On February 1st this year, the World Health Organisation released the first draft of its much heralded pandemic response treaty. The draft treaty, snappily titled the ‘Convention or Agreement on Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response’, is proposed as a solution to what the WHO calls the “catastrophic failure of the international community in showing solidarity and equity” during the “coronavirus pandemic”.
A supposed lack of solidarity amongst national governments will not be the “catastrophic failure” uppermost of many readers’ minds when thinking back on Government health policy over the last three years. Despite this, the WHO’s draft treaty proposes preventing a recurrence of this alleged failure by substantially enhancing the powers of the WHO relative to those of national health authorities.
It does this despite initially affirming “the principle of sovereignty of States Parties in addressing public health matters” in its opening recital, and despite recognising the principle of state sovereignty as one of the guiding principles of the treaty in article 4. Yet notwithstanding these reassuring nods to the notion of state sovereignty, the WHO’s real attitude towards state autonomy can be gauged by a quick glance at the rest of the recitals and provisions in the agreement.
In setting out the WHO’s interpretation of the factual background to this draft agreement, many of the other recitals focus on the purported practical inability of individual sovereign states to respond adequately to the unique health challenges of the modern world. Hence other recitals note that “a pandemic situation is extraordinary in nature, requiring States Parties to prioritise effective and enhanced cooperation”; that “the international spread of disease is a global threat with serious consequences… that calls for the widest possible international cooperation”; and that “the threat of pandemics is a reality and that pandemics have catastrophic health, social, economic and political consequences”. These recitals strongly imply that state sovereignty can be of limited importance in the face of such extraordinarily grave threats.
Similarly, while recognition of state sovereignty is given as one of the guiding principles of the agreement, it is somewhat overshadowed by the raft of other guiding principles, which include abstract things like “equity”, “solidarity” and the “right to health”. Indeed, article 4 goes on to ominously assert that “previous pandemics have demonstrated that no one is safe until everyone is safe”, strongly suggesting that adherence to the principle of national sovereignty during a pandemic is not just an outdated approach to take, but a positively selfish one.
The draft agreement therefore goes on to assign considerable power to the WHO to influence and shape the responses of national health authorities to any future pandemic. The breadth of ambition of the agreement is made clear in article 5, which applies the agreement in a far-reaching way to “pandemic prevention, preparedness, response and health systems recovery at national, regional and international levels”.
Subsequent articles go on to prescribe the policies to be followed by States Parties to the agreement in each of these areas. As examples of what is intended, articles 6 and 7 set out steps to be followed to improve logistics and the workings of the global supply chain for quicker dispersal of what are euphemistically termed “pandemic-related products” (read pharmaceuticals), after which article 8 of the agreement addresses “regulatory strengthening”. Sadly, the regulatory strengthening envisaged in this agreement is not the strengthening of the accountability of national health regulators to the public, but rather the strengthening of those regulators’ accountability to the inter-governmental blob. Article 8 therefore requires signatory states to “strengthen the capacity and performance of national regulatory authorities and increase the harmonisation of regulatory requirements at the international and regional level”. In layman’s terms, more funding and powers for the regulators, yet concurrently less independent decision-making from them as well.
Subsequent articles further limit the discretion of national health authorities in responding to future WHO designated pandemics. Article 11 requires signatory states to “adopt policies and strategies… consistent with… the International Health Regulations” (themselves the target of amendment by the WHO), while article 15 stresses “the need to coordinate, collaborate and cooperate, in the spirit of international solidarity” with the various bodies active in the international healthcare space in the formulation of policies and guidelines. There are references to “establishing appropriate governance arrangements”, presumably well away from potentially meddlesome interference by elected representatives. These governance arrangements are to be complete with “mechanisms that ensure global, regional and national policy decisions are science and evidence-based”. Think blanket mask and vaccine mandates.
Signatory states will also have to take part in “multi-country or regional tabletop exercises every two years” to prepare them for the next pandemic, presumably to ensure that all health authorities remain fully briefed on the acceptable line to take in the event of any such new pandemic being declared, and to deter any of the signatory states from being tempted to go off-script as Sweden did in 2020.
Last but not least, a plethora of comfortable sinecures will be created for the international administrative class, by way of the creation of a governing body for the agreement under article 20, a consultative body for input into decision making by amorphous inter-governmental stakeholders under article 21, and a secretariat under article 24.
Conspicuously lacking in the agreement is any reference to democracy, elected legislatures, or the necessity of regulators and health authorities being accountable to national electorates. Instead, the treaty represents a brazen attempt to further move health policy away from regional or national governments and into the hands of a rarefied class of globalist administrators.
It should be stressed that the current text is only a draft, and that it may be subject to amendments following discussion between the WHO and member states. Further, even if the U.K. does sign this agreement, it will likely require ratification by Parliament under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, and will also require implementation via domestic legislation before it will have any domestic legal effect in the U.K. Sustained pressure now on ministers and MPs might just influence any U.K. Government proposals to amend the treaty at draft stage, or alternatively such pressure might conceivably prevent the U.K. Government from signing an unacceptably worded agreement in the first place. Either way, now is the time for action to prevent the crystallisation at international level of the very policies and approaches many of us have railed against at national level for the last three years.
Adam Cross (a pseudonym) is a U.K. qualified barrister specialising in international trade law, with both public and private sector experience.