The WHO’s Pandemic PPR Treaty is a major threat to national sovereignty and democracy
9th December 2022
For the attention of:
The House of Lords International Agreements Committee
The House of Lords Constitution Committee
The Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee
Members of Parliament
World Health Organization’s Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response Treaty
The proposed treaty undermines our sovereignty and democracy. In the absence of a democratic mandate, the British public would expect parliament to actively preserve our authority to self-govern.
Parliament must act now to scrutinise the negotiations.
We, the undersigned ask you to take our concerns extremely seriously. This Treaty highlights the problems of:
Overreach of WHO, a non-governmental organization
Conflicts of interest
Loss of oversight
Loss of nationhood
Side-stepping the democratic process
Conflation of distinct global challenges
We are particularly aware that constitutional anachronisms in the UK parliament may result in a lack of detailed parliamentary scrutiny.
We urge you to read the detailed assessment in the letter below.
Mr. Shiraz Akram BDS, on behalf of the Thinking Coalition (www.thinkingcoalition.org/)
Dr Clare Craig, FRCPath, on behalf of the HART group (www.hartgroup.org)
Jon Dobinson, on behalf of Time for Recovery (www.timeforrecovery.org)
David Fleming, on behalf of Not our Future (www.notourfuture.org)
Mr Alan Miller, on behalf the Together Declaration (www.togetherdeclaration.org/)
Jonathan Tilt, on behalf of Freedom Alliance (www.freedomalliance.co.uk)
The details, reach and legal status of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response Treaty is currently being negotiated. As it stands, Parliament is poorly disposed to undertake the task of overseeing its ratification.
Both the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee and the Constitution Committee have reported on the challenges of how treaties are ratified in the UK, with the latter stating that ‘the powers available to Parliament to scrutinise Ministers’ actions are anachronistic and inadequate’.
Under the justification of the recent coronavirus pandemic, the WHO is seeking to expand its bureaucratic power to sectors outside of healthcare. Decisions that would previously have been under the jurisdiction of Parliament and local authorities are to be replaced by a set of legally binding supranational rules with applications across every sector and industry in the UK.
This treaty will fundamentally change Parliament’s relationship with the WHO and consequently, the relationship of UK citizens with their Parliament. It is critically important to understand how the proposed Treaty will affect our national sovereignty and in the absence of a democratic mandate, the British public would expect parliament to actively preserve our authority to self-govern. In this letter, we outline how the proposed Treaty will affect our national sovereignty.
In addition to its role in promoting health, the WHO is seeking to expand its function to include the regulation of scientific debate. Mechanisms are being considered that will enable the WHO to suppress views that counter those of its own ‘experts’. In effect, the WHO will become a supranational censor, deciding what may and what may not be published globally and what can or cannot be taken into consideration when proposing policy and practice.
The WHO struggles to retain impartiality, as described by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly: Experts with conflicts of interest, particularly commercial interests, can influence its opinions and policy. Historically, this has resulted in a huge waste of public money.
In the UK, we face the prospect of the WHO being able to police debate and influence policies in areas far removed from conventional definitions of health or health-related sectors. The risk of blanket censorship is immense, and the likelihood is that censorship would be used as a lever to misappropriate public funds under the guise of safety.
UK parliaments must act now to ensure adequate mechanisms are in place, allowing effective scrutiny and comprehension of this treaty.
As you are no doubt aware, in December 2021, at its second-ever special session, the World Health Assembly established an intergovernmental negotiating body (INB) to draft and negotiate a convention, agreement or other international instrument under the Constitution of the World Health Organization, in order to strengthen Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response.[i]
This initiative was triggered by a joint article, published on 30 March, 2021, of which our then Prime Minister, The Rt Hon Boris Johnson, and the Director-General of the WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, were amongst the 25 signatories. [ii] This article refers to this future agreement as a treaty.[iii]
We wish to raise concerns about how this new instrument is being drafted. The phraseology used by the WHO and its subgroups embeds the probability of mission creep within the agreement.
The initial joint article is mirrored in the Working Group on Strengthening WHO Preparedness and Response to Health Emergencies (WGPR) Zero Draft report, dated 3 May, 2022.[iv]
Both the joint article and the aforementioned zero draft report include the terms ‘One health’ and ‘Whole/All of society’.
