The ICJ, in a letter to the Chairperson of the African Union, recommended that the African Union acknowledge that COVID-19 vaccines are a “public good” and all States must ensure access to these vaccines in order to realize the human rights of their inhabitants.
The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, to which most AU Member States are Party, provides that “every individual shall have the right to enjoy the best attainable state of physical and mental health” (Art 16(1)). The Charter also places an obligation on the States Parties to take all “necessary measures to protect the health of their people and to ensure that they receive medical attention when they are sick” (Art 16(2)).
This obligation must be understood consistently with the equivalent Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights (ICESCR), to which most AU Member States are also Party. That provision protects the right to the “highest attainable standard of physical and mental health”, and requires States to take all necessary measures to realize this right including to ensure “the prevention, treatment and control of epidemic, endemic, occupational and other diseases” (Art 12(1)(c)). Vaccines, for some such diseases including COVID-19, are necessarily an integral part of prevention, treatment and control.
“It is essential for the process of vaccine procurement and allocation to be in line with international human rights standards. The African continent and its people cannot afford to be left behind, and the best way to ensure that does not happen is to move forward and prioritize each individuals right to health and corresponding human rights.” –
Justice Sanji Monageng, ICJ Commissioner, Botswana
Therefore, under these treaties and other internationally binding human rights law, it is clear access to certain vaccines is necessary to fulfill a human right, must not be seen as a privilege. Vaccines are a public good and should be treated as such by States. This understanding was affirmed by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) in December in a statement on universal and equitable access to vaccines. CESCR stressed that: “every person has a right to have access to a vaccine for COVID-19 that is safe, effective and based on the application of the best scientific developments”. It further implored States to “give maximum priority to the provision of vaccines for COVID-19 to all persons”.
Recommendations of the International Commission of Jurists
The AU will be expected by the constituents of its Members to fulfil its proper leadership function in terms its Constitutive Act an ensure the promotion and protection of human rights in Africa. To this end, the ICJ calls upon the AU to adopt resolutions:
- Calling on all member States to ensure that their COVID-19 responses, including vaccine acquisition and distribution, comply with international human rights law and standards including those particularly relating to the rights to health and to duty ensure this right is realized through international cooperation.
- Calling on all member States to endorse and fully participate in the WHO’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool.
- Calling on all member States to openly support the approval and implementation of a waiver of intellectual property rights in terms of the TRIPS agreement in order to ensure equitable and affordable access of COVID-19 vaccines and treatment for all.
- Calling on all member States to urgently publish public, comprehensive vaccine rollout plans and transparently provide clear and full health-related information to their populations.
- Calling on all participants in COVAX to endorse and fully participate in the WHO’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool.
- Calling on the WTO to respond expeditiously and favourably to the proposal communicated by India and South Africa for waiver of IP protection for vaccines.
To read the full submission, click here.
Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, ICJ Africa Director Kaajal.Keogh(a)icj.org +27 84 5148039
Tanveer Jeewa, Media and Legal Consultant Tanveer.Jeewa(a)icj.orgAdvocacyWeb stories