Baker Contributes to Complaint Citing International Human Rights Law Violations in COVID Vaccine and Medicines Distribution


05.09.22 — Professor Brook Baker ’76 is among the members of an international coalition of human rights groups, public health experts and civil society organizations that submitted inputs and submitted a petition to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) arguing that Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US) are in violation of international human rights law by failing to intervene on inequitable and racially discriminatory rollout of COVID vaccines and other healthcare technologies. The complaint urged CERD to take action in advance of the upcoming World Trade Organization’s Ministerial Conference, where it is anticipated that states will consider the proposal to waive intellectual property barriers that limit COVD vaccine distribution.

“Despite clear human rights mandates that everyone everywhere have equal access to medicines and to the benefits of scientific progress and its applications, the Global South continues to experience what might best be called medical apartheid even in the middle of a global pandemic where medical tools were quickly discovered but then sold preferentially to higher income countries at inflated prices by biopharmaceutical companies who gave no quarter in safeguarding their intellectual property monopolies,” said Baker, also a senior policy analyst for Health GAP (Global Access Project),

In a historic statement released this week in response to the complaint, CERD starkly warned that “only 15.21% of the population of low-income countries has received even one vaccine dose, creating a pattern of unequal distribution within and between countries that replicates slavery and colonial-era racial hierarchies” and noted that states are obligated to eliminate all forms of racial inequities, be they by purpose or effect. CERD stressed “the insufficient supply of vaccines due to unequal global distribution necessitates urgent measures in relation to the intellectual property regime,” which restricts the supply of COVID-19 healthcare technologies through a web of patents, trade secrets and other monopoly protections.

CERD called specifically on Germany, Switzerland, the UK and the US to support “the proposal of a comprehensive temporary waiver on the provisions of the [Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights] (TRIPS) Agreement,” among other measures to mitigate the disparate impact of the pandemic. The Committee also held the named states to account for failing “to mandate COVID-19 healthcare technology transfers from nationally based pharmaceutical companies,” recalling their obligation “to ensure equal access to lifesaving healthcare services, including testing, vaccines and medical treatments.”

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