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United Nations addresses the WTO on vaccines & racism after request from CESR and partners

In an open letter to the WTO, The UN’s Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Tendayi Achiume, called upon States to use all tools at their disposal to bring an end to vaccine inequity and its racially disparate impacts, endorsing the recent groundbreaking statement of the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). The letter comes after CESR and allies requested the SR to address  the racially discriminatory aspects of powerful Global North States’ opposition to the TRIPS waiver, all ahead of the WTO’s session that took place in June 13-17.

The Special Rapporteur noted that: “Systemic racial discrimination is embedded into transnational legal, economic and political structures, including the international intellectual property regime.” She thus called upon States to reject “half-measures” and “weak compromises”. In closing, she pointed out the policy incoherence that the same countries who were the most vocal in the aftermath of the racial justice protests following the death of George Floyd in 2020 were failing to act decisively on the issue of vaccine inequity. 

Despite the advocacy of CESR and its partners and the strong statements by both the CERD and Special Rapporteur, the WTO  issued a disappointing draft decision on the TRIPS agreement which is not inclusive of all States who need access to COVID healthcare technologies and limited only to vaccines. CESR and its partners will continue to push for genuine reform of intellectual property rules which limit the State's abilities to fulfill their duty to realize economic, social and cultural rights of the people, and prevent equitable access to all COVID healthcare technologies including vaccines, diagnostics and medication to all people irrespective of race, gender or nationality within and among countries.