On 15 July 2021, the ICJ and the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) hosted a workshop on strategic litigation’s potential for ensuring equitable COVID-19 vaccines access in Southern Africa.
At the workshop, human rights lawyers from different Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries highlighted the failures of Southern African national governments to ensure timely, adequate, effective and equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in the sub-region, as documented in the May 2021 ICJ’s report: “The Unvaccinated: Equality not Charity in Southern Africa”.
Justice Zione Ntaba, of the High Court of Malawi, delivered a key-note speech, followed by an open discussion among the workshop’s participants. In her speech, Justice Ntaba emphasized the Court’s role in ensuring equitable access to vaccines, citing jurisprudence emanating from a number of countries, including Colombia and India:
“As thousands continue to die and many millions more continue to feel the dire consequences of the pandemic, we must not overlook the injustices that have occurred and continue to force many Southern African countries to remain among the “unvaccinated”. Both courts and civil society have a vital role to play if we are to ensure equitable COVID-19 vaccine access for all our people.”
Justice Ntaba’s full remarks are available here.
The workshop builds on the work that the ICJ continues to undertake alongside Oxfam and Amnesty International to ensure equitable vaccine access within the SADC sub-region. For example, Amnesty International, Oxfam and the ICJ have recently written to SADC’s incoming Chair, Dr Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera, the President of the Republic of Malawi calling on the SADC to adopt a resolution at the upcoming SADC Summit in August 2021 requiring Member States to coordinate their efforts to procure and distribute COVID-19 vaccines in a human rights compliant manner.
“The dire state of COVID-19 vaccine access in Southern Africa continues to reflect poorly on the SADC and its members States. The SADC must fulfil its human rights mandate and take moral leadership in advocating for and ensuring equitable COVID-19 vaccine access for all in the region without discrimination. At this point, it makes sense that human rights lawyers from throughout Southern Africa are questioning whether litigation may be necessary, given the apparent lack of commitment from our governments in procuring and distributing COVID-19 vaccines,” said Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, ICJ Africa Director.
Timothy Fish Hodgson, Legal Adviser on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, timothy.hodgson(a)icj.org
Tanveer Jeewa, Legal and Communications Officer (Africa Regional Programme), e: tanveer.jeewa(a)icj.org
In May 2021, the ICJ published a briefing paper entitled, “The Unvaccinated: Equality not Charity in Southern Africa”, which documented SADC and its Member States’ collective failure to ensure access to COVID-19 vaccines despite more than 63,000 lives lost to the virus and countless others’ lives and livelihoods affected in the region.
For more information on the ICJ’s vaccine access work in the SADC, below are our previous webinars: