research


As the COVID-19 crisis continues to affect millions of individuals around the world, the development of a vaccine becomes an essential component of States’ responses to the pandemic. A vaccine may not only save lives but also mitigate the socio-economic impact of the disease by allowing individuals to interact and work more safely.

Noting that, whilst the coronavirus pandemic and its consequences unfold, medical and research facilities in several countries have been targeted by malicious cyber operations, and that seemingly minor intrusions can disrupt or harm the availability or integrity of the data which could, among other things, compromise the ability to conclude clinical trials, obtain approval for them or manufacture or distribute an eventual vaccine,

Further noting that, because scientific development is now highly dependent on information and communications technologies spread across the globe, such harmful cyber activity may undermine States’ and global efforts to contain and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and its side-effects,

Bearing in mind that COVID-19 is a highly contagious disease that respects no national borders, making international solidarity essential to restoring global health security,

Considering that the discovery and widespread provision of a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine could save not just lives, but also economic livelihoods around the world,

Noting the Oxford Statement on the International Law Protections Against Cyber Operations Targeting the Health Care Sector conclusion that ‘[a]ny interference with the provision of health-care, including by cyber means, risks further loss of life as thousands continue to die every day,’

And emphasizing that — even if the specific application and interpretation of international law to the technologies, knowledge and data used in the process of vaccine development require fleshing out — COVID-19 vaccine, research, manufacture, and distribution are both essential medical services and part of States’ critical infrastructure that must be protected by international law,

Guided by these considerations, we agree that, currently, the following rules and principles of international law protect the research, manufacture and distribution of COVID-19 vaccine candidates against harmful cyber operations. We encourage all States to consider these rules and principles when developing national positions as well as in the relevant multilateral processes and deliberations:

1.  As affirmed in the first Oxford Statement, international law applies in its entirety to cyber operations by States including those that target the healthcare sector and essential medical facilities. These facilities include vaccine research, trial, manufacture and distribution facilities, other research paths to therapies and preventative measures, together with their technologies, networks and data, particularly clinical trial results, and other research.

2.  International law prohibits cyber operations by States that have significant adverse or harmful consequences for the research, trial, manufacture, and distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine, including by means that damage the content or impair the use of sensitive research data, particularly trial results, or which impose significant costs on targeted facilities in the form of repair, shutdown, or related preventive activities.

3.  International humanitarian law requires that at all times parties to an armed conflict: (a) respect and protect medical facilities, transport and personnel, including those involved in COVID-19 vaccine research, trial, manufacture and distribution; (b) refrain from disrupting the functioning of COVID-19 vaccine research, trial, manufacture and distribution facilities in any way, including through cyber operations; and (c) take all feasible precautions to prevent and avoid, or at least minimize, incidental harm caused by cyber operations to those facilities, and (d) take all feasible measures to facilitate their functioning and prevent their being harmed, including by cyber operations.

4.  Outside of armed conflict, international law imposes negative and positive obligations on States vis-à-vis other States and individuals that afford comprehensive protection to the research, trial, manufacture, and distribution of COVID-19 vaccine candidates.

5.  States must take all feasible measures to prevent, stop and mitigate malicious cyber operations against the data or technologies used for COVID-19 vaccine research, trial, manufacture or distribution which they know or should have known emanate from their territory or jurisdiction.

6.  States’ positive duties to ensure civil and political rights under international law require them to protect COVID-19 vaccine research, trial, manufacture and distribution to individuals subject to their jurisdiction.

7.  The fulfilment of social, cultural and economic rights under international law requires States during a pandemic: (a) to ensure the manufacture and distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine in a lawful, fair, equitable, affordable and non-discriminatory manner; and (b) to cooperate to facilitate access to the vaccine by other countries.

The current list of signatories and their affiliations (for identification purposes only) is below. International lawyers who wish to append their name to the Statement should send an email to