The joint article states:
‘It [the agreement] would also include recognition of a One Health approach that connects the health of humans, animals and our planet.’ [v]
The Zero Draft report states:
‘Implementation of a One Health approach related to prevention and surveillance, including specific responsibilities and a clear division of labour among the partners in the quadripartite alliance.’ [vi]
The ‘One Health’ concept has been redefined and developed by the WHO via its newly established subgroup, the One Health High-Level Expert Panel (OHHLEP).[vii]
The WHO states:
‘The panel will also have a role in investigating the impact of human activity on the environment and wildlife habitats, and how this drives disease threats. Critical areas include food production, urbanization and infrastructure development, international travel and trade, activities that lead to biodiversity loss and climate change, and those that put increased pressure on the natural resource base — all of which can lead to the emergence of zoonotic diseases.’[viii]
The OHHLEP Annual Report 2021 defines One Health as:
‘An integrated, unifying approach that aims to sustainably balance and optimize the health of people, animals and ecosystems. It recognizes the health of humans, domestic and wild animals, plants, and the wider environment (including ecosystems) are closely linked and interdependent. The approach mobilizes multiple sectors, disciplines and communities at varying levels of society to work together to foster well-being and tackle threats to health and ecosystems, while addressing the collective need for clean water, energy and air, safe and nutritious food, taking action on climate change, and contributing to sustainable development.’ [ix]
The WHO and its expert panels have applied an all-encompassing approach in the design of this Pandemic Treaty; but in doing so, it is arguable they have created a scope of action that has no discernible boundaries.
There is simply no sector of business, government or community that is not included within the context of the Pandemic Treaty being proposed. Crucially, on 21 July, 2022, at the second meeting of the INB, it was concluded, with agreement, that the new Treaty should be legally binding.[x]
Once we couple the term ‘One Health’ with the phrase ‘Whole/All of society’, the potential for mission creep is limitless.
‘The main goal of this treaty would be to foster an all of government and all of society approach’.[xi]
‘A whole-of-society approach goes beyond institutions; it influences and mobilizes local and global culture and media, rural and urban communities and all relevant policy sectors, such as the education system, the transport sector, the environment and even urban design.’[xii]
Given the ambition of this project, and the effect the proposed treaty will have on policies ordinarily under the control of local and national governments, the lack of media coverage or political debate on this Treaty is alarming.
This lack of interest may be due to a misrepresentation of context, which has itself arisen from a lack of debate. Clearly the treaty aims to shift the UK to a technocratic model of governance. This shift is being presented as a kind of technocratic evolution, a natural course of action that is self–evident and unquestionable. We believe, to the contrary, that the decision of the UK to support the idea of an international pandemic treaty should be viewed as political and ideological. It should be acknowledged that any treaty would cede political decisions to a bureaucratic body outside of our democratic system. Only within this context can we foster the necessary debate required to understand the true impact this treaty will have.
During the pandemic in the UK, we witnessed a change in our governance, with data driven policies being described as ‘evidence-based’ and presented as unequivocal and wholly objective. We should remind ourselves that data has no intrinsic meaning, and that evidence is an argument, an opinion or hypothesis.[xiii] Consequently, data-driven decisions are not necessarily scientific, and as we have seen since March 2020, data modelling is sometimes as much a product of the contents and programming as it is an objective science.
In this regard, the use of the term ‘evidence based’ has become a blunt tool which acts to bypass essential political debate. Indeed, when the WGPR correlates the risk of zoonotic disease with climate change, this is a clear example of dogma, not science. Our parliament should act to oppose this new mindset.
