COVID-19 Omnibus Resolution at the UN

Institutional responses to the pandemic continue to be shaped by international organizations in an effort to improve coordination and streamline processes to deal with COVID-19 in an uneven world characterised by weak health systems, differing approaches to science and varying commitments to address human rights issues.

Under the aegis of the UN General Assembly, countries are working on a draft omnibus resolution on the COVID-19 pandemic. Typically, an “omnibus resolution” longer than usual resolutions, relating to all aspects of a particular issue, containing more information and seeking specific action from governments. While not binding, UNGA resolutions do serve as a guiding instrument to shape policy responses.

A zero draft was circulated in June 2020, and a second version dated July 6, 2020 has now been shared. The secretariat has also made public the suggestions made by member states on the draft resolution. The draft will be discussed at “a virtual town hall” next week on July 13.

The omnibus resolution in its current form is comprehensive with several parts including the preambular section with 21 paragraphs, the operational paragraphs classified into  – “Multilateralism and Solidarity” ; “Recovering Together”; “Building Back Better”; and “Partnerships, Commitments and the Way Forward”. Apart from health-related responses on the access to health products to address the pandemic, the resolution deals with calls to action on a range of issues from humanitarian matters to debt relief, climate change and acting on illicit financial flows among others. There are suggestions that the resolution should be listed as an agenda item called “global health and foreign policy”.

This blogpost is divided into two parts – one is a recent analysis on the zero draft by South Centre, and the second looks at the suggestions made by countries to the initial draft to understand the evolution of the omnibus resolution.

Recall that the UNGA has already adopted two resolutions around COVID-19: the resolution on “Global solidarity to fight the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)”, and the resolution on “International cooperation to ensure global access to medicines, vaccines and medical equipment to face COVID-19.”

DISCUSSION ON THE ZERO DRAFT – BY SOUTH CENTRE

Some experts have suggested that the resolution could do more to spell out how countries must deal with access to medical technologies to address the pandemic. Read South Centre’s recent analyses on efforts at the UN around COVID19 – The UN General Assembly Resolutions on COVID-19: Solemn Assurances for Access to Health Technologies without an Action Plan.

The paper compares and describes the various resolutions at the UN on the pandemic including the zero draft of the omnibus resolution, the previous drafts, and those adopted. The author suggests that previous resolutions failed to articulate a clear and defining role for WHO and restrained from laying out how health products for the pandemic can be made accessible. The author hopes that the final version of the omnibus resolution “contains an acknowledgement of the leading role of the WHO.”

While WHO has been acknowledged as an important actor, it has not been cast in a coordinating role, according to the author.  “It would have been more valuable as a guiding instrument for the WHO, if the General Assembly resolutions clarified its expectation of the role that the WHO should play, particularly with regard to coordination of the health-related interventions in response to COVID-19,” says author Nirmalya Syam in his paper.  

“Under the relationship agreement between the UN and WHO, recommendations made by the UN (such as in the form of General Assembly resolutions) are to be placed for further consideration by the governing bodies of the WHO. Therefore, more clarity on the role of WHO would have been desirable” : South Centre

On improving universal, equitable and timely access to medicines and technologies to address COVID-19, the paper suggests the following during the on-going negotiations of the draft omnibus resolution:

  • In order to ensure that there is timely manufacturing and stronger supply chains, WHO should play a coordinating role in prioritizing various R&D initiatives in the context of the pandemic. The resolution must describe mechanisms for this.
  • The resolution should call for enhanced public funding of research and development of health technologies on a nonproprietary and open access basis.
  • More clarity is needed on the guidance for technology transfer and know-how for the local manufacturing of health technologies in developing countries and the use of safeguards under international agreements. (The zero draft omnibus resolution does not refer to the flexibilities in the TRIPS Agreement, on other mechanisms including the UN Technology Bank and the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP)24, according to the author.)

