The joint United Nations (UN) and Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) investigation is like a ham omelette: the chicken is involved, but the pig is committed. In this investigation, the UN only reluctantly became involved in demonstrating its efforts in investigating atrocity crimes, while the EHRC was committed to defending the government of Ethiopia – the architect of the war on Tigray.
Various reports on the investigation into atrocity crimes committed in Tigray are expected to be released in the coming weeks.
The report of the joint UN and EHRC investigation was released on 3 November 2021. The much-anticipated report by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the determination by the United States government on whether genocide against Tigrayans has been committed, are also expected to be released in the near future. These reports will be markedly different from the discredited report of the joint investigation.
The joint investigation’s report failed to establish facts because the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) had no access to the location it purported to cover and where most of the crimes are presumed to have been committed. Due to what the report calls “challenges and constraints”, the joint investigation was unable to access atrocity zones. It also underreported on, and failed to include, infamous atrocity zones in Tigray, including Axum, Abi Addi, Hagere Selam, Togoga, Irob, Adwa, Adrigrat, Hawzen, Gijet, and Maryam Dengelat as well as the Tigrayan bodies that washed up in Sudan on the Nile River. As in most cases, the worst atrocity zones in Tigray were located in active battlefields. Yet, the investigators were able to visit and interview witnesses in parts of Tigray that had been ethnically cleansed.
Moreover, the report downplayed the concerns of victims. The UN Basic Principles on Right to Remedy and Reparations, under Principle 8, define victims as:
[P]ersons who individually or collectively suffered harm, including physical or mental injury, emotional suffering, economic loss or substantial impairment of their fundamental rights, through acts or omissions that constitute gross violations of international human rights law, or serious violations of international humanitarian law. Where appropriate, and in accordance with domestic law, the term “victim” also includes the immediate family or dependants of the direct victim and persons who have suffered harm in intervening to assist victims in distress or to prevent victimisation.
The final report did not include the findings of extensive interviews that the UN conducted with Tigrayan refugees from the second week of November 2020 through to the end of December 2020. These interviews were held in refugee camps in Sudan, with victims and witnesses of human rights violations of various kinds and to different degrees. According to some informants, the report was submitted to Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in January 2021. However, for unclear reasons, the findings of this investigation have not yet been made public, and there is no mention of it in the joint report. Informants say that few staff members of the Office of The High Commissioner for Human Rights in Addis Ababa raised questions regarding the integrity of the investigation carried out by their colleagues in Sudan.
The voices of victims and witnesses of atrocious crimes who gave their accounts in complete confidence in the UN have been deliberately disregarded. Instead, the UN issued the report authored jointly with the EHRC while concealing the report its office in Sudan had produced earlier. This amounts to subversion of investigations and victims’ right to truth and remedy – a violation of international law. Reports indicate that the government of Ethiopia curtailed the UN’s role in the investigation including by expelling one of the UN investigators.
Witnesses were reluctant to participate in an inquiry involving the EHRC. As one of the challenges, the report mentions the “perceptions of bias against the EHRC in some parts of Tigray where some potential interviewees declined to be interviewed by the JIT because of the presence of EHRC personnel”. This is a deliberate understatement.
Tigrayan victims and Tigray authorities rejected the joint investigation from the outset and declared their non-cooperation. In a recent report the Guardian asserts, “Especially damaging has been the growing perception among Tigrayans, about 6% of Ethiopia’s population, that the commission is partial towards the federal government and hostile to the TPLF.”
The voices of victims and witnesses of atrocious crimes who gave their accounts in complete confidence in the UN have been deliberately disregarded.
Victims are right to fear reprisals by Ethiopian, Eritrean and Amhara forces, and this fear silenced many and reinforced victims’ non-cooperation since the EHRC was involved. Conversely, perpetrators believe they can get away with their crimes when the EHRC is leading the investigation.
A principal at the core of the concept of justice is redressing the wrongs done to victims. The interests of victims should thus remain central to any investigation. In Tigray, women are the principal victims of the war, and a deliberate campaign of rape and sexual violence has been as typical as murder.