    1. Mark D. Agrast, Executive Director, American Society of International Law
    2. Dapo Akande, Professor of Public International Law, Co-Director, Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law & Armed Conflict (ELAC), University of Oxford
    3. Mariana Salazar Albornoz, Member of the Inter-American Juridical Committee
    4. Katya Alkhateeb, Senior Research Officer, School of Law & Human Rights Centre, University of Essex
    5. Daniel Álvarez-Valenzuela, Professor of Law, University of Chile School of Law; Academic Coordinator Centre for Information Technology Law Studies (CEDI)
    6. Catherine Amirfar, Partner, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, former Counselor on International Law, U.S. State Department (2014-2016)
    7. Mahnoush Arsanjani, Former Director, Codification Division, Office of Legal Affairs, United Nations
    8. Pouria Askary, Assistant Professor of International Law, Allameh Tabataba’i University (ATU), Iran
    9. Helmut Philipp Aust, Professor of Public and International Law, Freie Universität Berlin
    10. Eyal Benvenisti, Whewell Professor of International Law, University of Cambridge, C C Ng Fellow, Jesus College, Director of the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law
    11. Antonio Remiro Brotons, Emeritus Professor of International Law, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid
    12. Russell Buchan, Senior Lecturer in International Law, University of Sheffield
    13. Başak Çalı, Professor of International Law at the Hertie School, Berlin and its Director of the Centre for Fundamental Rights
    14. Nicolás Carrillo-Santarelli, Associate researcher of International Law, University of Monterrey (UDEM)
    15. Koldo Casla, Lecturer, School of Law, University of Essex
    16. Anthony E Cassimatis, Professor of Law, University of Queensland
    17. Kalliopi Chainoglou, Assistant Professor of International Law and International Institutions, University of Macedonia
    18. Benarji Chakka, Professor of International Law, VIT-AP University School of Law (VSL), VIT-AP University, India
    19. Alejandro Chehtman, Professor of International Law at Di Tella University, Argentina
    20. Roger S. Clark, Board of Governors Professor, Rutgers Law School
    21. Sarah H. Cleveland, Louis Henkin Professor of Human and Constitutional Rights, Columbia University Law School, Former Vice Chair, UN Human Rights Committee
    22. Antonio Coco, Lecturer in Public International Law, University of Essex and Visiting Fellow at ELAC, University of Oxford
    23. Rebecca Crootof, Assistant Professor of Law, University of Richmond School of Law
    24. Federica D’Alessandra, Executive Director of the Oxford Programme on International Peace and Security, Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford
    25. Jean D’Aspremont, Chair in Public International Law, University of Manchester; Professor of International Law, Sciences Po School of Law
    26. Lori Fisler Damrosch, Hamilton Fish Professor of International Law and Diplomacy, Columbia University Law School
    27. Tom Dannenbaum, Assistant Professor of International Law, The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy, Tufts University
    28. Talita de Souza Dias, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, ELAC, University of Oxford
    29. François Delerue, Research Fellow in Cyberdefense and International Law at the Institut de Recherche stratégique de l’École militaire (IRSEM) and Adjunct Lecturer at Sciences Po, Paris, France
    30. Diane Desierto, Associate Professor of Human Rights Law and Global Affairs, Keough School of Global Affairs, University of Notre Dame
    31. William S Dodge, Martin Luther King Jr Professor of Law, University of California, Davis, School of Law
    32. Jessica Dorsey, Assistant Professor of International and European Law, Utrecht University School of Law, The Netherlands
    33. Jeffrey L. Dunoff, Laura H. Carnell Professor of Law, Temple University Beasley School of Law
    34. Mark Eccleston-Turner, Lecturer of Global Health Law, Keele University, UK; Distinguished Visiting professor of global health law, Georgetown university, USA
    35. Kristen E. Eichensehr, Martha Lubin Karsh and Bruce A. Karsh Bicentennial Professor of Law, University of Virginia School of Law
    36. Benjamin Ferencz, sole surviving Nuremberg war crimes Prosecutor
    37. Serena Forlati, Associate Professor, University of Ferrara, Italy
    38. Chiara Giorgetti, Professor of Law, Richmond Law School
    39. Guy S. Goodwin-Gill, Professor of Law, University of New South Wales (UNSW), Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, UNSW, Emeritus Fellow, All Souls College, Oxford
    40. Claudio Grossman, Professor of Law, Dean Emeritus, American University Washington College of Law
    41. Nienke Grossman, Professor of Law, Co-Director, Center for International and Comparative Law, University of Baltimore School of Law
    42. Oleg Gushchyn, Professor, Military Law Department, Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, Ukraine
    43. Adil Haque, Professor of Law and Judge Jon O. Newman Scholar, Rutgers Law School
    44. Jakub Harasta, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, Masaryk University, Czech Republic
    45. Kevin Jon Heller, Professor of International Law and Security, University of Copenhagen, Professor of Law, Australian National University, Academic Member, Doughty Street Chambers
    46. Stacey Henderson, Lecturer, Adelaide Law School
    47. John Quentin Heywood, Associate Professor/Law Librarian, American University Washington College of Law, & Chair, AU Faculty Senate
    48. Tamás Hoffmann, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Social Sciences Institute for Legal Studies; Associate Professor, Corvinus University of Budapest
