Member States of the WTO who block or otherwise impede the adoption of a waiver of intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines and other therapeutics are breaching their legal obligations to realize the rights to health, equality, life and science, the ICJ said today in an expert legal opinion published with the endorsement of over 85 jurists from across the world.
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“International law requires that States stop impeding the TRIPS waiver and instead ensure global health solidarity in access to COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics”, said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Secretary General, in Geneva.
On 2 October 2020 South Africa and India submitted a proposal to the WTO Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), proposing a temporary waiver of the application of certain provisions of the TRIPS Agreement to allow for all States to ensure access to the full range of diagnostics, medications, vaccines, therapeutics, and other relevant health products required for the containment, prevention, and mitigation of COVID-19.
This proposal has received the support of more than 100 States but continues to be opposed actively or otherwise obstructed by other States, including UK, Norway, Switzerland, Germany and the European Union. A number of UN Treaty Bodies and Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council have called upon States to desist from impeding the waiver to ensure that all States can realize their human rights obligations.
The expert legal opinion, which has already been endorsed by more than 85 prominent legal experts, sets out States’ human rights obligations in detail, concluding that as the WTO meets later this month it is incumbent on all States to desist from blocking the TRIPs waiver. These obligations are set out in several international treaties to which the significant majority of WTO member States are bound. Some 87% of WTO member States bear concurrent treaty obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and 88% of WTO member States bear concurrent treaty obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
“As the opinion published today decisively details, States must cooperate to ensure the full realization of all human rights including in terms of their immediate obligations to ensure comprehensive access to COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics”, said Zarifi.
“What’s more there is ample precedent with this WTO for the issuing of such a waiver in order to protect public health, in the public interest”.
The opinion, which was elaborated through a collaborative effort with a wide range of experts and civil society organizations from around the world, remains open for further sign-on.
Timothy Fish Hodgson, Legal Adviser on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, timothy.hodgson(a)icj.org
Tanveer Jeewa, Legal and Communications Officer, tanveer.jeewa(a)icj.org
Sam Zarifi, ICJ Secretary General, sam.zarifi(a)icj.org
There is acute inequality in access to COVID-19 vaccines across and within States. The World Health Organization (WHO) has repeatedly decried the fact that the African continent accounts for a mere 2% of global vaccinations against COVID-19, despite Africa constituting approximately 17.5% of the world’s population. Only 15 out of 54 African nations had met the WHO’s target to vaccinate 10% of each country’s population by the end of September 2021. The UN Secretary General has described this situation as ‘a moral indictment of the state of our world’ and an ‘obscenity’.
On 14 October 2021, six independent UN experts sent a total of 44 letters to G7 and G20 States, the European Union, and the World Trade Organization, as well as pharmaceutical companies calling “for urgent collective action to achieve equal and universal access to COVID-19 vaccines”, including through the issue of a TRIPS waiver.
The International Commission of Jurists has consistently supported the TRIPs waiver, including at the UN Human Rights Council and the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The ICJ’s research has documented the far-reaching and devastating impact of the failure to adopt such a waiver in a range of contexts including Southern Africa, Thailand, Nepal, Palestine, and Colombia.NewsPublications