4. Conflict of Interest
The WHO public consultation was inadequate for a project of this size. Public awareness must surely precede any consultation, and it appears that the public is, by and large, unaware of these negotiations. We believe it is for this reason that private stakeholders with vested financial interests are overrepresented. It is worth noting that the second-largest funding source of the WHO, is a non-governmental organisation with affiliated commercial interests in pandemic management.[xiv]
This conflict of interest was detailed in a joint investigation by the BMJ and Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which stated:
‘The investigation reveals a system struggling to manage the inherent conflict between the pharmaceutical industry, WHO, and the global public health system, which all draw on the same pool of scientific experts.’ [xv]
An inquiry by MP Paul Flynn for the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, published in June 2010, was critical of this conflict of interest.[xvi] This argued that decision-making around the A/H1N1 (influenza) crisis was lacking in transparency. It also pointed to the distortion of priorities of public health services, waste of huge sums of public money, the provocation of unjustified fear, and the creation of health risks through vaccines and other medications which might not have been sufficiently tested before being authorised in fast-track procedures. The Right Hon Paul Flynn concluded:
‘These results need to be critically examined by public health authorities at all levels with a view to rebuilding public confidence in their decisions.’
Scientific progress must evolve from contestation, not censorship. When science is robust, it can withstand this challenge. A democratic society must be free to challenge dogma and free to question science. The Pandemic Treaty appears to be designed to suppress this freedom.
The WHO believes it should function to promote scientific consensus and define and control what it calls ‘misinformation’. However, the term ‘misinformation’ has been misused and is ill-understood by many, often used synonymously with disinformation, with the latter being false information intended to mislead. If one considers what constitutes misinformation, it is practically impossible to distinguish misinformation from a different and even opposed scientific school of thought, the formation of which is crucial to the progress and legitimacy of scientific knowledge.
‘Experts who spoke to the BMJ emphasised the near impossibility of distinguishing between a minority scientific opinion and an opinion that’s objectively incorrect (misinformation).’ [xvii]
With an understanding that evidence-based decisions are not wholly objective, and that consensus should result from open and free discourse, misinformation cannot be accurately defined. The following passages from the WGPR Zero Draft should concern us all:
‘The WGPR sees the need to promote consensus around scientific and evidence-based measures to protect public health, ensure social protection and global solidarity. These actions are crucial to discourage misinformation.’[xviii]
‘WHO Secretariat to build capacity to deploy proactive countermeasures against misinformation and social media attacks and further invest in risk communication as an essential component of epidemic management.’[xix]
One should not underestimate the ambition of the proposed Treaty and its explicit aim to establish rules that will impact a wide range of sectors within the UK — namely: health, education, farming, town planning, biosecurity, policing, domestic travel and international travel.
The proposed Treaty would give the WHO the authority and the tools to manufacture consensus across its 194 member states, not only by promoting its own view of the data, but also by silencing those that disagree with that view. This will result not in consensus but the illusion of consensus. The behest of removing ‘misinformation’ will be assigned to social-media companies with a proclivity to protect themselves from liability. The result will be a dragnet removal of essential, opposing and valid argument. Notwithstanding the obvious curtailment of our free speech, the consequence will be an inferior outcome for all.
Our Parliament lacks a formal mechanism for securing scrutiny and approval of treaties, which puts us at odds with most of the democracies that remain in the EU.[xx]
We hope we have been able to present you with evidence that the magnitude and scope of this Treaty is such that it ought to require the immediate and special attention of both Houses. Such action would not be without precedent in the House of Commons. [xxi]
In ‘Scrutiny of International Treaties and other international agreements in the 21st century’, which was published on 5 July, 2022, the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee acknowledged this anomaly:
‘Scrutiny really needs to afford opportunities at the successive stages of the life of the treaty. Therefore, Parliament may not have had an opportunity to examine in great detail the nature of the treaty before it comes to Parliament to legislate. I can see that that could present difficulties for having a complete picture of what is happening.’ [xxii]
Prior to this, in its report on Parliamentary Scrutiny of Treaties, published on 30 April 2019, the Constitution Committee endorsed the creation of a new treaty scrutiny select committee, which could:
‘Address the shortcomings in Parliament’s scrutiny of treaties, we recommend that a new treaty scrutiny select committee be established. This committee should sift all treaties, to identify which require further scrutiny and draw them to the attention of both Houses. The committee
would have the option to undertake scrutiny of those treaties itself or engage the policy expertise of other select committees as appropriate. For significant treaties, the committee should be able to recommend that the Government extend the 21 sitting day period under CRAG, providing the committee with sufficient time to report to Parliament. The treaty committee should also be able to secure a debate on treaties it deems significant.’[xxiii]
The WHO’s Pandemic Preparedness, Prevention and Response negotiations should act as the catalyst to bring this endorsement of the Constitution Committee to action.