By excluding the voices of the majority of victims, the UN violated its cardinal principle of a victim-centred investigation. Justice entails that victims have the right to the truth and that those responsible for victimising people are held to account for their actions in a transparent fact-finding process and held liable for remedying the harm caused. The truth of what occurred should be established through the verification of facts and full public disclosure.
The joint investigation started on the wrong footing. The basis on which the decision to constitute a joint investigation was made, the terms of reference, the selection of the investigators, and the agreement between the UN and the EHRC have never been made public, despite many requests. They remain shrouded in secrecy.
Some claim that the EHRC was involved in this investigation for the UN to gain access to Ethiopia. Others argue that such a joint venture would help build local and national capacity for investigation. It is heartless to think of building local capacity at the expense of victims of mass atrocity crimes (rape, killings, displacement and destruction of livelihoods). In effect, in this investigation, though committed to addressing atrocity crimes, the UN has been allowed to play second fiddle to personalities of a national system. The UN offered a façade of independence and impartiality to the investigation. The decision to conduct this joint investigation politicized a process that could and should have been de-politicized.
Some claim that the EHRC was involved in this investigation for the UN to gain access to Ethiopia.
Given that a general situation of war, chaos and a breakdown in law and order has been deliberately created in Tigray to systematically and systemically commit atrocities, destroy infrastructure and loot property, fears of reprisal are real. Consequently, the victims had little confidence in the joint investigation’s impartiality, capability and mandate to establish the truth, let alone identify perpetrators – particularly those holding the highest offices of command, control and communication.
For these reasons, many Tigrayans denounced the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for involving the EHRC. The investigation was, from the start, designed to fail the Tigrayan victims. Tigrayans consistently called for the UN to establish an international commission of inquiry equipped to investigate crimes of such magnitude and gravity.
What is more, the report subverted the core aim of a standard investigation. Investigations and findings should be based on verifiable evidence collected from the ground without any involvement from the parties to the conflict and institutions accused of bias. The UN also failed to follow its guidelines and precedence of establishing independent and international commissions of inquiry or international fact-finding missions, as it did in Burundi, South Sudan, Gaza, Syria, Libya, Sudan (Darfur), Côte d’Ivoire, and Lebanon. These exemplary investigations were comprehensive and served as historical records of grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, offered the victims truth, and ensured the legal and political accountability of those responsible. In addition to holding criminals accountable, such investigations are supposed to help in restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction, and above all, guarantees of non-repetition of violations.
One asks why the UN thinks the atrocities committed in Tigray are less deserving.
All investigations need to include all alleged violations by any party. The prosecution also needs to include all responsible parties to ensure that no justice is victor’s justice. This is not only the right thing to do but also the most effective method of legitimizing the process, ensuring accountability, providing remedies, and fighting impunity. However, such a process should not apply bothsidesism as a method of investigation and attribution of culpability.
Pulling the wool over the eyes of the international community, the report created false equivalence to disguise the real perpetrators. There are more paragraphs about calls for the cessation of hostilities, reconciliation, and capacity building than accountability, attribution of culpability, and ending impunity. The report is crafted in a manner that covers up the ringleaders of the crimes, softens accountability, advances recommendations that permit impunity in the name of reconciliation, and establishes false equivalence among warring parties. One paragraph in the report, for example, states, “International mechanisms are complementary to and do not replace national mechanisms. In this regard, the JIT was told that national institutions such as the Office of the Federal Attorney General and military justice organs have initiated processes to hold perpetrators accountable, with some perpetrators already having been convicted and sentenced.” The report advances proposals on non-legal issues including political causes of the war, humanitarian consequences and capacity building of EHRC.
Pulling the wool over the eyes of the international community, the report created false equivalence to disguise the real perpetrators.
It is bizarre that the UN believes that the Ethiopian National Defence Force and the Attorney General of the Government of Ethiopia can ensure accountability. The Ethiopian National Defence Force is a principal party in the war, and the Attorney General remains the chief architect of massive profiling of Tigrayans living outside Tigray, rounding up Tigrayans and leading the campaign for their internment. Like the EHRC, the Attorney General has no prosecutorial independence to hold officials of the Ethiopian government accountable.
Furthermore, many Ethiopians see only the victimization of their own group and not what their side has done to others. Dialogue, reconciliation and peace cannot be achieved while every fact is disputed. This report adds to the fierce dispute around the facts. For this very reason, many will continue to reject the report – as they did the investigation.
Overwhelming segments of the Tigrayan society reject the joint report. In particular, Tigrayans demand that the UN conduct its investigations, revealing Tigrayans’ high expectations of the UN’s ability to establish the truth based on which justice can be served.
Given the recent leaked audio recording that reveals the conspiracy against Tigrayans by some of the leaders in the UN Ethiopia office, one is forced to ask why Tigrayans have such high hopes in the UN. Many are left with no option but to reject outright the poison fruit of the so-called joint investigation, much as the victims, their families, the survivors and the Tigrayan community at large have done. By disregarding repeated calls for an international commission of inquiry, the UN has missed an opportunity for an empathetic and purposeful connection with the actual victims of the war.
Many atrocity situations such as in Rwanda, Darfur, Syria, and Burundi have been visited by the highest level officials of the international community. The highest-level officials of the UN, AU, IGAD and the US and EU leadership should travel to Tigray and other war-torn areas of Ethiopia. Even if permission from the government of Ethiopia for such high-level visits would have been difficult to secure, such attempts by high-level officials to visit the region would have demonstrated at least personal compassion and solidarity with victims. Such visits would have been viewed as both a symbolic and tangible commitment of leaders to end the war and the siege, and address impunity.
In the interests of the victims – and to place them at the centre of UN’s human rights work – the UN should authorize a UN-mandated commission of inquiry to investigate the atrocity crimes committed in Tigray and in other parts of the country.
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Digital Service Tax: How Incoherent Regulation Turns Predatory
The inefficiencies that have dogged other sectors are finally in the digital space. The DST is a perverse re-distribution of resources that is manifestly predatory while retarding growth in the sector.
A coherence check is an evaluation of the extent to which legal instruments such as the Digital Service Tax (DST) achieve their own stated objectives with efficacy, effectiveness and efficiency. As the economic slump bites and Kenya’s debtors start calling, the extent to which the Kenyan government is coherent in its regulation is directly linked to Kenya’s social and economic stability. While government regulation can be convoluted, the coherence check framework makes clear what the meaning of regulation is to you.
The DST, which came into effect on the 1st of January 2021, is a 1.5 per cent tax on the gross transaction value of all digital products and services in Kenya. The inexhaustible scope of products and services covered by this tax ranges from downloadable content to data analytics services. Stripped down to its core regulatory intent, the DST is a transfer of wealth from private actors in the digital sector to the government. The short-run purpose of the DST is to grow the tax base while the long-run objective can be considered as to boost tax revenue. How coherent then, is a 1.5 per cent tax on digital products, services and marketplaces to its own objectives?
I meet Ndunge at her second-hand clothes stall in a busy part of the city, as I collect a piece. Since the first COVID-19 lockdown, she has had to create an account on a popular social media application to find new markets, ensure that she doesn’t lose her long-term clients and most importantly, to survive the slump in demand in her sector. Ndunge’s online clothing sales are technically subject to the DST. She dismisses my questions about the DST with “vile itakam” (whatever will be). Ndunge is required to submit DST returns by the 20th of each month but she will not be doing so. She is strikingly disengaged from a fiscal rule that is imbued with the potential to destroy a business she has painstakingly built. Our digital service provider explains that the government is not justified in its pursuit of 1.5 per cent of all her business, a view that she assures me is almost ubiquitous amongst her colleagues. The dismissive bitterness that frames her opinion of the government and its taxes is a sign that her political disillusionment is morphing into something altogether more sinister.
The DST is a transfer of wealth from private actors in the digital sector to the government.
