Limiting Patent Protections for COVID-19 Related Medical Products Will Facilitate Access to Lower-cost Generic Versions of COVID-19 Vaccines

OHCHR

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held an interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity.  It also concluded the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants.

Obiora Chinedu Okafor, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity, said that in spite of the central role that individual States must play, international public health security was both a collective aspiration and a mutual responsibility, thereby highlighting the importance of international cooperation, in particular during times of health emergencies and pandemics, on the basis of mutual respect.  International solidarity was also rooted in positive obligations to cooperate.  International solidarity and human rights must be applied in the context of infectious disease control and the obligation of international cooperation in public health emergencies was imperative and legally binding.  Mr. Okafor added that limiting patent protections for COVID-19 related medical products and services would facilitate access to lower-cost generic versions of COVID-19 vaccines. 

Speakers agreed with the Independent Expert that the COVID-19 pandemic had highlighted the practical limits of international solidarity and cooperation.  Many speakers emphasised that vaccine nationalism was unacceptable and international solidarity must be nurtured to counter this trend, ensuring equal access to vaccines.  The suspension of debt servicing must lead to the cancellation of the debts of countries in the global south so that funds could be directed to fighting the pandemic.  Speakers highlighted in particular that unilateral practices of some countries such as unilateral coercive measures and sanctions were interconnected with the isolationist practices of those countries with regard to public health during the COVID-19 pandemic – all these practices were fundamentally opposed to the principles of international solidarity.

Speaking were China on behalf of a group of countries, Syria on behalf of a group of countries, China on behalf of another group of countries, Cuba, Indonesia, Libya, Sovereign Order of Malta, Bangladesh, Fiji, Iraq, India, Maldives, Algeria, Iran, Venezuela, Egypt, Jordan, Namibia, Malaysia, Sudan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Chad, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Holy See, Russian Federation, Philippines, Tunisia, Morocco, Madagascar, Malawi, Saudi Arabia, Timor-Leste, and Bolivia.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor: China Foundation for Human Rights Development, Associazione Comunita Papa Giovanni XXIII, United Nations Association of China, International Humanist and Ethical Union, Beijing NGO Association for International Exchanges, The International Organisation for LDCs, Global Institute for Water, Environment and Health, Elizka Relief Foundation, China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation, and European Coordination of Associations and Individuals for Freedom of Conscience.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants.

In the discussion, speakers expressed alarm at the fact that the report found that new pushback practices against migrants on land and at sea were widespread, continuous and evolving.  Migration was part of human nature; collective expulsion and refoulement violated the rights of migrants.  Other speakers stated that the abuse of the right to asylum was unacceptable, noting that the report did not afford enough attention to security issues in the context of the unauthorised mass arrival of foreign citizens.  Speakers agreed that States had to ensure that all measures taken were in line with international humanitarian law.  The role of civil society and human rights defenders was commended in providing protection to migrants. 

Felipe González Moráles, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, in concluding remarks, noted that it was important for States to act in protection of migrants – security considerations were legitimate but they could not be used to violate the human rights of migrants.  The Council must closely monitor and follow up on the question of pushbacks, given that it was such a global phenomenon. 

Speaking were Sudan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Mali, El Salvador, Croatia, Chad, Turkey,   

Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Mauritania, Thailand, UN Women, Russian Federation, Philippines, Viet Nam, Hungary, Uganda, Yemen, Tunisia, Iran, Niger, Colombia, Albania, Malawi, Cyprus, and South Sudan.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor: Defensor del Pueblo de España, Greek National Commission for Human Rights, Defence for Children International, Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS) Asociación Civil, Amnesty International, Franciscans International, Friends World Committee for Consultation, World Organisation Against Torture, Conectas Direitos Humanos, RADDHO, Caritas Internationalis, and Associazione Comunita Papa Giovanni XXIII.

