European Union and India: Leaders should use meeting to demonstrate commitment to defending rights and combating Covid-19 pandemic

As the European Union and India prepare for a meeting of their leaders on 8 May they should jointly commit to a strategy for protecting all people in India from the devastating second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic now ravaging the country, said the ICJ today.

India has faced unprecedented impact from the pandemic since 15 April, with some 400,000 daily cases and a daily death toll now officially around 4,000 and likely even higher. India’s healthcare system and infrastructure has strained to meet the needs of people for oxygen, medicines, testing, hospital beds, ambulances, and doctors. India, a vaccine-production powerhouse globally, has only vaccinated just over two percent of its population and is now facing severe shortage of vaccines.

“The scenes emerging from India are horrifying but unfortunately not unexpected. This global pandemic demands global cooperation and national competence and this is the moment for the EU and India to demonstrate cooperation and competence. The Indian government was lecturing the world about its performance instead of preparing for the predictable resurgence of the pandemic, and now it is busy silencing people demanding help or criticizing the government’s poor performance,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Secretary-General.

The ICJ added that the performance of the EU and its Member States in international cooperation to tackle COVID globally left much to be desired, particularly as they have resisted supporting a loosening of intellectual property restrictions that have hampered efforts at wider vaccine production and distribution.

“At the same time, the proposal by India and South Africa for removing global patent restrictions for vaccine protection was rejected by some of the wealthiest governments, including the EU, who seem more focused on economic interests rather than global responses to a global pandemic,” said Zarifi.

The EU has already agreed to assistance to India through its Civil Protection Mechanism and individual EU countries have delivered some needed supplies and vaccines.

“The EU and Member States should increase aid efforts to India and immediately reverse their opposition to waiving intellectual property restrictions to vaccine production under the World Trade Organization TRIPS agreement, especially now that the United States has indicated it would end its obstructionism. The EU should not be on the wrong side of history as the last obstacle to global vaccine production,” Zarifi said.

The ICJ also urged the EU to remind the Indian government of its obligations under international law and guarantees of the Indian Constitution to protect the rights of people in India to life and to health.

“The summit between the European Union and India brings together powerful States who should use this opportunity to align their actions at the global, regional, and national levels to protect people from the pandemic,” said Zarifi. “International law provides the framework for cooperation and both the EU and India must do a better job of complying with their international legal obligations.”

Additional Information

India’s judiciary has at various levels has severely criticized the Indian Central and State governments and issued orders for urgent remedial responses.

In particular, the Indian Supreme Court has ordered the central government to:

  • ensure adequate supply of oxygen through provision of emergency buffer stock by the central government in collaboration with state governments;
  • develop a national policy on admission to hospitals and in the interim ensure that no patient is denied access to hospitals or essential drugs; and
  • recognize vaccines as a “valuable public good”.

The Supreme Court has also questioned the constitutionality of India’s vaccine policy due to differential pricing for state governments, the central government and private hospitals, stating that the government needs to revisit the policy so that it “withstands the scrutiny of Articles 14[right to equality] and Article 21[right to life] of the Constitution”.

Additionally, the Supreme Court has suggested that the Central Government take steps to ensure access to essential drugs as well as to enhance its healthcare workforce as needed, in line with India’s constitution and its international legal obligations.

As party to the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, India is required to take all necessary measures to ensure the “prevention, treatment and control of epidemic” and to create conditions “which would assure to all medical service and medical attention in the event of sickness”. Further, these obligations, as stressed by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights entail removing any discrimination in vaccine access; guaranteeing affordability and economic accessibility of vaccines for all people; prioritizing physical accessibility to vaccines, especially for marginalized groups and people living in remote areas; and guaranteeing access to relevant health information.

Additional Reading

EU: prioritize rights at India Summit, provide essential medical supplies, urge India to free rights defenders, address abuses – ICJ Press Release, 3 May 2021

Indian Government Fails to Protect Right to Life and Health in Second Wave of COVID-19 Pandemic – ICJ Press Release, 29 April 2021


Osama Motiwala, ICJ Asia-Pacific Communications Officer, t: +66-62-702-6369; e: osama.motiwala(a)

NewsPress releases