Human rights lawyers have threatened the UK, German, Norwegian and Canadian governments with legal action in separate letters on Thursday, November 26, “for obstructing global efforts to increase access to COVID-19 vaccines and other healthcare technologies.”
The state delegates from around the world are scheduled to meet to discuss and negotiate “the future rules governing the supply of COVID-19 vaccines and other healthcare technologies at next week’s Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).”
The move by human rights lawyers comes as a part of a coordinated legal effort, calling on “recalcitrant” governments “to support a proposed waiver of COVID-related intellectual property monopolies at the WTO.”
A group of human rights advocates— the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (Germany), Professor Andenæs QC at the University of Oslo (Norway), and a coalition of organisations in Canada — on Thursday announced that prospective domestic lawsuits would be developed in each country if their governments “fail to support the waiver of intellectual property over COVID healthcare technologies proposed by South Africa and India at the WTO last year in response to the pandemic.”
A letter to Canada’s Minister of International Trade (traduction) signed by human rights experts and various organisations warned that if the country fails to support the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement) waiver, the decision could be challenged in domestic courts as the government would have failed in implementing Canada’s human rights obligations in good faith.
“As you know, more than 100 WTO Members have expressed support for the TRIPS waiver, and more than 60 WTO Members have agreed to co-sponsor the proposal. The United States has supported the waiver as it applies to SARS-CoV-2 vaccines. However, Canada has to date declined to support the waiver proposal and, along with a few other WTO members, has prevented its adoption by consensus,” the letter stated.
In a similar letter filed in Germany on behalf of Ugandan citizens, Miriam Saage-Maab of the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights said, “It is important that the German government lives up to its extraterritorial human rights obligations and does everything within its power to enable equitable access to the most effective COVID19 vaccines. Germany can no longer defend a position that enforces vaccine apartheid and which unnecessarily prolongs the pandemic situation worldwide.”
Germany has been supporting intellectual property monopolies despite a current surge in COVID cases in the country. Norway is another country that has failed to support the waiver. Norwegian Ambassador Dagfinn Sørli currently chairs the WTO TRIPS Council.
In a letter to the Norwegian government, Professor Mads Andenæs QC at the University of Oslo said, “Court action against the Norwegian government is to commence, challenging the inadequate responses by the government to comply with its obligations under international and European human rights law and the Norwegian constitution.”
Meantime, Global Justice Now and Just Fair, in a letter of concern to the UK government, held that the government’s failure to support the waiver “contravenes international human rights law.”
“Throughout this pandemic, the UK government has put the interests of big pharmaceutical businesses ahead of the need to save lives around the world and defeat this pandemic. The epitome of this approach is that they have effectively blocked, repeatedly, the one measure the vast majority of the world has demanded – the waiver of intellectual property rules at the WTO. We hope our action today will send a clear message: they need to stop blocking action at the WTO,” the letter said.
These domestic efforts form part of a broader set of legal strategies being pursued before multiple mechanisms entrusted with the enforcement of human rights.