As WHO Pandemic Treaty Nears Completion, Critics Raise Red Flags for US Freedoms
As WHO Pandemic Treaty Nears Completion, Critics Raise Red Flags for US Freedoms

By Kevin Stocklin

As the May deadline approaches for finalizing negotiations between the World Health Organization (WHO) and its 194 member nations over how much authority they will cede to the WHO once it declares a global health emergency, many health and policy experts are urging the Biden administration not to sign the United States up to the agreement.

In February 2023, WHO member states negotiated the “Zero Draft” of a new treaty, which wasn’t identified as a treaty but rather as the “WHO convention, agreement or other international instrument on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response (WHO CA+).”

This WHO CA+, which functions as a treaty, has gone through an opaque process of negotiation and amendments ever since, from which the public has been essentially excluded, with the goal of signing it this year.

Among the goals for the United States, as set by the Biden administration, are to “strengthen the global health security architecture, including WHO strengthening, and engage in ongoing negotiations to amend the IHR and develop a Pandemic Accord.”

A Dec. 30, 2023, White House fact sheet states, “Global health security is vital for international security and solidarity, and cannot be achieved alone.”

A pharmacist works while wearing personal protective equipment in New York City on April 1, 2020. (Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

When a Treaty Isn’t a Treaty

Reggie Littlejohn, president of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, criticized the WHO draft document for being crafted in a way that the Biden administration can sign the United States up to it without Senate approval.

“The WHO refuses to call the pandemic treaty a treaty,” she said at a press conference organized by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), chairman of the Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations Subcommittee.

“It calls it an agreement, an accord, a framework—anything else. Likely because it does not want it to be submitted to the treaty process in the United States and worldwide,” Ms. Littlejohn said.

According to the WHO, the agreement, once signed by members, will be legally binding.

“Conventions, framework agreements, and treaties are all examples of international instruments, which are legal agreements made between countries that are binding,” the WHO states.

The U.S. Constitution gives the president the authority to enter into treaties, which are agreements between the United States and foreign entities, “provided two thirds of the Senators present concur.”

Given the opposition to the WHO treaty, particularly from Republicans, it seems unlikely it would pass the Senate.

“The United States has a more difficult treaty ratification process than most other member states,” said Andrew Bremberg, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

“So there has been a recent history over the last several decades to develop new international treaties but not call them treaties, so as to avoid the ratification process.”

In May 2022, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) introduced a bill in the Senate that would have required the WHO treaty to be considered a treaty, hence obligating the consent of 67 senators. In February 2023, the bill received 47 votes in favor, with 49 senators voting against.

Some lawmakers have been frustrated by the Biden administration’s negotiations of the WHO treaty, which they say haven’t been transparent to the public.

President Joe Biden speaks before signing two bills aimed at combating fraud in the COVID-19 small business relief programs at the White House on Aug. 5, 2022. (Evan Vucci – Pool/Getty Images)

Trying to pin down the terms that are being negotiated is “like trying to nail jello to the wall,” said Tony Perkins, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. “It continues to change with every meeting, every approach, and so we’re doing our best to analyze what the WHO is putting forward.”

“The reason that nobody is being told what’s going on here is because it can’t withstand the light of day,” said Frank Gaffney, chairman of the Center for Security Policy.

“If you actually went to the American people and proposed that we turn over their personal medical health and freedom to this body that screwed it up recently, they wouldn’t want any part of it.”

The WHO Faces Criticism

Beyond the secrecy, one reason that the treaty is facing hostility is that the WHO’s performance during the COVID-19 pandemic undermined many people’s confidence in the organization.

“When the WHO needed to step up and help the world navigate this unprecedented event of a novel Coronavirus and a global pandemic, they instead ignored facts, they parroted back some of the narrative the Chinese Communist Party told them, and that’s what we got,” stated Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic.

“The WHO denied that COVID-19 was spread via human-to-human transmission, based entirely upon the word of the Chinese government—the CCP.

“I think maybe most appalling is that the WHO even delayed naming the pandemic a public health emergency of international concern because the CCP confirmed that the spread of the virus was ‘under control.’

“These are not actions of a properly functioning, transparent, nonpartisan organization … we need a system where global public health and local public health entities do not mislead the American public in any way, shape, or form.”

Dr. Monique Wubbenhost, an OB-GYN and former global health administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development, said the WHO’s performance during other pandemics was no better than its performance during COVID-19.

