TRIPS and Human Rights: Preliminary Reflections
INTERNATIONAL TRADE AND HUMAN RIGHTS: FOUNDATIONS AND CONCEPTUAL ISSUES, p. 145, F. Abbott, C. Breining-Kaufmann & T. Cottier, eds., University of Michigan Press, 2006
25 Pages Posted: 5 Sep 2011
Date Written: 2006
We are considering the relationship between human rights and trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS). Intellectual property rights (IPRs) have always reflected a balancing of general public interests and private stakeholder interests, and in this sense IPRs take into account social welfare concerns as well as those of individual inventors and artists. While the balance struck in the TRIPS Agreement is flawed, it is capable of flexible interpretation and amendment. Human rights represent the values for establishing a global constitutional balance between the interests of the public and the private holders of IPRs.
We are collectively at a somewhat early stage of analyzing from a legal standpoint the relationship between human rights and the TRIPS Agreement. The observations in this paper reflect the preliminary nature of this inquiry. From a legal perspective, the sources of human rights relating to TRIPS are customary international law, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and various other human rights instruments including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (lCCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The Report prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, entitled "The impact of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects on Intellectual Property Rights on human rights", insightfully surveys the relevant human rights instruments and their potential application to TRIPS issues.
The idea or concept of human rights as it applies to the field of IPRs involves something beyond the specific norms we may identify in human rights instruments or customary law. Human rights involve the shared perceptions of individuals regarding basic questions of right and wrong, fairness and equity. When an overwhelming part of the world's public perceives a situation as unjust, and expresses its concern, that shared perception itself becomes a part of our human rights dialogue, and informs public policy makers in their actions.
Human rights take on character, and become appropriately multidimensional in the context of specific cases, and reflect the spirit of the times. Lawyers may incline to be dismissive of public perception because the legal profession is by nature analytical, and the lawyer prides him or herself on objectivity and precision. Yet laws do not operate in clinical isolation from events, and events (particularly those of great moment) are rarely analytical and precise. One does not stop a war on a legal technicality. In the combating of social wrongs, it is the shared perception of the public, and the willingness of the public to take on the responsibility for setting things back in their proper order, that matters.
Meetings in the TRIPS Council on access to medicines that ultimately resulted in the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health flowed largely from efforts by developing WTO Members to deal with public health problems affecting their people. The TRIPS Council did not begin taking access to medicines issues seriously because the OECD governments became more enlightened about the consequences of TRIPS and patents. Rather, this took place because the worldwide public did not accept that the rights of pharmaceutical industry patent holders should take precedence over the rights to life and health of millions of individuals. The human rights dimension will play a substantial role in the response of the WTO and other multilateral organizations to public health issues. It is precisely because fundamental human rights are at stake, and that these rights are paramount in public consciousness, that the legal situation will adapt.
Keywords: TRIPS Agreement, human rights, access to medicines, customary law
JEL Classification: I18, K33, O34
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation