An Inquiry into State Agreement and Practice on the International Law Status of the Human Right to Medicines
Lisa Forman, Basema Al-Alami & Kaitlin Fajber, “An Inquiry into State Agreement and Practice on the International Law Status of the Human Right to Medicines” (2022) 24:2 Health Hum. Rights 125.
16 Pages Posted: 13 Mar 2023
Date Written: March 7, 2023
Global disparities in access to COVID-19 vaccines have brought back into focus questions about whether the right to medicines has assumed any level of binding legality within international law. In this paper, we attempt to answer this question by considering if there is evidence of subsequent state agreement and practice to read the right to medicines into the rights to health and science protected in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. We adopt the interpretive framework in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties and the International Law Commission’s 2018 report to analyze the work of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights relevant to medicines, and its relationship to the content and voting in successive resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly. We find that these resolutions provide some evidence of state agreement that the rights to health and science, as enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, include access to affordable medicines. Yet the legal implications of this right remain highly contested, particularly when it comes to trade-related intellectual property rights. The negotiation of a pandemic treaty offers possibilities for codifying this right beyond these discursive instances, while political opposition remains likely to continue to undercut this emerging legal norm.
Keywords: Covid-19, access to medicines, vaccines, affordable medicine, Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, international law.
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