At the philosophical level, Ndunge entered into a social contract with the Government of Kenya when she started her business. She wittingly or unwittingly expected to receive a public services bundle – political decision-making access and a voice in the distribution of the tax burden in exchange for her taxes. Her perceived imbalances in this transaction, coupled with the persistent allegations of corruption within government have created a legitimacy gap. Legitimacy is the key ingredient in the administration of tax or any coercive law. It motivates compliance, encourages group discipline in rule following and significantly reduces enforcement and monitoring costs for regulators. Without legitimacy, the incumbent government must use violence, legal or otherwise to achieve its compliance objectives, and I guess in Ndunge’s case, they will have to.
To violently compel Ndunge and the 86 per cent of Kenya’s informal sector workforce to comply with the DST, the government will undoubtedly need to invest significant resources in the requisite tax infrastructure to register, motivate and monitor compliance. As the DST is an experimental tax, even in jurisdictions with robust tax infrastructure and legitimacy, this significant public investment will have to be undertaken without a clear return on investment.
Based on the foregoing, the first question that arises about the DST is its efficacy. The decision to regulate must first be informed by the evaluation of how much coercive force is required to achieve the objective of a greater tax reach and an increase in tax revenue. As illustrated by the above, the government’s legitimacy gap, the required investment in tax infrastructure and the unclear return on investment raise questions on the feasibility of the DST.
The DST is designed as a prescriptive rule by the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) that requires the regulatory target (digital products and service providers) to register and submit their monthly DST returns in compliance with the Finance Act 2020. However, a glaring design flaw is the DST’s blanket provision of 1.5 per cent of the transaction value for all digital business, without the differentiation of income/turnover thresholds. The KRA’s inability to prioritize regulatory targets or identify classes of digital services/products to earmark is, first and foremost, punitive to local micro, small and medium-sized (MSMEs) digital enterprises. Pitting the compliance capacity of multinational digital content providers against the limited resources of MSMEs is not only amoral, but it sabotage’s the KRA’s objectives.
With no clear regulatory priorities, the KRA is faced with a system capacity overload, where regulatory resources are spread too thinly to successfully target, motivate and monitor compliance. The natural, resulting equilibrium is the committed non-compliance of MSMEs, the bedrock of Kenya’s economy and the main regulatory target. Simply put, there is no incentive for a middling Kenyan lifestyle blogger with no technical capacity to calculate and engage with the regulatory requirements of the DST and comply. Moreover, the expectation that it should cost the same amount for the blogger as for Netflix is preposterous. The DST here is demonstrably ineffective in the pursuit of its own objectives.
In addition to alienating the core tax revenue-generating actors in this jurisdiction, the DST is bound to have a “chilling effect” on the sector. First, in the short term, there is loss of consumer welfare as those digital actors who can transfer the cost of the DST to consumers, have and will. The more perverse effect of the DST however, is the loss of the “silicon savannah”, the unregulated space of digital innovation, with global recognition and ramifications.
Pitting the compliance capacity of multinational digital content providers against the limited resources of MSMEs is not only amoral, but it sabotage’s the KRA’s objectives.
There is a sickening but almost comforting familiarity to the ruination of exceptional things, people and spaces in this country. The sequence is clear: A new and disruptive idea, technology, market or product is created and the novelty is exploited by those most disenfranchised to create capital. The now productive sector catches the attention of the government, which directs its monopoly power to regulate. Gradually, the inefficiencies of “the Kenyan experience” emerge while incentives to innovate, grow and create are strangled. The capital previously owned and generated by the innovators, finds its way back to the political class and the sector withers, the status quo is maintained. This unfortunately is how “the cookie crumbles” in the digital products/services sector – the inefficiencies that have dogged other sectors are finally in the digital space. The distributive injustice of the DST to the youth, MSMEs and other disenfranchised groups is only more compelling when viewed in light of the rampant distortionary effects of corruption in this jurisdiction. In effect, this tax is a perverse re-distribution of resources from the most efficient interest group – disenfranchised private sector actors – to the government. The DST is in this case manifestly predatory while retarding growth in the sector.
