Does the WHO pandemic treaty threaten the sovereignty of nations?

Mostly  – the statement contains a grain of truth, but fails to take into account relevant facts and/or context, and is therefore misleading

Last week, MP Mārcis Jencītis (Latvija pirmajā vietā party) scared his Facebook followers saying that the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) pandemic agreement, which is still in the making, threatens national sovereignty. Similar claims have been made for several years, but without any evidence.

In May 2021, the Council of Europe endorsed the WHO’s decision to develop an international agreement on pandemics, the so-called “pandemic treaty”, which sets out the rights and obligations of signatory countries in the event of a pandemic. A draft treaty is now available (here) and the final version is due to be submitted to the 77th World Health Assembly in May this year. The treaty will see that countries focus on several aspects of pandemics, such as prevention, universal and equitable access to medical solutions and national cooperation. If signed, the signatories commit to achieving the goals set out in it. For example, one of the paragraphs stipulates that the signatory countries will invest in training, providing and protecting competent health personnel (within national capacities).

There are many conspiracy theories surrounding this treaty, the main falsehood being that signing it will give the WHO or the UN power over the signatory countries. In Latvia, such disinformation is being spread by MP Mārcis Jencītis. He writes on Facebook:

“As you know, negotiations are currently underway on the so-called WHO ‘pandemic treaty’, which threatens to strip countries of their sovereignty and to give the WHO broad powers in the event of new pandemics. The deadline for signing the treaty is May 2024.”

The agreement on pandemics does not set out specific actions that signatory countries should take, meaning, the countries can achieve the objectives that are relevant for them and in accordance with their national laws.

There is no reason to believe that the agreement threatens national sovereignty. As representatives of the UN and healthcare institutions point out in the academic journal Lancet, the WHO has no legal power to decide on national health issues. “The WHO Director-General and staff cannot enforce decisions, such as imposing a lockdown, mandating vaccination, or dictating the opening or closing of borders. Such decisions remain within the sovereign domain of each country,” the article explains. The FAQ section of the website for the WHO treaty also states that the governments of signatory countries would decide on any action, while considering their own laws and regulations.

Re:Check did not find any sanctions or other repercussions in the draft treaty for the signatories’ failure to act to achieve the stated objectives. Similarly, the aforementioned WHO website explains that “it is a general principle of international law that once an international law instrument is in force, it would be binding on the parties to it, and would have to be performed by those parties in “good faith.” Moreover, the International Health Regulations (IHR) already in force in WHO member states are not always enforced. In the academic journal Global Jurist, international law professor Andrea Spagnolo writes that the WHO is not in a position to sanction member states that violate the IHR or act contrary to official WHO recommendations. It should be noted that any signatory country may withdraw from the agreement if two years have passed since it entered into force.

Thus, there is no reason to believe that a pandemic agreement would allow the WHO to take control of countries during pandemics or give the WHO power to control a country.

As a source of information, Jencītis posted a link to an article in the comment section of his post from the Canadian Catholic news site Life Site News, which was started by the anti-abortion lobby Campaign Life Coalition. The article contains no evidence that the agreement threatens national sovereignty. According to the media, including the Catholic magazine Commonweal, Life Site News regularly spreads false information about Covid and vaccines. The US fact-checkers Snopes describes Life Site News as “a known purveyor of misleading information”.

Re:Check asked Jencītis via email, how does the agreement undermine national sovereignty and what the powers the treaty would give the WHO. To this, the MP replied that “the purpose of this particular entry is to highlight what Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the WHO, has said about an impending pandemic that could be 20 times more dangerous than the recent pandemic, not to analyse the specific international document in the works.”

Jencītis referred to paragraph 17 of the draft treaty, which allegedly states that “the international normative act developed by the WHO will be fully implemented in national legislation.” Although the document states that the signatory countries shall achieve the objectives according to their national context, the MP writes that “the Latvian government often uncritically adopts various international norms without accommodating them to the national situation.” The full response can be read here.

Conclusion: MP Jencītis is wrong that the future WHO pandemic agreement undermines the sovereignty of the signatory countries.

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