At the end of the meeting, Armenia, Greece, Brazil, Algeria, Turkey and Morocco spoke in right of reply.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here.  All meeting summaries can be found here.  Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-seventh regular session can be found here.

The Council will next meet at 10 a.m. on Friday, 25 June to conclude its interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right to education, followed by separate interactive dialogues with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, and with the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants

The interactive dialogue with Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, started on 23 June and a summary can be found here.

Discussion

Speakers expressed alarm at the fact that the report had found that new pushback practices against migrants on land and at sea were widespread, continuous and evolving.  Migration was part of human nature; collective expulsion and refoulement violated the rights of migrants.  How could States collaborate to ensure that the Global Impact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration protected the human rights of migrants?  Overwhelming surges of migrants required States to adapt.  The principle of non-refoulement was absolute – it applied to all persons, including migrants, at all times.  States had a responsibility to protect asylum seekers and must not put them in harm’s way.  Speakers expressed grave concern at the use of force in pushing back and removing migrants from where they attempted to cross or crossed an international border.  Other speakers stated that the abuse of the right to asylum was unacceptable, noting that the report did not afford enough attention to security issues in the context of the unauthorised mass arrival of foreign citizens. 

Speakers noted that the report highlighted the pushback practices on land and at sea and that the COVID-19 pandemic had further introduced challenges to border management.  The protection of the rights of women and children had to be upheld.  Irregular migration was a pressing issue for the international community, and it required more international cooperation and support.  Transit countries outlined their efforts in providing protection to migrants on the move, including temporary protection and addressing their humanitarian needs within the COVID-19 response.  Speakers agreed that States had to ensure that all measures taken were in line with international humanitarian law and the role of civil society and human rights defenders was commended in providing protection to migrants.  The new European Union pact on migration and asylum offered a chance to revise failed policies.  Concern was raised that children were deprived of liberty in many places around the world and were exposed to protection gaps.  Some countries highlighted problems of increased militarisation of borders and stressed that the Council should react.  Despite the adoption of the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration three years ago, the global protection framework had only worsened. 

Concluding Remarks

FELIPE GONZALEZ MORÁLES, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, noted that it was important for States to act in protection of migrants – security considerations were legitimate, but they could not be used to violate the human rights of migrants.  There was no new standard on pushbacks – regrettably, it was an existing, widespread practice throughout the world.  In the context of the pandemic, pushbacks had become more widespread in some States, but more limited in others.  The Council must closely monitor and follow up on the question of pushbacks, given that it was such a global phenomenon. 

Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on Human Rights and International Solidarity 

The Council has before it the report (A/HRC/47/31) of the Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity on international solidarity in aid of the realisation of human rights during and after COVID-19

Presentation of Report

OBIORA CHINEDU OKAFOR, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity, said that, in spite of the central role that individual States must play, international public health security was both a collective aspiration and a mutual responsibility, thereby highlighting the importance of international cooperation, in particular during times of health emergencies and pandemics, on the basis of mutual respect.  International solidarity was also rooted in positive obligations to cooperate.  International solidarity and human rights must be applied in the context of infectious disease control and the obligation of international cooperation in public health emergencies was imperative and legally binding.  Mr. Okafor added that limiting patent protections for COVID-19 related medical products and services would facilitate access to lower-cost generic versions of COVID-19 vaccines. 

Just like for the global AIDS epidemic, compulsory licensing could alleviate insufficient supplies of necessary pharmaceuticals as well as mitigate prohibitively expensive drug prices.  Noting that in April 2020, the Group of 20 had agreed to restructure the bilateral debt of least developed States, freezing repayment obligations to the end of 2020, he stressed that relief or moratoriums on debt service remained central to a human rights-affirming post-pandemic recovery.  There was simply no way of enjoying human rights more fully “over here” while the human rights of the vast majority of the world’s peoples who lived “over there” hung in the balance.  Against this background, he renewed his call for the speedy adoption by the Council of the draft declaration on human rights and international solidarity to further resource global efforts to tackle common problems in solidarity one with each other.

