UN human rights experts have criticised countries that are trying to monopolise any future vaccine against COVID-19.
In a statement issued from Geneva on Monday, they said the only way to fight the pandemic is to make affordable vaccines available to everyone in the world.
“There is no room for nationalism in fighting this pandemic,” the experts said focusing on universal access to vaccines.
Their statement came on the same day that Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE delivered dazzling preliminary results in a large phase-III trial for the vaccine candidate they are jointly developing. Markets rallied around the world on the news, but the sense of relief would have been dampened outside a handful of rich countries who have signed advance purchase agreements with the two companies.
The list of countries that have signed these agreements and their pre-orders look like this:
The EU- 200 million, with an option for a further 100 million doses.
Japan -120 million
USA- 100 million with an option for 500 million more
UK- 40 million doses
Canada - 20 million
(Note: each person to be vaccinated requires 2 doses)
The Pfizer CEO has indicated a capacity to deliver 1.3 billion doses by the end of 2021. Most of that would be exhausted if the US and the EU exercise their options.
The UN experts in their statement said this pandemic with its global scale and enormous human cost, with no clear end in sight, requires a concerted, human-rights based and courageous response from all States.
Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council.
Their assessment contains guidance and recommendations for countries to help prevent and contain COVID-19.
“Unfortunately, some governments are trying to secure vaccines only for their own citizens,” the experts said, adding this would prove counterproductive because a successful fight against the pandemic depends on mass immunization.
“Viruses do not respect borders,” the experts said. “No one is secure until all of us are secure in an interconnected and interdependent world.
They said countries that strike deals to secure vaccines for their own population instead of engaging in a coordinated global effort to share them across borders, will not achieve their intended purpose.
They called on countries to support the COVAX initiative for global equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the World Health Organization.
“Under international human rights law, access to any COVID-19 vaccine and treatment must be made available to all who need them, within and across countries, especially those in vulnerable situations or living in poverty,” the experts said.
They also called for international cooperation and assistance between developed and developing countries to ensure widespread sharing of health technologies and know-how on COVID-19 vaccines and treatment.
In addition, the experts said, pharmaceutical companies also have a responsibility to respect human rights. They should not put profits ahead of people’s rights to life and health, and should accept restrictions on patent protection of vaccines they develop.
They welcomed the petition to the World Trade Organization by India and South Africa to waive certain provisions of the agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) in order to improve prevention, containment and treatment of COVID-19.
“This pandemic has affected the whole world,” the experts said. “Now the world must put aside misplaced individual initiatives to monopolise vaccines and supplies, and work together to defeat it.”
The experts are Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; Olivier de Schutter, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; Anita Ramasastry (Chair), Dante Pesce (Vice-Chair), Surya Deva, Elżbieta Karska, and Githu Muigai, Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises; Obiora C. Okafor, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity, and Saad Alfarargi, Special Rapporteur on the right to development.
Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen on Monday expressed optimism over the resumption of talks on Rohingya repatriation using a tripartite mechanism after the formation of a new government in Myanmar.
"We want to remain positive," Dr Momen told reporters indicating that the tripartite talks will begin soon.
Bangladesh, Myanmar and China are planning to hold Foreign Minister-level tripartite talks, likely in Beijing, to begin the repatriation of Rohingyas without any delay.
The Myanmar side made a commitment over the repatriation of Rohingyas in various ways but not a single Rohingya returned to Rakhine over the last three years.
The Foreign Minister said there is a trust deficit among Rohingyas that needs to be addressed by the Myanmar side.
Apart from the commitment to take their nationals back, Myanmar also informed that they have published a booklet on the work the Myanmar side has done and Rohingyas will be given those booklets to know the situation in Rakhine.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has conveyed his Bangladesh counterpart that Myanmar recently assured them (China) of taking back the Rohingyas who are temporarily taking shelter in Bangladesh.
The Chinese Foreign Minister had a telephone conversation with his Bangladesh counterpart Dr Momen recently.
The first such tripartite meeting was held in New York.
Wang Yi said China has been maintaining regular communication with Myanmar over Rohingya repatriation issue.
Myanmar’s ruling National League for Democracy party claimed on Monday that it has won enough seats in Parliament to constitute an absolute majority government and retain power, according to AP.
It made the claim even though the state Union Election Commission has not yet completed releasing results from Sunday’s election.
“I can now confirm that we’re now securing more than 322 seats,” said Monywa Aung Shin, a spokesperson for the NLD information committee. There are 642 seats in Parliament.
“We were aiming to secure 377 seats in total. But it would be likely more than that,” said Monywa Aung Shin.
Dr Momen said Bangladesh will welcome the new government in Myanmar though there is no change.
The Foreign Minister recently said Rohingyas will "jeopardise regional and international security" if the 1.1 million of them are left unattended and not given the opportunity to return to their homeland.
Repatriation attempts were failed twice in November 2018 and August 2019 amid Rohingyas' "lack of trust" in the Myanmar government.
Bangladesh and Myanmar signed the repatriation deal on November 23, 2017.
On January 16, 2018, Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a document on “Physical Arrangement”, which was supposed to facilitate the return of Rohingyas to their homeland.
Fortify Rights on Monday said the international community should condemn the mass disenfranchisement of Rohingya in Myanmar’s national elections held on November 8.
“A core principle of elections under international law is universal and equal suffrage and that is not what took place yesterday,” said Ismail Wolff, Regional Director of Fortify Rights.
The international community must unequivocally condemn the disenfranchisement of Rohingya and other ethnic nationalities or risk paving the path for future violations, he said.
The Chinese Embassy in Dhaka on Sunday said its visa office remains open, and Bangladeshi nationals with special and urgent needs for traveling can still come for visa application.
The Embassy said it will make timely notices in accordance with the evolving situation.
Several days ago, entry to China by foreign travelers from Russia, Britain, France, India, Italy, Belgium, Ukraine, Philippines, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Bangladesh holding valid visas or residence permits was suspended.
This is a temporary response without targeting any certain country, said the Embassy.
At present, Bangladeshi nationals holding valid visas of diplomatic, service, courtesy and type C visa, as well as those issued after November 5 will not be affected.
Malaysian High Commission in Dhaka has said Malaysia will continue to work closely with Bangladesh on various issues including economy, social and trade as well as matters related to the supply of manpower.
The government of Malaysia has decided that foreign nationals from 23 countries, including Bangladesh, who are holders of long term work passes are subject to a temporary entry ban into Malaysia until further notice.
The Malaysian High Commission in Dhaka has said the step was taken in the interest of public health and national security following the COVID-19 pandemic.
For workers with expired passes while abroad wanting to re-enter Malaysia, their employers may refer to the authorities in Malaysia when the borders reopen, said the Malaysian High Commission in Dhaka.
An exception is only allowed based on case-to-case basis and emergency cases, it said adding that Malaysia values the contribution made by legal (regular) Bangladeshi workers in Malaysia.
For these two categories, the High Commission said, the entry permission is solely at the discretion of the Director General of Immigration, Malaysia.