The author notes that “the Secretary-General has unequivocally stressed the need to ensure that vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics for COVID-19 are universally affordable and available as global public goods. However, the UN General Assembly resolutions on COVID-19 that member States have agreed to have been limited to exhortations of the need for global solidarity and a pledge by the member States to address some of the challenges in relation to COVID-19.”

LATEST VERSION OF THE DRAFT OMNIBUS RESOLUTION

The following are some of my notes based on a few key paragraphs (related to health matters) in the first iteration of the draft in blue, and countries’ suggestions in red.

PP7 Recognizing the primary responsibility of States in responding to and recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and that emergency measures, policies and strategies put in place by countries to address and mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 must be necessary, non-discriminatory, time-bound and proportionate in accordance with international human rights obligations, and noting that there are certain human rights and fundamental freedoms which do not allow for derogations, (based on SG’s Policy Brief “COVID-19 and Human Rights”; ICCPR Article 4)

Significant suggestions reminding states about exercising emergency powers within the scope of international law. Also references to consistency with WTO rules.

Switzerland and Ecuador suggest “PP 7 Alt. Reaffirming that emergency measures, policies and strategies put in place by countries to address and mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on the national level must be in accordance with the law, necessary and specifically aimed at preventing disease or providing care for the population, proportionate and non-discriminatory in accordance with international human rights standards, and noting that States parties cannot resort to emergency powers or implement derogating measures in a manner that is discriminatory, or which violates other obligations they have undertaken under international law, including under other international human rights treaties from which no derogation is allowed.” (Emphasis  mine)

Australia suggested: “Reaffirming that emergency measures must be targeted, proportionate, transparent, and temporary, and that they do not create unnecessary barriers to trade or disruption to global supply chains, and are consistent with WTO rules, and emphasizing the need for the Member States implementing emergency measures, policies and strategies to notify of such actions to other countries, and further reiterating our goal to realize a free, fair, non-discriminatory, transparent, predictable and stable trade and investment environment, to keep our markets open (PP11 FFD & Extraordinary G20 Leaders’ Summit Statement on COVID-19)

Singapore: PP 7 Quat. Emphasises that emergency measures designed to tackle COVID-19, if deemed necessary, must be targeted, proportionate, transparent, and temporary, and that they do not create unnecessary barriers to trade or disruption to global supply chains, and are consistent with World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules; (verbatim from 2020 FfD Outcome Document and G20 Trade and Investment Ministerial Statement)

PP 8. Reaffirming its resolutions 74/270 on Global solidarity to fight the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), and 74/274 on International cooperation to ensure global access to medicines, vaccines and medical equipment to face COVID-19, (new)

Suggestions to mention ACT Accelerator by the EU, and suggestion by Costa Rica on stronger language on unhindered access to health products. (No mention of WHO’s C-Tap, suggested by Costa Rica)

Iran and China suggest: Reaffirming its resolutions 74/270 on Global solidarity to fight the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), and 74/274 on International cooperation to ensure equitable global access to medicines, vaccines as global public goods and medical equipment to face COVID-19.

EU: “… COVID-19, and WHA73.1 on COVID-19 response which is calling for timely access to quality, safe, affordable and efficacious diagnostics, therapeutics, medicines, and vaccines as global public goods for the COVID-19 response, taking into account and supporting existing mechanisms, tools, and initiatives, such as the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, and relevant pledging appeals, such as the Coronavirus Global Response pledging campaign;”

Costa Rica: PP 8 Bis. Recognizing the central role of the Member States in the fight against COVID19; (Azerbaijan) PP 8 Ter. Recognizing the need for all countries to have unhindered, timely access to quality, safe, efficacious and affordable diagnostics, therapeutics, medicines and vaccines, and essential health technologies, and their components, as well as equipment, in order to mount the COVID-19 response (pp 14 WHA)

PP9 – Recognizing the central role of the United Nations system in catalysing and coordinating the global response to COVID-19, and recalling the constitutional mandate of WHO to act, inter alia, as the directing and coordinating authority on international health work, and recognizing its key leadership role within the broader United Nations response and the importance of strengthened multilateral cooperation in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and its extensive negative impacts, (later part verbatim PP4 WHA resolution)