Discussion

Speakers agreed with the Independent Expert that the COVID-19 pandemic had highlighted the practical limits of international solidarity and cooperation.  Some States used the cover of democracy and human rights to conduct military interventions that undermined the sovereignty and territorial integrity of certain countries, resulting in casualties, displacement and economic ruin.  Many speakers emphasised that vaccine nationalism was unacceptable and international solidarity must be nurtured to counter this trend, ensuring equal access to vaccines.  The suspension of debt servicing must lead to the cancellation of the debts of countries in the global south so that funds could be directed to fighting the pandemic.  Speakers highlighted in particular that unilateral practices of some countries such as unilateral coercive measures and sanctions were interconnected with the isolationist practices of those countries with regard to public health during the COVID-19 pandemic – all these practices were fundamentally opposed to the principles of international solidarity.

Speakers welcomed the focus of the report on international solidarity in aid of the realisation of human rights during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.  The challenges that had occurred in the last year demonstrated the grave need for cooperation.  Despite vaccine nationalism, the reality was that there was no other alternative but to collaborate in the joint fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in the equitable distribution of vaccines and medicines, and by doing so to build together a fairer and healthier world.  The international community must remain steadfast in addressing the serious repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic.  It was vital not to underestimate the damage caused to the most vulnerable people in society.  Speakers agreed with the Independent Expert’s recommendation for States and multilateral agencies as well as private partners to continue supporting the various World Health Organization-led initiatives such as the COVAX and the ACT-Accelerator.  Solidarity initiatives made by some States during the pandemic were welcomed.

Interim Remarks

OBIORA CHINEDU OKAFOR, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity, stressed that the threat posed by the pandemic had not disappeared, it was far from it.  The negative consequences for human rights remained as grave as they were last year.  Despite the decline of infections due to massive vaccination of the rich countries, 90 per cent of the world did not live in the richest parts of the world.  The pandemic was upon the world and its consequences for lack of enjoyment of human rights remained as grave.  Cooperation had to be intensified and Mr. Okafor thanked all States that had taken steps to advance international solidarity.  COVAX urgently needed a massive infusion of resources and while the decision of the G-7 to release 1 to 2 billion doses was welcomed, the World Health Organization had said that 12 billion doses were needed, showing how big the gap was.  Vaccines had to be made cheaper and more promptly available.  Vaccine solidarity was a main gap and he hoped that some lessons would be learnt for future pandemics.  The Declaration on International Solidarity was needed now, and this was the time for its adoption.  The Declaration would be a valuable resource for increasing pressure on States to comply with the solidarity principle. 

Discussion

Speakers said that international cooperation was vital in addressing challenges of a socio-economic nature caused by COVID-19, reaffirming their support to the GAVI Alliance.  The report’s conclusions calling on all States and the private sector to provide support to the World Health Organization were welcomed.  Words were empty unless they were followed by deeds – the recovery from COVID-19 was a litmus test of the commitment of Member States to human rights.  Speakers noted that outdated exclusive clubs of countries seeking to control the international agenda were detrimental to international solidarity.  The COVID-19 pandemic was the one common global enemy, and international competition was not productive in this battle: this was science, not politics.  Speakers reminded States that during emergencies they were obliged to ensure that law enforcement actions were consistent with the principles of legality, necessity, proportionality, and accountability. 

Concluding Remarks

OBIORA CHINEDU OKAFOR, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity, said international solidarity was most urgent in the current situation.  An intensification of multilateralism was needed at all levels to promote international solidarity.  To effectively tackle the pandemic, it was important for the Council to integrate what happened in other fora such as the World Health Organization in its work.  The Council could also use its regular work, like the Universal Periodic Review, to put pressure on States to practice international solidarity. 

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/06/conseil-des-droits-de-lhomme-lexpert-independant-sur-la

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