Human Rights Organizations urge WHO to strengthen human rights content of proposed Pandemic Treaty

Today, the International Commission of Jurists, Amnesty International, the Global Initiative for Economic and Social Rights and Human Rights Watch published a joint public statement calling for a strengthening of human rights elements in the World Health Organization (WHO) Intergovernmental Negotiating Body’s Zero Draft of a Pandemic Treaty. The organizations are concerned that without such revisions, the Treaty aimed at addressing a compelling public health and human rights challenge, will not be fit for purpose in the protection human rights.

The Zero Draft fails to adequately incorporate: participation and accountability; the right to health and the social determinants of health; the right to scientific progress and its proper relationship with intellectual property rights; equality and non-discrimination; human rights in responses to public health emergencies; international assistance and cooperation; health and essential workers; and human rights and the role of corporate actors.

“While it is welcome that the Zero Draft includes a specific provision on human rights, that provision alone is insufficient,” said Tim Fish Hodgson, ICJ’s Legal Adviser on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

“Perhaps of even more concern is the tendency of negotiating States to disregard a plethora of inputs from civil society, and their failure to properly grasp the nature and extent of human rights obligations engaged in pandemics. There is a critical need to mainstream human rights throughout the Treaty,” he added.

The statement  reinforces a similar call by the Civil Society Alliance on Human Rights in the Pandemic Treaty (the “Alliance”) in its 10 Human Rights Principles for a Pandemic Treaty published in April 2022 and detailed commentary published by the Alliance on the Zero Draft.

“It is up to Member States of the WHO to ensure that the Pandemic Treaty, given the largescale, and well-documented violations of human rights during the COVID-19 pandemic, complies with all applicable human rights law and standards. This should be an absolute priority in the drafting process,” said  Fish Hodgson. “Unfortunately, this does not appear to be the case at present”, he concluded.

In addition to ongoing efforts to ensure that the Pandemic Treaty is consistent with human rights, the ICJ has, over the last two years, been collaborating with the Global Health Law Consortium and experts on health and human rights to develop “Expert Principles on Human Rights in Public Health Emergencies”. The final workshop in the development of these Principles was hosted by the Brocher Foundation on 17-18 January 2023, and the Principles are in the process of finalization.

More information

[Statement] ICJ, AI, GI-ESCR and HRW’s full statement is available here.

[Principles] the Alliance’s “10 Human Rights Principles for a Pandemic Treaty” is available here.

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