Human history is a story of forgotten lessons. Despite the catastrophic collapse of European democracy in the 1930s, it appears that the tale of the twentieth century – in which citizens, cowed by existential threats, acquiesced in the rejection of liberty and truth in favour of obedience and propaganda, whilst allowing despotic leaders to seize ever more absolutist powers – is perilously close to being forgotten.
Nowhere is this more evident than in relation to the apparent nonchalance which has greeted two international legal agreements currently working their way through the World Health Organisation: a new pandemic treaty, and amendments to the 2005 International Health Regulations, both due to be put before the governing body of the WHO, the World Health Assembly, in May next year.
As concerned scholars and jurists have detailed, these agreements threaten to fundamentally reshape the relationship between the WHO, national governments, and individuals.
They would hardwire into international law a top-down supranational approach to public health in which the WHO, acting in some cases via the sole discretion of one individual, its Director General (DG), would be empowered to impose sweeping, legally binding directions on member states and their citizens, ranging from mandating financial contributions by individual states; to requiring the manufacture and international sharing of vaccines and other health products; to requiring the surrender of intellectual property rights; overriding national safety approval processes for vaccines, gene-based therapies, medical devices and diagnostics; and imposing national, regional and global quarantines preventing citizens from traveling and mandating medical examinations and treatments.
A global system for digital ‘health certificates’ for verification of vaccine status or test results would be routinised, and a bio-surveillance network whose purpose would be to identify viruses and variants of concern – and to monitor national compliance with WHO policy directives in the event of them – would be embedded and expanded.
For any of these sweeping powers to be invoked, there would be no requirement for an “actual” health emergency in which people are suffering measurable harm; instead it would be sufficient for the DG, acting on his or her discretion, to have identified the mere “potential” for such an event.
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