Urgent appeal: Call for urgent action to secure universal and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines

Publish Date: 
Wednesday, April 21, 2021

ESCR-Net – International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights – a global network connecting over 280 nongovernmental organizations, social movements and advocates across more than 75 countries – submitted an urgent appeal to the Special Procedures of the United Nations (UN), the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, to urge States, business actors and the World Trade Organization (WTO) to comply with their obligations under international human rights law to enable universal and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. 

“Urgent universal and equitable global access to COVID vaccines is a human right and a public health imperative requiring States, the pharmaceutical sector and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to abide by their obligations to overcome information monopolies, such as those created by vaccine patents,” highlights the 63-page appeal. 

On 2 October 2020, India and South Africa formally proposed a temporary waiver of certain Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement provisions. Despite having the support of members of civil society, many States and the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are a number of countries in the Global North blocking textual negotiations and advancement of the initiative – including  the EU, UK, and the US, where pharmaceutical giants are headquartered.

The appeal also stresses that pharmaceutical giants have not participated to date in the (WHO) COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP), intended to provide a means to openly share the inputs necessary for the development and production of vaccines, medicines, and technology needed to fight COVID-19. 

“With variants spreading across the world and uncertainties regarding how long vaccine immunities will last, fully facing the pandemic requires putting people and human rights over profit,” the appeal points out.

The appeal warns that continuing on the present course, “entails indefinite severe and unjustly distributed threats to millions of individuals and public healthcare systems and the rights to life, health, enjoyment of the benefits of scientific progress, and substantive equality, as well as spiralling consequences for other human rights.”

The Urgent Appeal requests that the Special Procedures mandate holders call on States and business actors to take steps to ensure universal and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines within and between countries, including by supporting the proposed TRIPS waiver at the WTO, ensuring full participation in the WHO’s C-TAP open sharing initiative, and taking steps domestically to enable equal and transparent distribution. 

The urgent appeal has been submitted to The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Health; the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights; the United Nations Working Group on Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises; the Working Group on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights at the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Numerous network members contributed to the strategy, research, drafting, and/or reviewing of this urgent appeal, foremost via ESCR-Net Corporate Accountability Working Group and Strategic Litigation Working Group, with special thanks to: Al-Haq (Palestine), Amnesty International (AI, United Kingdom), Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS, MENA), Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR, United States), Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS, Argentina), Dejusticia - Centro de Estudios de Derecho, Justicia y Sociedad (Colombia), Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (ISER, Uganda), International Commission of Jurists (ICJ, Switzerland), International Women’s Rights Action Watch - Asia Pacific (IWRAW-AP, Malaysia), Jackie Dugard (South Africa), Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC, Kenya), Project on Organization, Development, Education and Research (PODER, Mexico), Social Rights Advocacy Centre (SRAC, Canada), Women’s Legal Centre (WLC, South Africa).


+ Download the Urgent Appeal here >>

Interviews and more information:

Esther de la Rosa - ESCR-Net Communications Coordinator - edelarosa@escr-net.org