Countries seem divided on what kind of role should WHO play, while some believe in its key role in coordinating international health work, others seem to place wider UN efforts at the centre of the response to the pandemic. See below:

… inter alia, as the directing and coordinating authority body on international health work… (Pakistan) DELETE AND REPLACE (Iran) (China)

… the COVID-19 pandemic and its extensive negative impacts and the central efforts of Member States therein, (EU)

Recognizing the central role of the United Nations system in catalysing and coordinating the global response to COVID-19, and the central efforts of Member States therein and… (El Salvador) (Brazil)

Recognizing the central role of the United Nations system in catalysing and coordinating the global response to COVID-19, and acknowledging recalling in this regard the crucial role played by the WHO to act… (Norway)

Recognizing the central role of the United Nations system in catalysing and providing support to the global response to COVID-19, underway by countries to control, contain and mitigate the spread and effects of the pandemic, as well as a sustainable and resilient recovery, and… (Colombia)

…and recognizing its role within… (US)

Recognizing the central role of the United Nations system in catalysing and coordinating the global response to COVID-19, and recalling the constitutional mandate of the World Health Organization (WHO) to act… (Russia)

PP 9 Alt. Recalling the constitutional mandate of the World Health Organization to act, inter alia, as the directing and coordinating authority on international health work, and acknowledging the key leadership role of WHO and the fundamental role of the United Nations system in catalysing and coordinating the comprehensive global response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the central efforts of Member States therein; (based on PP4, OP2 of WHA) (Iran) (China)

PP 9 Alt2. Recognizing further the central role of the United Nations system in catalysing and coordinating the global response to control and contain the spread of COVID-19, and  Acknowledging the crucial role played by the World Health Organization and its constitutional mandate to act, inter alia, as the directing and coordinating authority on international health work and its key leadership role within the broader United Nations response, (verbatim PP4 74/270) (AG)

OP 1.  Reaffirms its commitment to, multilateralism and solidarity at all levels and international cooperation, as the only way for the world to effectively respond to global crises like the COVID-19 pandemic and their consequences; (new)

Switzerland underscores the role of WHO.

Reaffirms its commitment to, multilateralism and solidarity at all levels and international cooperation, as the only way for the world to effectively respond to global crises like the COVID-19 pandemic and their consequences; (new) ), acknowledges the key leadership role of WHO and the fundamental role of the United Nations system in catalysing and coordinating the comprehensive global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the central efforts of Member States thereinn (based on OP2 WHA) and emphasizes the need for continued coherence across the UN system in its response, including collaboration with international financial institutions. (Switzerland)

Reaffirms its commitment to, multilateralism and solidarity at all levels and international cooperation and global health governance , as the only way for the world to effectively respond to global crises like the COVID-19 pandemic and their consequences (China)

Reaffirms its commitment to, multilateralism… (US)

Reaffirms its commitment to, international cooperation, multilateralism and solidarity at all levels as the only way for the world to effectively respond to global crises like the COVID-19 pandemic and their consequences (Russia)

OP 1 Bis. Recognizes the key leading role of WHO and its decisive actions to address this global pandemic and the fundamental role of the UN system in catalyzing and coordinating the comprehensive global response to the COVID19 pandemic and calls on international organizations, in particular WHO, and other stakeholders to support all countries, upon their request, in implementing their multisectoral national action plans, in strengthening their health systems to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in maintaining the safe provision of all other essential public health functions and services; (El Salvador) (AG)

OP 8.  Calls for ensuring specific protection for the most vulnerable in the context of timely, universal and equitable access to safe, quality, effective and affordable health care services, medical supplies and equipment, including diagnostics, therapeutics, medicine and vaccines; (new)

EU pushes inclusion of its Global Coronavirus Response initiative

Calls for ensuring specific protection for the most vulnerable to COVID-19 in the context… (Indonesia) 