It is beyond the scope of this letter to discuss the complexities of how international treaties or agreements are ratified. As you will be aware, in the UK treaties are subject to a negative resolution procedure, meaning that this instrument could be ratified with no parliamentary debate or vote.[xxiv] To the lay observer, it appears that the Parliament of the UK is poorly positioned to evaluate the significant and far-reaching consequences being negotiated for this Treaty. The Government declined a petition from the British public requesting a referendum on this issue, and at the time of writing we have waited 176 days for a debate to be tabled. The Government has justified its position with the statement:
‘Once adopted, the instrument would only become binding on the UK if and when the UK accepts (ratifies) it in accordance with its constitutional process. In the UK this requires the treaty to be laid before Parliament for a period of 21 sitting days before the Government can ratify it on behalf of the UK.’ [xxv]
The World Health Organisation has stated:
‘As with all international instruments, any new agreement, if and when agreed by Member States, is drafted and negotiated by governments themselves, who will take any action in line with their sovereignty.’
As you will also be aware, in modern democracies, sovereign power rests with the people and is exercised through representative bodies such as parliament.[xxvi] For the reasons we have outlined, laying this treaty before Parliament for 21 days will not be commensurate with the requirements of this sovereignty. The public interest ought to be impressed upon this negotiation at every stage; and the only mechanism for this would be through the actions of our representatives in Parliament.
Former Assistant Secretary General of the UN, Professor R Thakur states:
“It is not necessarily the case that the balance of interests and values is the same from one country to another, the assaults on our civil liberties and human rights and individual agency in looking after my own health – that question will be answered differently depending on the political values of different societies in different countries. And the idea that we should handover powers on this and give coercive powers of compulsion to an unelected, unaccountable international technocracy or bureaucracy, requires much more of a fundamental debate and we are rushing to adopt a treaty with barely any public debate – I find that just astonishing.”[xxvii]
Mr Shiraz Akram BDS
[iii]. https://apps.who.int/gb/wgpr/pdf_files/wgpr9/A_WGPR9_3-en.pdf As stated in its Zero Draft report, the INB has yet to decide on the exact nature of the agreement, describing it as a ‘WHO convention, agreement, or other international instrument on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response (PPR)’ (A/WGPR/9/3/3 May 2022 I.1.)
[v]. https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/no-government-can-address-the-threat-of-pandemics-alone-we-must-come-together (paragraph 11).
[vi]. https://apps.who.int/gb/wgpr/pdf_files/wgpr9/A_WGPR9_3-en.pdf (12(h), page 6).
[vii]. The One Health High-Level Expert Panel (OHHLEP) was formed in May 2021 to advise FAO, UNEP, WHO and WOAH on One Health issues.
[xi]. https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/no-government-can-address-the-threat-of-pandemics-alone-we-must-come-together (paragraph 10).
[xii]. https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/346033/WHO-EURO-2019-3475-43234-60595-eng.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y (page 2 paragraph 4).
[xiii]. https://oxford-review.com/data-v-evidence/ (David Wilkinson).
[xvii]. https://www.bmj.com/content/bmj/373/bmj.n1170.full.pdf (BMJ 2021; 373: n 1170, Laurie Clarke Page 2 para 11).
[xviii]. https://apps.who.int/gb/wgpr/pdf_files/wgpr9/A_WGPR9_3-en.pdf (pp. 8 and 19).
[xix]. https://apps.who.int/gb/wgpr/pdf_files/wgpr9/A_WGPR9_3-en.pdf (p. 17, table 7d, 33.)
[xx].https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld5801/ldselect/ldeucom/97/9704.htm#footnote-064 (chapter1:13.) [Robert Blackburn, ‘Parliament and Human Rights’ in Dawn Oliver and Gavin Drewry (eds), The Law and Parliament (London: Butterworths, 1998), p. 188–9 (4)].
[xxi]. https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN05855/SN05855.pdf (8.2 BOX 5).
[xxii]. https://committees.parliament.uk/oralevidence/10535/html/ (Q194 Professor Gardiner (associate of the faculty of laws at University College London).