Omicron and other new variants highlight urgent need for action

GENEVA (November 29, 2021) – UN human rights experts * today urged states to act decisively to ensure equal and universal access to COVID-19 vaccines for all, by especially those in low income countries that have been largely excluded from the response world.

“The postponement of the 12th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO) should not be a reason to delay the progress already made: on the contrary, it confirms the urgent need to take collective measures to fight against vaccine inequalities The experts said. The ministerial conference, which was scheduled to be held from November 30, was postponed indefinitely after an outbreak of the particularly transmissible strain of COVID-19 Omicron led several governments to impose travel restrictions.

“States have a collective responsibility to use all available means to facilitate faster and more equal access to vaccines around the world,” they said. This includes the introduction of a temporary waiver of relevant intellectual property rights under the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement) to ensure that patent protection on vaccines does not become an obstacle to the effective enjoyment of the right to health.

“States also have an individual responsibility to ensure the equal distribution of vaccines within and between countries by avoiding hoarding and increasing distribution. In addition, companies have an independent responsibility to ensure that their actions do not have negative impacts on human rights, ”said Surya Deva, chair of the Working Group on Business and Human Rights. the man.

Addressing the health crisis fairly must take priority over maximizing profits by companies and hoarding vaccines by high-income countries, the experts said.

“Everyone should have access to a vaccine against COVID-19 that is safe, effective and rapid,” said independent experts appointed by the Human Rights Council in the context of ongoing negotiations at the WTO. “The priority should be to ensure that everyone, everywhere, can enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and the highest possible standard of health. “

Of the nearly 8 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered worldwide to date, only 5.5% have gone to low-income countries, according to Our World in Data, a scientific publication that tracks data related to the pandemic.

On October 14, experts sent 44 letters to the WTO, G7 and G20 states, the European Union and pharmaceutical companies to demand equal and universal access to vaccines. So far, only six responses have been received.

“We are deeply concerned that those who have suffered severely – for example, people living in poverty and other marginalized people without access to social protection, water, essential health services or information on the pandemic – are those who are being left behind when it comes to the global immunization campaign, ”said Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights.

“Any other approach that disregards human rights will be counterproductive in our interconnected world and will increase negative impacts and risks, including the emergence of new variants, such as Omicron, which can make existing vaccines less effective. . No one is safe until we are all safe, ”the experts concluded.


* Connoisseurs: Mr. Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; Mr. Surya Deva (President), Ms. Elzbieta Karska (Vice-president), Ms. Fernanda Hopenhaym, Mr. Githu Muigai, and Ms. Anita Ramasastry, Working Group on the Question of Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and Other Businesses; Ms. Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; Mr. Saad Alfarargi, Special Rapporteur on the right to development; Mr. Obiora C. Okafor, Independent expert on human rights and international solidarity; and Mr. Livingstone Sewanyana, Independent expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order.


The following 27 experts, in 23 mandates, approved this press release:

  1. Mr. Michael Fakhri, Special Rapporteur on the right to food
  2. Mr. Pedro Arrojo Agudo, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to drinking water and sanitation
  3. Ms. Koumba Boly Barry, Special Rapporteur on the right to education
  4. Ms. Alexandra Xanthaki, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights
  5. Mr. David R. Boyd, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment
  6. Mr. Marcos Orellana, Special Rapporteur on toxic substances and human rights
  7. Ms. Attiya Waris, Independent expert on debt, other international financial obligations and human rights
  8. Mr. Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions
  9. Mr. Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association
  10. Mr. Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
  11. Ms. Elina Steinerte (Chairman-Rapporteur), Ms. Miriam Estrada-Castillo (Vice-president), Ms. Leigh Toomey, Mr. Mumba Malila and Ms. Priya Gopalan, Working Group on Arbitrary Detention
  12. Ms. Mama Fatima Singhateh, Special Rapporteur on the sale of children and sexual exploitation
  13. Ms. E. Tendayi Achiume, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance
  14. Ms. Siobhán Mullally, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children
  15. Ms. Reem Alsalem, Special Rapporteur on violence against women
  16. Ms. Muluka Anne Miti-Drummond, Independent expert on the enjoyment of human rights by people with albinism
  17. Ms. Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons
  18. Mr. Alioune Tine, Independent expert on the human rights situation in Mali
  19. Ms. Isha Dyfan, Independent expert on Somalia
  20. Mr. Vitit Muntarbhorn, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia
  21. Mr. Yao Agbetse, Independent expert for the human rights situation in the Central African Republic
  22. Mr. Javaid Rehman, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran
  23. Mrs Anaïs Marin, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus

The experts are part of what is called the special procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest group of independent experts in the United Nations human rights system, is the general name for the Council’s independent investigative and monitoring mechanisms that deal with either country-specific situations or thematic issues in all regions of the world. Special procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For inquiries and media inquiries, please contact: Ms. Juana Sotomayor (+41 22 928 9814, +41 78 77 60 371 / [email protected]) and Ms. Kinga Dery (+41 76 686 10 72 / [email protected]).

For media inquiries regarding other independent United Nations experts, please contact: Jeremy Laurence (+ 41 22 917 7578 / [email protected]).

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