 …access to safe, quality, effective and affordable health care and services… (Canada)

Reiterates the call for the universal, timely and equitable access to, and fair distribution of, all quality, safe, efficacious and affordable essential health technologies and products, including their components and precursors, that are required in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic as a global priority, calls for ensuring specific protection for the most vulnerable in the context of timely, universal and equitable access to safe, quality, effective and affordable health care services, medical supplies and equipment, including diagnostics, treatment, therapeutics, medicine and vaccines, and commends commitments and initiatives undertaken to ensure the collaborative development and universal deployment of diagnostics, treatments and vaccines, such as the Coronavirus Global Response; (EU)

 … including diagnostics, therapeutics, medicine and vaccines, and the urgent removal of unjustified obstacles thereto; (China) 

 Calls for ensuring universal access to safe, quality, effective and affordable medicines, vaccines, diagnostics and equipment, and for delivering equitable and quality health services; (Brazil)

 DELETE AND REPLACE (HS) (India) 

Encourages protection for the most vulnerable… (Australia)

 Calls for ensuring timely, universal and equitable access to, and fair distribution of, all safe, quality, efficacious and affordable, essential health technologies and products, including their components and precursors, medical supplies and equipment, including diagnostics, therapeutics, medicine and vaccines, that are required in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic as a global priority, and the urgent removal of unjustified obstacles thereto (language from OP4 WHA); (Costa Rica) 

 Calls for ensuring specific protection for the most vulnerable and those experiencing multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination in the context of timely, universal and equitable access to safe, quality, effective and affordable health care and services, medical supplies and equipment, including diagnostics, therapeutics, medicine and vaccines… (UK)

 DELETE (Japan) 

 Calls for protecting or working together to ensure that ensuring specific protection for the most vulnerable in the context of timely, universal and equitable access to safe, quality, effective and affordable health care services, medical supplies and equipment, including diagnostics, therapeutics, medicine and vaccines, while preserving incentives for innovation; (US)

 PP 8 Alt. Calls upon Member States to equitable access to quality, safe, effective, affordable and medicines, including generics, vaccines, diagnostics and health technologies for all. (HS)

 PP 8 Alt2. Calls for the universal, timely and equitable access to and fair distribution of all quality, safe, efficacious and affordable essential health technologies and products including their components and precursors required in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic as a global priority, and the urgent removal of unjustified obstacles thereto; consistent with the provisions of relevant international treaties including the provisions of the TRIPS agreement and the flexibilities as confirmed by the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health; (Verbatim OP4 from WHA73 resolution) (India)  

OP 9.  Encourages Member States to work in partnership with all relevant stakeholders to increase research and development funding for vaccines and medicines, leverage digital technologies, and strengthen scientific international cooperation necessary to combat COVID-19 and to bolster coordination, including with the private sector, towards rapid development, manufacturing and distribution of diagnostics, antiviral medicines, personal protective equipment, medical sciencebased treatment protocols and vaccines, adhering to the objectives of efficacy, safety, equity, accessibility, and affordability; (verbatim OP3 74/274)

Peru and Mexico call for description of health products as global public goods. The UK calls for greater funding into R&D.

…adhering to the objectives of efficacy, safety, equity, accessibility, availability and affordability, and recognizing them as global public goods; (Peru)

 Calls upon States… (Iran)

…and affordability, and taking into account and supporting existing mechanisms, tools and initiatives, such as the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) accelerator, and relevant pledging appeals; (EU)

 …to the objectives of efficacy, safety, equity, accessibility, availability and affordability; (China)

 Encourages Member States to work in partnership with all relevant stakeholders to increase research and development funding for vaccines, treatments and medicines, leverage digital technologies, and strengthen scientific international cooperation necessary to combat COVID-19 and to bolster coordination, including with the private sector, towards rapid development, manufacturing and distribution of diagnostics, medicines, including antiviral medicines… (HS)

 Encourages Member States to work with relevant stakeholders to increase research and development funding for vaccines, diagnostics and medicines… (Australia) 

