UN: ARTICLE 19 comments on WHO Pandemic Convention

UN: ARTICLE 19 comments on WHO Pandemic Convention - Transparency

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As the World Health Organization (WHO) continues finalising a new global agreement, the so-called WHO Pandemic Convention, ARTICLE 19 is concerned about several aspects of the proposed draft. In particular, we are concerned that the drafters fail to recognise the importance of the right to freedom of expression and information in the context of public health protection. 

In 2021, the WHO established an Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB) to draft and negotiate a new ‘pandemic convention’ focusing on pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response to ensure countries are better prepared for future outbreaks. In December 2023, governments completed the review of the pandemic agreement Negotiating Text (the Draft Text) presented by the Bureau of the INB. The final version of the Draft will be presented to the 77th World Health Assembly in May 2024. 

The Draft Text sets forth state obligations around international collaboration, funding, and governance and introduces and strengthens oversight mechanisms to ensure accountability and foster transparency. ARTICLE 19 appreciates the inclusion of respect for human rights and transparency as general principles of the Draft Text. It is crucial that an international pandemic instrument recognises the importance of protecting human rights in times of emergency and that effective prevention, preparedness, and response to pandemics depend on timely access to and disclosure of information. 

However, the Draft Text does not refer specifically to freedom of expression and information, a right crucial to identifying and responding to human rights challenges posed by pandemic-related restrictions. Additionally, it fails to enumerate specific state obligations to enforce the right to access to information or to outline transparency obligations for the private sector and the WHO itself. Importantly, the concept of an ‘infodemic’ is problematic and must be eliminated: it implies that an abundance of information is similar to a pandemic. The complex phenomena of disinformation has been misused by many states to restrict and undermine protection of freedom of expression and media freedom, especially during times of emergency. 

ARTICLE 19 calls on the drafters to include specific transparency regulations for states, the private sector, and the WHO, including the principle of maximum disclosure regarding all information related to pandemic prevention. There should also be no possibility to derogate from obligations under the right to information laws during pandemics. We also call on drafters to seriously reconsider the concept of the ‘infodemic’ and remove it from the draft.

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