    49. Duncan B. Hollis, Laura H. Carnell Professor of Law, Temple University School of Law; Member of the Inter-American Juridical Committee
    50. Rebecca Ingber, Professor of Law, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law
    51. Valentin Jeutner, Associate Professor of Law, Faculty of Law, Lund University
    52. Derek Jinks, A.W. Walker Centennial Chair in Law, University of Texas School of Law
    53. Stian Øby Johansen, Associate professor at the Centre for European Law at the University of Oslo
    54. Kate Jones, Faculty of Law, University of Oxford
    55. Aonghus Kelly, Executive Director, Irish Rule of Law International
    56. Jack Kenny, Research Assistant, ELAC
    57. Shayan Ahmed Khan, Senior Research Associate, Research Society of International Law, Pakistan
    58. Harold Hongju Koh, Sterling Professor of International Law, Yale Law School,  Legal Adviser (2009-13) and Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (1998-2001), US Department of State
    59. Claus Kreß, Professor and Director, Institute of International Peace and Security Law, University of Cologne
    60. Heike Krieger, Professor of International and Public Law, Freie Universität Berlin
    61. Masahiro Kurosaki, Associate Professor of International Law and Director of the Study of Law, Security and Military Operations, National Defense Academy of Japan
    62. O-Gon Kwon, President, Assembly of States Parties, International Criminal Court, former Judge and Vice President, International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (Seoul, Republic of Korea)
    63. Henning Lahmann, Digital Society Institute, ESMT Berlin, Germany
    64. Kobi Leins, Senior Research Fellow in Digital Ethics, Centre for AI and Digital Ethics, University of Melbourne; Non-Resident Fellow of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research
    65. Eliav Lieblich, Senior Lecturer, Buchmann Faculty of Law, Tel Aviv University
    66. Rain Liivoja, Associate Professor, University of Queensland Law School
    67. Marco Longobardo, Lecturer in International Law, University of Westminster
    68. Asaf Lubin, Associate Professor of Law, Indiana University Maurer School of Law; Faculty Associate, Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, Harvard University
    69. Fabrizio Marrella, Full Professor of International Law, University “Ca’ Foscari” Venice, Italy; Professeur invité at the Sorbonne Law School, University Paris I Panthéon Sorbonne
    70. Ralf Michaels, Director, Max Planck Institute for Comparative Law and Private International Law, Hamburg
    71. Tomohiro Mikanagi, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan
    72. Marko Milanovic, Professor of Public International Law, University of Nottingham School of Law
    73. José A. Moreno, Faculty Member, National University of Asunción, Paraguay; Member, Inter-American Juridical Committee
    74. Samuel Moyn, Henry R. Luce Professor of Jurisprudence, Yale University
    75. Natasa Nedeski, Assistant Professor Public International Law, University of Amsterdam
    76. James C. O’Brien, Vice Chair, Albright Stonebridge Group
    77. Mónica Pinto, Professor Emerita, Universidad de Buenos Aires, Facultad de Derecho
    78. Erin Pobjie, Senior Research Fellow, Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law
    79. Anni Pues, Lecturer in International Law, Glasgow Centre for International Law and Security, University of Glasgow
    80. Paul S. Reichler, Partner, Chair of the International Litigation and Arbitration Department, Foley Hoag LLP, Washington, DC
    81. Michael Reisman, Yale Law School
    82. Alix Richard, Public International Lawyer, Port-au-Prince, Haiti; Member of the Inter-American Juridical Committee
    83. Przemysław Roguski, Lecturer in Law, Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland
    84. Gabor Rona, Professor of Practice and Director of the Law and Armed Conflict Project, Cardozo Law School
    85. Helene Ruiz-Fabri, Professor, Director of the Max Planck Institute Luxembourg for Procedural Law
    86. Barrie Sander, Assistant Professor of International Justice, Leiden University
    87. Andrew Sanger, University Lecturer in International Law, University of Cambridge
    88. Michael Schmitt, Professor of International Law at the University of Reading and Francis Lieber Distinguished Scholar at the United States Military Academy (West Point)
    89. Afonso Seixas-Nunes, SJ Visiting Fellow, ELAC
    90. Shannon Raj Singh, Visiting Fellow of Practice, Oxford Program on International Peace and Security, ELAC
    91. Ronald C. Slye, Professor of Law, Seattle University School of Law
    92. Alfred H.A. Soons, Professor emeritus of public international law, Utrecht University School of Law, The Netherlands
    93. David P. Stewart, Professor from Practice, Georgetown University Law Center, Washington DC
    94. Elizabeth Stubbins Bates, Junior Research Fellow in Law, Merton College, Oxford; Early Career Fellow, Bonavero Institute of Human Rights, University of Oxford; Research Fellow, ELAC
    95. Christian J. Tams, Chair of International Law, University of Glasgow; Director, Glasgow Centre of Int‘l Law & Security
    96. Ruti Teitel, Ernst C Stiefel Professor of Comparative Law, New York Law School
    97. Nicholas Tsagourias, Professor of International Law, University of Sheffield, Director of the Sheffield Centre for International and European Law
    98. Tsvetelina van Benthem, Research Associate, ELAC
    99. Liis Vihul, Founder and CEO, Cyber Law International
    100. John Paolo Roberto A. Villasor, Dean and Professor of Law, UNO-Recoletos School of Law, Philippines
    101. Michael Waibel, Professor of International Law, University of Vienna, Austria
    102. Alex Whiting, Professor of Practice, Harvard Law School
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