 …accessibility, and affordability and recognizing the potential of traditional, complementary and alternative medicines in response to COVID-19; (Additional language on Traditional Medicine, based on https://www.afro.who.int/news/who-supportsscientifically-proven-traditional-medicine) (India)

 Encourages Member States to work in partnership with all relevant stakeholders, and collaborate on a global scale, to increase research and development funding for vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics, and, leverage digital technologies, and strengthen scientific international cooperation necessary to combat COVID-19 and to bolster coordination, including with the private sector, towards rapid development, manufacturing and distribution of diagnostics, therapeutics and diagnostics, personal protective equipment, medical science-based treatment protocols and vaccines, adhering to the objectives of efficacy, safety, equity, accessibility, and affordability; (UK)

Encourages Member States to work in partnership with all relevant stakeholders to increase research and development funding for vaccines, antiviral and medicines, leverage digital technologies, and strengthen scientific international cooperation necessary to combat COVID-19 and to bolster coordination, including with the private sector, towards rapid development, manufacturing and distribution of diagnostics, antiviral medicine… (Malaysia) 

 OP 9 Bis. Calls upon Member States and other relevant stakeholders to immediately take steps to prevent, within their respective legal frameworks, speculation and undue stockpiling that may hinder access to safe, effective and affordable essential medicines, vaccines, personal protective equipment and medical equipment as may be required to effectively address COVID-19 (OP4, A/RES/74/274) (Mexico)

 OP 9 Ter. Recognizes the role of extensive immunization against COVID-19 as a global public good for health in preventing, containing and stopping transmission in order to bring the pandemic to an end, once safe, quality, efficacious, effective, accessible and affordable vaccines are available (OP6 WHA73.1) (Mexico)

OP 10.  Reaffirms the right to use, to the fullest extent, the provisions contained in the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement), which provides flexibilities for the protection of public health and promotes access to medicines for all, in particular for developing countries, and the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health, which recognizes that intellectual property protection is important for the development of new medicines and also recognizes the concerns about its effects on prices; (verbatim 74/20 OP29)

Switzerland has suggested a deletion of this para.

Recognizes the capabilities/possibilities of an extensive immunization against COVID-19 as a global public good once adequate, safe, quality, efficacious and effective vaccines, free from ethical concerns are available (HS)

 Reaffirms the right to use, to the fullest extent, the provisions contained… (Australia) 

 Reaffirming the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement) as amended, and also reaffirming the 2001 World Trade Organization), Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health, which recognizes that intellectual property rights should be interpreted and implemented in a manner supportive of the right of Member States to protect public health and, in particular, to promote access to medicines for all, and notes the need for appropriate incentives in development of new health products; (verbatim 74/20 OP29) (US)

Tailpiece:

One is struck by the language around “tax evasion” in this resolution. Remember that illicit financial flows also link to illegal wildlife markets, that in turn, clearly has an impact on health.

It seems some countries resist the use of the term tax evasion. See below:

OP 32. Emphasizes that illicit financial flows, in particular those caused by tax evasion, corruption and transnational organized crime, reduce the availability of vital resources for responding to and recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and financing the achievement of the 2030 Agenda, and calls upon Member States to recommit to addressing the challenges of preventing and combating illicit financial flows and strengthening international cooperation and regulatory frameworks at all levels on tax administration and assets return and recovery, including by more effective measures to implement existing obligations under the United Nations Convention against Corruption and the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the Protocols thereto, and to implement effective, inclusive and sustainable measures to prevent and combat corruption within the framework of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development; (based on PP12, OP6, OP11 74/206; P14 FFD)

If you like this story, do consider supporting Geneva Health Files – a reporting initiative run by this journalist. I seek to make this a reader-funded initiative to keep it going. Get in touch with me on how you can help. You can also make a contribution at paypal.me/genevahealthfiles (You will need a paypal account to do so.)

If you wish to share information or have suggestions, write to me: patnaik.reporting@gmail.com

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