Rights lawyers eye action against nations blocking Covid jab IP waiver

Rights lawyers and activists said Thursday they were mulling legal action against Germany and other countries blocking efforts at the World Trade Organization to lift patent protections on Covid vaccines.

Human rights lawyers said they have alerted the governments of Germany, Norway and Canada of legal action if they fail to support efforts to increase global access to the vaccines and other medical tools needed to battle the pandemic.

A letter has also been sent to the British government warning that its failure to support the waiver violated international law, a statement said.

The moves came as trade ministers from around the world prepare to head to Geneva for a high-level WTO meeting next week where the proposed patent waivers will be discussed.

Since October 2020, India and South Africa have led calls at the WTO for the temporary removal of intellectual property protections for vaccines, treatments and diagnostics in the fight against Covid.

Proponents argue would this would boost production globally and help address the glaring inequity in access between rich and poor nations.

But a number of wealthy countries hosting large pharmaceutical companies have opposed the move, saying patents are not the main roadblocks to scaling up production.

That stance has met harsh criticism from the network of rights groups behind Thursday’s legal threats announcement, including the Movement Law Lab, Oxfam, Amnesty and the Doctors Without Borders charity.

– ‘Need to save lives’ –

“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,” Nick Dearden of Global Justice Now said in the statement.

“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.”

Lawyers in Germany, Norway and Canada had coordinated through the Movement Law Lab to file motions warning governments they could be violating international obligations to ensure the human rights to life, health, equality and benefit from scientific progress, the statement said.

Miriam Saage-Maass, of the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights organisation, told AFP about the claim she had helped file in Germany on behalf of a Ugandan citizen who could not access vaccines.

That claim also referred to obligations under the German constitution, which includes rights with “extraterritorial reach”, she said.

A response was required within three months, she said, acknowledging though that the filing was especially meant to put pressure on Germany — in the process of a change of government — to alter its stance during next week’s negotiations in Geneva.

The coordination on the filings took place among lawyers in wealthy countries in the global north, she said, because “we really felt that we needed to challenge our governments on entertaining the situation of vaccine apartheid.”