The Covid-sceptic world has been claiming the World Health Organisation (WHO) plans to become some sort of global autocratic Government, removing national sovereignty and replacing it with a totalitarian health state. The near-complete absence of interest by mainstream media would suggest, to the rational observer, that this is yet another ‘conspiracy theory’ from a disaffected fringe.
The imposition of authoritarian rules on a global scale would normally attract attention. The WHO is fairly transparent in its machinations. It should therefore be straightforward to determine whether this is all misplaced hysteria, or an attempt to implement an existential change in sovereign rights and international relations. We would just need to read the document.
The WHO is currently working on two agreements that will expand its powers and role in declared health emergencies and pandemics. These also involve widening the definition of ‘health emergencies’ within which such powers may be used. The first agreement involves proposed amendments to the existing International Health Regulations (IHR), an instrument with force under international law that has been in existence in some form for decades, significantly amended in 2005 after the 2003 SARS outbreak.
The second is a new ‘treaty’ that has similar intent to the IHR amendments. Both are following a path through WHO committees, public hearings and revision meetings, to be put to the World Health Assembly (WHA – the annual meeting of all country members [“States parties”] of the WHO), scheduled for 2024.
The discussion here concentrates on the IHR amendments as they are the most advanced. Being amendments of an existing treaty mechanism, they only require approval of 50% of countries to come into force (subject to ratification processes specific to each member State). The new ‘treaty’ will require a two-thirds vote of the WHA to be accepted. The WHA’s one country-one vote system gives countries like Niue, with fewer than 2,000 residents, equal voice to countries with hundreds of millions (e.g. India, China, the U.S.), though diplomatic pressure tends to corral countries around their beneficiaries.
The IHR amendments process within the WHO is relatively transparent. There is no conspiracy to be seen. The amendments are ostensibly proposed by national bureaucracies, collated on the WHO website. The WHO has gone to unusual lengths to open hearings to public submissions. The intent of the IHR amendments to change the nature of the relationship between countries and the WHO (i.e., a supranational body ostensibly controlled by them), and fundamentally change the relationship between people and central supranational authority – is open for all to see.
The Universal Declaration on Human Rights, agreed by the UN in the aftermath of World War Two and in the context of much of the world emerging from a colonialist yoke, is predicated on the concept that all humans are born with equal and inalienable rights, gained by the simple fact that they are born. In 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was intended to codify these, to prevent a return to inequality and totalitarian rule. The equality of all individuals is expressed in Article 7:
All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.
This understanding underpins the WHO constitution and forms a basis for the modern international human rights movement and international human rights law.
The concept of States being representative of their people, and having sovereignty over territory and the laws by which their people were governed, was closely allied with this. As peoples emerged from colonialism, they would assert their authority as independent entities within boundaries that they would control. International agreements, including the existing IHR, reflected this. The WHO and other international agencies would play a supportive role and give advice, not instructions.
The proposed IHR amendments reverse these understandings. The WHO proposes that the term “with full respect for the dignity, human rights and fundamental freedoms of persons” be deleted from the text, replacing it with “equity, coherence, inclusivity”, vague terms the applications of which are then specifically differentiated in the text according to levels of social and economic development. The underlying equality of individuals is removed and rights become subject to a status determined by others based on a set of criteria that they define. This entirely upends the prior understanding of the relationship of all individuals with authority, at least in non-totalitarian states.
This authority is seen as being above states (i.e., elected or other national governments), with the specific definition of “recommendations” being changed from “non-binding” (by deletion) to “binding” by a specific statement that States will undertake to follow (rather than “consider”) recommendations of the WHO. States will accept the WHO as the “authority” in international public health emergencies, elevating it above their own ministries of health. Much hinges on what a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) is, and who defines it. These amendments will widen the PHEIC definition to include any health event that a particular individual in Geneva (the Director General of the WHO) personally deems to be of actual or potential concern.
Powers to be ceded by national governments to the Director General (DG) include quite specific examples that may require changes within national legal systems. These include detention of individuals, restriction of travel, the forcing of health interventions (testing, inoculation) and requirement to undergo medical examinations.
Unsurprising to observers of the COVID-19 response, these proposed restrictions on individual rights under the DG’s discretion include freedom of speech. The WHO will have power to designate opinions or information as misinformation or disinformation, and require country governments to intervene and stop such expression and dissemination. This will likely run up against some national constitutions (e.g. the U.S.) but will be a boon to many dictators and one-party regimes. It is, of course, incompatible with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but these rights seem no longer to be guiding principles for the WHO.
After self-declaring an emergency, the DG will have power to instruct governments to provide WHO and other countries with resources – funds and commodities. This will include direct intervention in manufacturing, increasing production of certain commodities manufactured within their borders.
Countries will cede power to the WHO over patent law and intellectual property (IP), including control of manufacturing knowhow, of commodities deemed by the DG to be relevant to the potential or actual health problem that he or she has deemed of interest. This IP and manufacturing knowhow may be then passed to commercial rivals at the DG’s discretion. These provisions seem to reflect a degree of stupidity, and unlike the basic removal of fundamental human rights, vested interests here may well insist on their removal from the IHR draft. Rights of people should of course be paramount, but with most media absent from the fray, it is difficult to see a level of advocacy being equal.
