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Family members mourn a loved one who died of Covid-19

Relatives of Neide Rodrigues, 71, who died of Covid-19 mourn at the Caju cemetery on May 8, 2020 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo: Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

Human Rights Coalition Petitions UN to Probe Discriminatory Vaccine Hoarding by Rich Nations

The accused nations have rejected global solidarity and instead chosen "the service of profit and the corporate capture of power," according to a new appeal.

Andrea Germanos

A global coalition is accusing nations including the U.S. and U.K. of violating international human rights law through actions contributing to a discriminatory Covid-19 vaccine rollout and has filed an appeal at the United Nations to ensure human lives have priority over corporations' intellectual property protections.

"Governments must fulfill their international obligations and help prioritize people over profits by ensuring vaccine equity for all."

"Our evidence," said Meena Jagannath, coordinator of the Global Network of Movement Lawyers at Movement Law Lab, "points to specific actions by the named states in perpetuating structural divisions between the Global North and the Global South that are rooted in historical colonialism, all in the service of profit and the corporate capture of power. This contravenes their legal obligations under international covenants and agreements they've ratified."

The groups' appeal to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) comes just ahead of that body's three-week meeting beginning Nov. 15. The upcoming gathering will overlap with the World Trade Organization's (WTO) November 30 ministerial meeting at which social justice campaigners say members must finally seize a still-stalled proposal to waive intellectual property (IP) barriers on Covid-19 vaccines and technologies.

That proposed TRIPS waiver is at the center of the new U.N. appeal, which targets the U.S, U.K, Germany, Norway, and Switzerland and includes accusations of vaccine hoarding. "The top 10 high-income countries will have hoarded 870 million excess doses of vaccines by the end of 2021," according to the document, which accuses the countries of violating the International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Unlike the other named countries, the U.S. has backed a waiver, but just for vaccines, not related technologies. Furthermore, the appeal says, the U.S. has "failed to use all its available tools, including activating its Defense Production Act, to mandate Covid-19 healthcare technology transfers from nationally-based pharmaceutical companies."

The document highlights the "stark" contrast in global Covid-19 vaccine availability and cites as evidence recent U.N. data showing that high-income countries have administered 61 times more doses per inhabitant than low-income countries and that a mere 3% of Africans have been vaccinated.

In their filing, the petitioners—including Oxfam International, Buenos Aires-based Center for Legal and Social Studies, and African Alliance—single out four acts or omissions as contributing to the human rights violations:

  • Domination of the market for Covid-19 healthcare technologies, including vaccine hoarding;
  • Omission in engaging with, persuading, compelling, and/or failing to implement the waiver of IP rights and enforcement over critical Covid-19 healthcare technologies of corporations headquartered in their jurisdictions; 
  • Failure to act in a spirit of global solidarity to ease the structural discrimination traceable to colonialism and imperialism in the manufacture, availability, and distribution of vaccines, therapeutics, and other Covid-19 healthcare technologies; and
  • Inadequate attention and failure to develop policies to measure and address the discriminatory patterns of availability and take-up of vaccines within their own countries, including racial and other intersecting discriminations as to gender, sexual orientation, disability, migration status, or language preference.

Each of those points, the petition states, "contributes to the construction of systems and mindsets that can cause irreparable and long-term damage that go beyond the fight against racial discrimination, to impacting global solidarity, the urgent need to act globally to solve global problems such as climate change, and to foster a spirit of collaboration in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (not least the Leave No One Behind Principle) to which each of the State Parties has contributed much."

The groups are asking for CERD to demand the accused countries support the proposed TRIPS waiver covering Covid vaccines, tests, and treatment, and to mandate the transfer of technology and knowledge to global manufacturers to urgently ramp up production of needed tools to reign in the pandemic and save lives.

“Big Pharma has prioritized excessive profits over protecting people’s health for too long," Anele Yawa, general secretary of the Treatment Action Campaign and a member of the People's Vaccine Alliance, said in a Wednesday statement.

Pharmaceutical companies, Yawa continued, are often "aided and abetted by governments in the Global North through their inaction or opposition to a more just system," such as has been witnessed "in many fights for access to affordable medicines, from the fight for HIV medicines in the early 2000s and more recently in our fight to Fix the Patent Laws to ensure more affordable medicines for cancer, TB, mental health, and beyond."

"Yet again now with Covid-19, we are seeing Big Pharma greed being prioritized over people's lives all over the world," he continued. "Governments must fulfill their international obligations and help prioritize people over profits by ensuring vaccine equity for all, irrespective of where you were born, poverty, gender or immigration status."

The appeal came a day after the International Commission of Jurists published a legal opinion arguing that states obstructing TRIPS waiver negotiations are running afoul of "their treaty obligations under international human rights law in violation of the rights to health, life, equality, and science."


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