As a policy analyst, I wonder what the strategic regulatory intent of the DST was when considering its cost/benefit spread. While the benefits of the DST accrue to the government, digital financial services providers are beneficiaries by exemption. It is noteworthy that digital financial service providers are the primary beneficiaries of a previously unregulated digital sector. Digital financial services providers developed their products in a regulatory vacuum and created the economies of scale that now allow them to compete internationally. As the most profitable economic entities in Kenya and possibly in the East-African Community, why should they be exempt from the DST? The economic rationale of this exemption is unclear as these financial service providers are experiencing profit gluts after recouping their digital infrastructure investments. Unmistakable interest group politics are at play here, bringing into question the regulatory intent of this tax.
The more perverse effect of the DST however, is the loss of the “silicon savannah”, the unregulated space of digital innovation, with global recognition and ramifications.
A coherence check on the Digital Services Tax illustrates the inefficacy, ineffectiveness and inefficiency of its intent, design and effects. I find that the government’s legitimacy gap is likely to promote committed non-compliance among the regulatory targets. Therefore, in order for the KRA to achieve its regulatory targets, it must employ legal violence. Additionally, the DST’s blanket provision is a limiting design feature that discourages compliance, creates perverse incentives and retards growth and innovation in the sector. These distorted outcomes all ensure that the fervent attempts by the KRA to substantively increase tax reach, fail. Finally, the exemption of digital financial service providers from the scope of the DST is indicative of interest group politics in the sector that are destructive to growth and innovation.
Given the adverse effects of the DST, MSMEs and other interested stakeholders in the sector need to confront the rising tide of incoherent regulation by urgently organizing and engaging with the regulatory process. The recent increase in internet taxes (Finance Act 2021) is an indication that the government will not relent in its redistributive efforts. Digital service providers must form a clearly defined interest group because only by pre-emptive engagement with the Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology on its policies, positions and instruments can they have the analytical and relational capacity to insulate themselves from predation, in line with their contemporaries in the digital financial services sector.
Weather, the Great Equalizer
For once, we face a challenge that completely ignores wealth, race, religion, fences and all the other divisions we place amongst ourselves.
The weather and climate have suddenly become “front and centre” in our lives, and demand our attention because their vagaries have suddenly hit the Global North. One of the greatest unspoken fallacies of our time is that climate change is a recent phenomenon that “we” suddenly need to be concerned about today, with regards to our emissions and carbon footprint. The truth of the matter is that the greenhouse gases that the atmosphere accumulates and what we are witnessing now, is the cumulative effect of what has been emitted in the 200 years or so since the Industrial Revolution.
That humankind is now in trouble is indisputable and we must all work together to solve the challenges brought by climate change. However, the search for solutions to this problem must come from a position of honesty, if we are to have any chances of success. Therefore, the first thing we must deconstruct is the false corporate term “we” in reference to responsibility for the origins and the drivers of climate change.
People in the tropics (also referred to as the “Global South”) do not experience the extreme seasonal variations typical of the temperate zones, but the inter-tropical convergence zone (ITCZ) where they live has always been subject to extreme weather, including droughts and floods. In Kenya, and in much of Africa, rural indigenous communities developed resilience mechanisms, including “reserving” key resources like springs and highland grazing areas exclusively for use during times of crisis. In most communities, this wasn’t only a material consideration but a social and, occasionally, a spiritual one. This is because the use of these resources was subject to decisions by designated elders, and some of these “reserved” areas were also used for cultural rituals and spiritual purposes. Nature, therefore, was part of a continuum that included people, their cultural structures, spiritual standing, and physiological needs.
That humankind is now in trouble is indisputable and we must all work together to solve the challenges brought by climate change.
People in the temperate “Global North”, on the contrary, have always seen themselves as “external” to nature, and have used the latter as a resource to be consumed and exploited. The rate of consumption was only limited by the physical capability of the consumer. When the industrial revolution came, mechanical engineering exponentially increased their capability to consume. Furthermore, it gave rise to capitalism, whereby consumption was now driven by the profit motive, in addition to the initial individual need. The earth (and its environment) suddenly had to cope with a society that had the desire and capability to consume far beyond its physiological needs, and initial geographical boundaries. The pressure was on, and students of history will easily recognize how this drove colonialism, war, and environmental destruction, resulting in the environmental crisis in which we find ourselves today; the instability, unpredictability and occasional violence of atmospheric conditions that we pretend to understand and describe in a deliberately vague term; climate change.
