TRIPS Exception for the Availability of COVID-19 Vaccine
Primary agenda of the two day TRIPS Council meeting this week was concerning the TRIPS waiver requested by India and South Africa for a temporary waiver of COVID-19 vaccines. New WTO Chief, Okonjo-Iweala promised to prevent vaccine nationalism. India and South Africa’s proposal has since been supported by developing countries mostly from Africa with a total of 57 countries supporting the waiver, however, countries like the US, Japan and Canada have objected to the waiver. India and South Africa’s attempt to waive rigid protection would permit generic manufacturers to make more vaccines. The proposal requires 164 members of the WTO to be passed.
Bold Tariff Measures from the Biden Administration
In a drastic move to ease the trade tension with the EU, China, and aircraft and aluminium subsidies created by the Trump administration, the Biden administration has eased tariff burdens on numerous industries. The US and EU have agreed for a 4 month suspension to move past the recent trade rivalry between Airbus and Boeing. Tariffs have also been noticeably suspenseful for PPE from China.
EU notifies amendment to strengthen trade enforcement mechanism
The European Union has amended Regulation (EU) No 654/2014 to better enable it to defend its trade interests by strengthening the existing enforcement mechanisms. The amendment expands the scope of the Regulation to enable countermeasures for services and intellectual property rights (it earlier covered only goods). The amendment also allows the EU to initiate countermeasures even before the completion of the dispute settlement procedure if it has acted in good faith despite the other party attempting to block the successful completion of the dispute settlement process. This amendment was necessitated as Member States could potentially appeal to the currently non-existent Appellate Body and delay the settlement process. The Amendment was first proposed in December 2019 and has finally entered into force.
Read the Amended Regulation here
Jammu And Kashmir
Via a press release dated February 18th, 2021, the UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Fernand de Varennes, and the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ahmed Shaheed, expressed concern over India’s decision to revoke the special status afforded to Jammu and Kashmir in 2019. The experts stated that the imposition of direct rule of the Centre on the muslim-majority state would affect the protections afforded to the ethnic, linguistic and religious identities of its people. The autonomy of the people of the state was further affected as the new legislation in place affects minority rights to buy property, own land and access other state jobs. The experts urged the Government of India to ensure that the economic, social and cultural rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir are adequately protected and they are guaranteed the freedom to political participation and meaningful representation. Read the press release in full here.
The Government of India’s official response to the press release termed it “deplorable” as the Special Rapporteur’s did not wait for the government’s response before releasing their “inaccurate assumption” to the media. The official government response also stated that this press release called into question “the larger principles of objectivity and neutrality” that Special Rapporteurs are mandated to adhere to. Read the Indian response in full here.
For further context it is relevant to note that India is a State Party to the ICCPR and the ICESCR, however it has not ratified the Optional Protocols to either Convention. The Optional Protocols for both Conventions call for the formation of Committees that provide relief to representations arising from violations of the Conventions. India has also lodged a Declaration to Article 1 of the ICCPR and the ICESCR that relates to self-determination. The Declaration limits the understanding of the right to self-determination only to “peoples under foreign domination” and further elaborates that such right cannot be availed of by “sovereign independent States” or by “a section of a people or nation.” This data on the status of ratification, reservations and declarations is available here.
ICC Orders USD 30 Million Compensation For Ntaganda’s Victims
In its reparations order dated 08.03.2021, Trial Chamber VI of the International Criminal Court (‘ICC’) has ordered that an unprecedented amount of USD 30 million (€25.3 million) should be extended to Bosco Ntaganda, the convicted war criminal’s victims. The judgment was delivered unanimously, with the quorum comprising Judges Chung, Fremr, and Carbuccia. The charges for which Ntaganda was convicted earlier included war crimes and crimes against humanity such as murder, rape, crimes against child soldiers, and sexual slavery. This pertained to his leadership in the Union of Congolese Patriots militia during 2002-2003 in the Democratic Republic of Congo. During the fighting in this period, thousands of civilians were forced to flee, and hundreds slaughtered.
The Chamber has encouraged the tribunal’s own Trust Fund for victims to complement this reparation award and raise funds to the fullest extent possible, given that Ntaganda was not in a financial position to account for the entire amount. The reparations will be facilitated through charities or funds set up to facilitate the victims’ rehabilitation. Further, the Trust Fund will have to submit its draft implementation plan by September 8th, 2021, and an exigent plan for the ‘priority’ victims by 8th June. Meanwhile, Ntaganda is appealing against his conviction. To read more, see here and here.
Students’ Abductions Continue In Nigeria
Nigerian students and staff were abducted on 11.03.2021, from the Federal College of Forestry Mechanization in Kaduna. While some of the students have reportedly been rescued by the Nigerian Security forces, others continue to remain in captivity, in violation of their right to education in a safe environment and other human rights broadly. This incident follows what has become an unfortunate trend of mass abductions in Nigeria, given that only a few weeks ago, children were forcefully taken from a boarding school, while in December, a similar incident occurred where around 300 students had been abducted. Since December, more than 600 students have been abducted.
Reportedly, the mass abductions have been carried out for ransom by several groups of bandits including armed robbers, rustlers, and militia. Speculations suggest that the rise in mass abductions is motivated by the bargaining power the abductors attain to negotiate with the government for high-value ransom arrangements – almost characterised as a ‘growth industry’ during the country’s economic crisis. For further reading, see here.