Focus on Influencing Substance of Pandemic Accord as Process Unlikely to Change, EU Official Advises Civil Society
WHO member states discuss new pandemic convention or treaty in July 2022.

Civil society is unlikely to be included in the World Health Organization (WHO)’s pandemic accord negotiations and should focus on making an impact on its content, according to a  European Union official.

“I don’t see these rules.. changing very easily at this stage. So I would concentrate efforts in working on the substance more than on the process,” Americo Zampetti, a senior leader of the delegation of the EU at the UN, told a webinar convened by the Geneva Global Health Hub (G2H2) on Wednesday.

While the EU would be “quite content” with civil society being more active in the discussion, “some other partners are not similarly keen in being open and transparent and making the best use of civil society contribution”, he added. 

“Civil society is particularly apt at advocating so I would concentrate on advocating on substance more than on process because I see the process as basically gone,” he advised.

Americo Zampetti

However, the EU would “make a very strong case” for civil society participation in the institutional machinery leading to the adoption of the agreement, and “we trust that civil society will be a very active partner in implementing any future agreement”, he added.

Margot Nauleau from Save the Children warned that governments would need to work with the people to implement new pandemic obligations.

“This must start by building trust and legitimacy in the policy process because the absence of transparency and engagement will lead to misinformation and confusion,” said Nauleau.

“The negotiations on the pandemic code and the International Health Regulations are becoming more and more exclusive of civil society,” she added. “We no longer have access to the drafting group and there is no transparency on the textual proposals that are made by member states.”

This runs counter to the WHO Constitution and the Sustainable Development Goals, she added.

To rectify this, Save the Children has three recommendations to the WHO. The first involves more civil society involvement in the negotiation and drafting by, for example, enabling them access to “all relevant documentation, including the draft, and intervene in a timely and unrestricted way during the plenary and the working group sessions of the negotiations”.

The second recommendation is to include civil society in treaty decision-making bodies, as the Framework Convention on Climate Change does.

The third involves civil society inclusion in the “monitoring and compliance mechanisms of these instruments”, as is the case for the Nagoya Protocol.

Environment and tobacco control

Yves Ladar, Permanent Representative of Earth Justice to the UN in Geneva, said that civil society had been integrally involved in a number of key environmental agreements and brought a lot of expertise to these.

One of these was Aarhus Convention, signed in 1998, which “provides access to access to information, effective public participation and access to justice in environmental matters”, said Ladar. 

Patricia Lambert

Patricia Lambert from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, was part of negotiations for the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control as legal adviser to South Africa.

Civil society fought hard to be included in the FCTC negotiations, and one of the clauses of the Convention notes that “participation of civil society is essential” in achieving its objectives, said Lambert, advising groups to “organise, organise, organise”.

“I’m very discomforted to hear that, as far as the process goes, civil society has largely been left out,” said Lambert. “What is working against you that was not present at the time of the FCTC negotiations [adopted 23 years go], is the hardening of attitudes in certain governments to civil society and to civil society participation.”

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