“Climate change” is a terminology that appears to denote something current, fluid and urgent. When used within the context of describing extreme weather events, it evokes images of an event that is happening right now, driven by actions being undertaken by everyone right now. This is why it is such a useful term, because it feeds the crisis narrative. Scientists can receive millions of dollars in grants and base their entire careers on it without doing anything tangible. Politicians and political parties can ride on this crisis to power or positions of power within coalition governments. World powers can easily use it at global forums as a pretext to try to curtail the industrial ambitions of their rivals. At the extreme end of the ethical spectrum, it has even been used as an excuse by adults to put a teenage girl on the frontline of the geo-political battles from which we should be protecting children.
One of the most absurd facets of the chimera we know as climate change is the rise of the monetization of the environment. The rise and acceptance of the bizarre notion of “carbon” offsets, credits, and trading in the same. As we have observed above, capitalism and its associated consumption patterns is a major root of the environmental miasma in which we find ourselves today. For us to imagine that capitalism, brokerage and profiteering can be used to mitigate the same damage it has caused over all these years is the height of hypocrisy, or cognitive dissonance, or both on a global scale. At a basic level, the money that changes hands has zero impact on emissions. It simply means that those who pollute pay for it. The cost of the payments gets passed on to consumers, so the polluters don’t lose, and with most emissions coming from essential consumer goods, what we end up with is a simple extortion scam, paid for by the consumers, who then suffer its atmospheric consequences through extreme weather.
The most harmful part of this hypocrisy has been the fallacy of “carbon sequestration” by annexing and colonizing lands and seascapes in the tropics. Allied to this is the accelerated creation of new “protected areas” driven by the fatally flawed premise that wealthy people and biodiversity will somehow survive the vagaries of a destabilized atmosphere within islands of land fenced off from the rest of the world.
One of the most absurd facets of the chimera we know as climate change is the rise of the monetization of the environment.
That vague term “climate change” has allowed us to conjure up an entire economy of “greenwashing” trade in intangible “carbon”. It has engendered scientific publications, academic and political careers, not to mention the relentless search for “alternatives” that will somehow excuse us from changing our consumption patterns. The prejudices that are such an integral part of human nature have found a comfortable home in the miasma that is climate “science”, with industrialized nations pointing at livestock in the Global South, and ignoring cars, industries and fossil-fuelled power stations in their own countries. Pointing at population growth in the Global South, while ignoring the existing density and incomparable carbon footprint in the north. The people who drive this are “scientists”, ironically funded by the corporations that do the most damage, so we must not let “science” become the unquestioned cult it seeks to be. We must scrutinize it in the same manner we examine everything else around us and apply logic to it.
Extreme weather, in its unpredictability and power, is actually a reminder to us, that our international borders, protected areas, international conferences, hare-brained financial schemes and “scientific research” means nothing if we don’t reduce emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. We must get our act together because for once, we face a challenge that completely ignores wealth, race, religion, fences and all the other divisions we place amongst ourselves. Weather, the great equalizer.
This is the original English manuscript of the article published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung on 17 October 2021.
People Over Profits, Nurses Tell Big Pharma
The Progressive International is mobilizing nurses unions around the world to take on Big Pharma and the governments they have captured.
The pandemic rages on — not by accident, but by design. As we enter the third year of the Covid-19 crisis, two battles are underway. One is led by the carers of the world in overcrowded hospitals, fighting to end the pandemic. Another is by corporate executives in closed boardrooms, fighting to prolong it.
The question at the very center of both is this — who will control medical recipes worth billions of dollars, and millions of lives?
