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Global North States’ persistent refusal to waive COVID-19 vaccine intellectual property rights violated non-discrimination guarantee, UN Committee warns

GENEVA, Switzerland – The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) yesterday called on State parties in the global North, in particular Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America, to forgo intellectual property rights on COVID-19 pandemic protections, vaccines, treatments, or healthcare technologies to fully respect human rights.

In a decision adopted yesterday under its early warning and urgent action procedures, the Committee expressed its concern that COVID-19 remains a serious public health issue with devastating negative impacts that are falling disproportionately on individuals and groups vulnerable to racial discrimination, in particular people of African or Asian descent, ethnic minorities, Roma communities and Indigenous Peoples.

According to the latest WHO data, about 32 percent of the global population has received at least one booster or additional dose of vaccine. However, in developing countries such as Gabon, Papua New Guinea, Burundi and Madagascar, the proportion is less than 1 percent.

“The current challenges of inequality can be significantly mitigated by sharing access to intellectual property rights to life-preserving patents to vaccines, treatments and related technologies, which are currently reserved by a few countries in the global North,” the Committee said.

The Committee stressed that the persistent refusal to agree to a waiver of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement) raises concerns regarding the obligations of State parties under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the obligation to guarantee non-discrimination.

It urged State parties to prioritize human rights concerns and to incorporate strict human rights guarantees, including a mechanism that commits governments to suspend intellectual property rights in a health crisis, in the draft pandemic prevention, preparedness and response accord currently under negotiation at the World Health Organisation. It called upon “States parties in the global North to provide resources to enable poorer States to satisfy the core medical capacities that they are now expected to have in place under the International Health Regulations and to enable vaccines, relevant medicines and other necessary equipment and supplies to be available to all.”

CERD’s early warning and urgent action procedures, under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, primarily aim to consider situations that might escalate into conflicts in order to take appropriate preventive actions to avoid full-scale violations of human rights.

This decision is endorsed by the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance,  Ashwini K.P.

The full decision is available online.



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