New principles offer guidance on human rights during health emergencies
From left to right: Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, Executive Director, Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; Saman Zia-Zarifi, Executive Director, Physicians for Human Rights; and Viviana Muñoz Tellez, Coordinator, Health, Intellectual Property and Biodiversity Program, South Center
As the world continues to learn lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic, a new set of principles to guide the future of human rights in global medical emergencies were released and discussed at an event on Tuesday of the 76th World Health Assembly (WHA).
The event, titled “Beyond Panic & Neglect: Building a Human Rights Framework for Public Health Emergency Prevention, Preparedness, and Response,” examined a new set of principles and guidelines on human rights and emergencies from public health, which were developed through three year-long partnerships between the Global Health Law Consortium (GHLC) and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ.)
Overarching human rights principles and obligations fall into eight categories:
1 – The universal enjoyment of human rights
2 – International solidarity
3 – Rule of law
4 – Equality and non-discrimination
5 – Human rights obligations related to non-state actors
6 – Transparency and access to information
7 – Meaningful and effective participation
8 – Accountability and access to justice for people harmed by human rights violations and abuses
Principles bring together lessons from COVID and pandemics, previous outbreaks
The principles, formulated by 150 people from other health and human rights organizations and WHO officials, draw on lessons from past epidemics and pandemics, including cholera, dengue, l ‘Ebola, HIV and zika. In addition, the experts examined situations where an inadequate response to effective public health policies and human rights obligations led to devastating results.
“What was needed was a contemporary treatment that also took into account what needed to be done to ensure a broader rights-based approach to public health emergencies, including respect for the right to health and related rights. These new principles, we believe, represent a breakthrough in ongoing efforts to ensure that human rights are protected and respected in times of crisis. Ian Seiderman, legal and policy director at the ICJ, told those gathered.
“This event here marks our first public dialogue on the new principles and guidelines and their purpose, focusing on the role of international human rights law in guiding approaches to public health emergencies.”
The principles bring together a comprehensive scope of the universal enjoyment of human rights, including equality and non-discrimination, transparency and access to information and accountability and access to justice for people harmed by human rights abuses or violations.
The principles coincide with the pandemic treaty From left to right: Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, Executive Director, Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; Saman Zia-Zarifi, Executive Director, Physicians for Human Rights; Viviana Muñoz Tellez, Coordinator, Health, Intellectual Property and Biodiversity Program, South Center; and moderator Gian Luca Burci, Adjunct Professor, International Law, University Institute of Geneva
The publication of the principles coincided with the publication of a new “Zero+” draft of the proposed World Health Organization (WHO) pandemic agreement which is currently being negotiated by member states.
“We have seen many governments go from complacency and neglect to rapid action, often in panic mode to respond to a public health threat that was spreading out of control,” said Roojin Habibi, co-founding member of the Global Health Law Consortium, which led the development of the principles. “Around the world, we have seen countries deploy various measures, from mask mandates to lockdowns to quarantines and isolation in response to this public health threat.
“The international community must learn to overcome the cycles of panic and neglect, which leave human rights on the margins of decision-making and policy-making. The principles developed through a consensual and deliberative process among 30 of the world’s foremost thinkers in global health and human rights law provide an authoritative interpretation of international law to help guide this learning.
The pandemic treaty drafted by the WHO states that “all lives are of equal value, and therefore equity should be a principle, indicator and outcome of pandemic prevention, preparedness and response. the pandemic”, and it was a point underlined by Dr. Viviana Munoz Tellez of the South Centre, a Geneva-based intergovernmental organization that helps developing countries promote their common interests on the international stage, who raised the question of the inequality of vaccines.
“We could have avoided, at a minimum, about a million and a half deaths,” Tellez said. “The idea was that when we have vaccine doses, we will distribute at least 20% proportionally and highlight the most vulnerable populations who must come first. But, unfortunately, this did not happen, mainly because the richer countries had advanced marketing commitments.
“We had competition rather than cooperation. It was one of the big problems. »
The role of the private health sector
The private health sector has also come under intense scrutiny since the pandemic. However, one aspect addressed by the principles observes that the state must regulate and control private actors. The principles themselves do not impose any obligations directly on distant non-state actors. Instead, they state that in all pandemic prevention, response and recovery measures, states have a responsibility to ensure that non-state actors do not violate any human rights laws. rights and should regulate and monitor “non-state actors engaged to prevent them from interfering with the enjoyment of human rights and to provide redress and accountability”.
Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, Executive Director of Global Initiative For Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, said of private actors that “something that started happening before the pandemic is the privatization, commercialization and financialization of public services such as health care, water, sanitation and education. Private actors can be involved in health care in many ways.
“We must act now. We must ensure that everyone has access to a resilient, affordable or free universal health system for those who need it. And that is included in the principles.
The hope, the presenters said, is that the COVID-19 pandemic will lead to changes in legislation that will help the world prepare for and deal with any future health emergencies.
“We have to use these principles to put in place laws, rules and regulations to say that the next time this happens, we have to think about how we are going to solve this problem,” said Saman Zia-Zarifi, executive director of Physicians For Human Rights told the panel. “We may not give money to companies to support their workers who cannot go to the office, but we will keep open the informal sector where the majority of people in most countries live and work.
The new principles allow actors to play their role in the change.
“These principles can act as a sort of North Star for everyone,” Zia-Zarifi said. “They establish clear directions of movement. They do not tell governments what to do but give them a direction of movement and a way of thinking.
The University Institute of Geneva, the Global Health Center and the Geneva International Global Health Platform, the International Commission of Jurists, the Global Health Law Consortium, the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Physicians for Human Rights organized the panel.
Image credits: Screenshot.
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