As some countries roll out booster programs, less than 6% of Africa’s more than a billion people have been fully inoculated. Big pharmaceutical companies are letting the pandemic go on — and why not, according to a recent estimate, Pfizer is expected to make astronomical profits —$107bn in cumulative sales by the end of 2022 on its Covid-19 vaccines, now being dubbed a “megablockbuster.” Key to this is complete control over production, price, and profit. If more of our factories, wherever they might be, could start producing vaccines for the people in their countries, companies like Pfizer would lose their monopoly. They know this.
Right now, the World Trade Organization is considering a proposal that would temporarily waive patent protections on vaccine recipes. Over 164 countries have supported it. But the pharmaceutical industry is fighting back, hard —through the governments it lobbies. The European Union, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Norway, and Singapore have successfully blocked it for over a year.
But as the ministers convene, once again, in Geneva on November 30, a new global movement is readying its fight: 2.5 million nurses are taking these Covid-19 criminals to court. In an unprecedented move, unions from 28 countries, coordinated by the Global Nurses United and the Progressive International — have filed a complaint with the United Nations alleging human rights violations by these countries during the Covid-19 pandemic, whose end, they write “is nowhere in sight.”
In a closed-door meeting about how to get more vaccines to the world’s poorest people, the chief executive of Pfizer attacked Dr. Tedros, the head of the World Health Organization for speaking “emotionally” when he called for greater balance in the global distribution of vaccines. From Brazil to India, the United States to Taiwan, nurses are bringing their emotions to bear. They have been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic response and witnessed the staggering numbers of deaths and the immense suffering caused by political inaction. From the frontlines, they prepare to hold these countries to account with a rallying cry: We, who care — we bear witness. Now, we testify.
The nurses’ complaint is not simply a legal fight: it is radical call to expose and defeat the governments that have been holding the lives of peoples’ hostage in order to service corporate super profits.
The leaders of these nations have been explicit about the world they seek to build: Early in the pandemic, the UK parliament’s foreign affairs select committee called for a “G20 for public health.” This is a revealing analogy. Much like the G20, these countries have, in effect, hijacked international institutions and actively undermined the sovereignty of other nations, while enjoying complete impunity for their actions.
Consider the principal opponent to the waiver proposal at the WTO: the EU. In May 2020, European Parliamentarians, the only members directly elected by citizens in the EU system, voted to back the waiver to “address global production constraints and supply shortage.” Yet, for the next six months, the European Commission, which negotiates on behalf of Europe at the WTO has stubbornly resisted the waiver. This is entirely unsurprising if we look at who the European commissioners and their cabinets meet: Since March 2020, they have had 161 meetings with Big Pharma in the same timeframe that they managed to meet one NGO in favour of the waiver.
Nothing stood in their way as they throttled democracy and gave free reign to a deadly virus. Not global health organizations, two-thirds of which are headquartered in the US, UK, and Switzerland. Not international institutions, whose austerity agendas, have over decades, decimated public health systems in developing nations even as 83% of all government health spending occurred in the affluent world. Not the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation — which it turns out, urged Oxford to reverse their decision to share their vaccine technology with the world.
The Covid-19 criminals have made their disregard for universal human rights and international law clear. It is now up to us to reclaim the enormous power that the UN charter, the WTO, WHO, and international law hold and deploy them as tools. That is why this transnational coalition is moving the Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council — to investigate — and find against the governments in question.
In the complaint addressed to Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng, the UN Special Rapporteur for Physical and Mental Health, we articulated our demands:
First, undertake an urgent mission to the World Trade Organization: For too long, these countries have been wholly unaccountable, disguising their submission to corporate interests behind technical jargon. Their days of impunity are over.
Second, make a determination that the obstruction of the waiver constitutes a continuing breach of these governments’ obligations to guarantee the right to physical and mental health of everyone. Healthcare is our right. What we’re witnessing cannot be defined as an inefficiency in our system, or the failure of our politics — it is, in no uncertain terms — a crime against us all.
The nurses have given their testimony: “These countries have violated our rights and the rights of our patients — and caused the loss of countless lives — of nurses and other caregivers and those we have cared for.”
Today is the day the historic case of the Carers of the World vs. Covid-19 Criminals begins.
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