The WHO has previously developed processes that ensure at least a semblance of consensus and an evidence-base in decision-making. Their process for developing guidelines requires, at least on paper, a range of expertise to be sought and documented, and a range of evidence weighed for reliability. The 2019 guidelines on management of pandemic influenza are an example, laying out recommendations for countries in the event of such a respiratory virus outbreak. Weighing this evidence resulted in the WHO strongly recommending against contact tracing, quarantine of healthy people and border closures, as the evidence had shown that these are expected to cause more overall harm to health in the long term than the benefit gained, if any, from slowing spread of a virus. These guidelines were ignored when an emergency was declared for COVID-19 and authority switched to an individual, the Director General.
The IHR amendments further strengthen the ability of the DG to ignore any such evidence-based procedures. Working on several levels, they provide the DG, and those delegated by the DG, with exceptional and arbitrary power, and put in place measures that make the wielding of such power inevitable.
Firstly, the requirement for an actual health emergency, in which people are undergoing measurable harm or risk of harm, is removed. The wording of the amendments specifically removes the requirement of harm to trigger the DG assuming power over countries and people. The need for a demonstrable “public health risk” is removed, and replaced with a “potential” for public health risk.
Secondly, a surveillance mechanism set up in every country under these amendments, and discussed also in the pandemic preparedness documents of the G20 and World Bank, will identify new variants of viruses which constantly arise in nature, all of which, in theory, could be presumed to pose a ‘potential’ risk of outbreak until proven not to. The workforce running this surveillance network, which will be considerable and global, will have no reason for existence except to identify yet more viruses and variants. Much of their funding will originate from private and corporate interests that stand to gain financially from the vaccine-based responses they envision for infectious disease outbreaks.
Thirdly, the DG has sole authority to declare any event related (or potentially related) to health an “emergency”. The six WHO Regional Directors (RDs) will also have this power at a regional level. As seen with the monkeypox outbreak, the DG can already ignore the committee set up to advise on emergencies. The proposed amendments will remove the need for the DG to gain consent from the country in which a potential or perceived threat is identified. In a declared emergency, the DG can vary the FENSA rules on dealing with private (e.g. for-profit) entities, allowing him or her to share a State’s information not only with other States but with private companies.
The surveillance mechanisms being required of countries and expanded within the WHO will ensure that the DG and RDs will have a constant stream of potential public health risks crossing their desks. In each case, they will have power to declare such events a health emergency of international (or regional) concern, issuing orders supposedly binding under international law to restrict movement, detain, inject on mass scales, yield intellectual property and knowhow, and provide resources to the WHO and to other countries the DG deems to require them. Even a DG uninterested in wielding such power will face the reality that he puts himself at risk of being the one who did not ‘try to stop’ the next pandemic, pressured by corporate interests with hundreds of billions of dollars at stake, and huge media sway. This is why sane societies never create such situations.
If these amendments are accepted, the people taking control over the lives of others will have no real legal oversight. They have diplomatic immunity from all national jurisdictions. The salaries of many will be dependent on sponsorship from private individuals and corporations with direct financial interest in the decision they will make. These decisions by unaccountable committees will create mass markets for commodities or provide knowhow to commercial rivals. The COVID-19 response illustrated the corporate profits that such decisions will enable. This is a situation obviously unacceptable in any democratic society.
While the WHA has overall oversight on WHO policy with an executive board comprised of WHA members, these operate in an orchestrated way, many delegates having little depth in the proceedings whilst bureaucrats draft and negotiate. Countries not sharing the values enshrined in the constitutions of more democratic nations have equal vote on policy. Whilst it is right that sovereign States have equal rights, the human rights and freedom of one nation’s citizens cannot be ceded to the governments of others, nor to a non-State entity placing itself above them.
Many nations have developed checks and balances over centuries, based on an understanding of fundamental values, designed specifically to avoid the sort of situation we now see arising, where one group is law unto itself can arbitrarily remove and control the freedom of others. Free media developed as a further safeguard, based around principles of freedom of expression and an equal right to be heard. These values are necessary for democracy and equality to exist, just as it is necessary to remove them in order to introduce totalitarianism and a structure based on inequality. The proposed amendments to the IHR set out explicitly to do this.
The proposed new powers sought by the WHO, and the pandemic preparedness industry being built around it, are not hidden. The only subterfuge is the farcical approach of media and politicians in many nations who seem to pretend they are not proposed, or do not, if implemented, fundamentally change the nature of the relationship between people and centralised non-State powers. The people who will become subject to these powers, and the politicians who are on track to cede them, should start paying attention. We must all decide whether we wish to cede so easily what it has taken centuries to gain, to assuage the greed of others.
This is an edited version of a longer article first published by the Brownstone Institute.
Dr. David Bell is a clinical and public health physician with a PhD in population health and background in internal medicine, modelling and epidemiology of infectious disease. Previously, he was Director of the Global Health Technologies at Intellectual Ventures Global Good Fund in the USA, Programme Head for Malaria and Acute Febrile Disease at FIND in Geneva, and coordinating malaria diagnostics strategy with the World Health Organisation. He is a member of the Executive Committee of PANDA.