A woman crawls towards the body of her sister as Ebola burial team members take her for cremation in Monrovia, Liberia, on Oct. 10, 2014. (John Moore/Getty Images)

“I was in West Africa during Ebola in 2014,” Dr. Wubbenhost said. “The WHO’s response was hampered by poor communication, a lack of realization of the seriousness of the outbreak, and inadequate action.”

During the pandemic in Liberia, “the WHO was not able to adequately manage the pandemic response, provide timely and accurate information, or hold member states accountable for their lack of data sharing,” she added.

She said the WHO hasn’t demonstrated that it has addressed the “institutional problems” that underlie those failures.

“Corruption, favoritism, inappropriate use of funds, collusion with terrorists, and sexual misconduct have been documented at U.N. agencies,” she said.

“Such incidents show that, sadly, the U.N. appears to lack effective mechanisms for oversight and accountability, and this would apply to any efforts to increase its authority over pandemic prevention, surveillance, response, and recovery.”

Will More Power Help the WHO Do Better?

Proponents of the WHO treaty argue that its purpose is to provide funding and authority so that the WHO can improve its pandemic response.

According to the WHO’s website: “WHO Member States have developed multiple global legally-binding agreements, conventions, accords, and other types of international instruments to protect and promote people’s health, including the WHO Constitution itself, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, and the International Health Regulations.

“These international instruments represent a commitment by countries of the world to address the health needs of their citizens to advance their health status and strengthen the socio-economic status of their communities at large.”

But critics argue that the drafts they have been able to review thus far aren’t likely to achieve this goal.

“We’re going through a multi-year, actually rushed treaty process to have the world adopt a new pandemic treaty, and there is not one provision in there that would have actually dealt with the most important issue—the lack of accountability and transparency by the People’s Republic of China in disclosing vitally important epidemiological information,” Mr. Bremberg said.

Security officers stand in front of people as they line up for tests to detect COVID-19 at a mass testing site in Beijing on Jan. 24, 2022. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

Experts also question provisions in the WHO agreement that give it the authority to coordinate supply chains for vaccines, medicine, and medical products.

In addition, one of the stipulations in the agreement is that during a pandemic, member states will transfer a portion of their medicines and health devices to the WHO, which would then distribute them globally according to its core mission of achieving “equity.”

“The WHO is supposed to get 20 percent of all pandemic-related products,” Dr. Wubbenhost said. But regarding how those products would then be distributed by the WHO, “there’s a lack of accountability and there is no independent monitoring or audit body that is identified.”

The stipulation in the treaty to favor developing nations in order to meet “equity” goals could result in a transfer of medicines and medical technologies from the United States to countries such as China, analysts say.

“Much of the draft focuses on providing special treatment for developing countries including financial support and policies designed to promote research collaboration,” said Brett Schaefer, a research fellow at The Heritage Foundation.

“While there are reasons to support these types of activities to help developing countries bolster their health systems, these efforts should be voluntary, not obligatory through a treaty.

“In addition, because the U.N. considers China to be a developing country, they will benefit from special treatment and access to proprietary technology and know-how.”

U.S. law doesn’t give the federal government authority over health matters, thus leaving it to states. However, the Biden administration wants the WHO agreement and IHR amendments signed in order to justify having more federal control to set health policy, Mr. Gaffney said.

Employees load a pharmaceutical container on an Air France cargo plane in Roissy airport, north of Paris, on Nov. 25, 2020. (Thomas Coex/AFP via Getty Images)

“The Biden administration wants to have somebody else telling it to do what it wants to do, at the peril of our freedoms, and Constitution, and Republic,” he said.

During COVID-19, even though federal agencies didn’t have the legal authority to direct health policy, they frequently issued directives and recommendations on things such as masking, vaccines, and school closures, which were largely followed by municipalities, companies, and school districts.

Critics of the treaty argue that having a central, global authority issuing directives would reinforce such efforts to federalize a pandemic response.

A ‘Weak Framework’

Critics worry that, likewise, directives and recommendations from the WHO will become de facto policy in the United States, and they say that signing up would be a step toward global governance at the cost of constitutional rights.

This fear of losing civil liberties is heightened by numerous actions by state actors and health officials that violated civil rights during COVID-19, including censorship, lockdowns, vaccine passports, church and school closures, and attempts to force vaccinations such as the 2021 U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) directive that compelled companies to fire unvaccinated employees.

“I served as chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and I saw how Western governments used that to violate fundamental human rights, freedom of speech, the censoring of voices on social media platforms,” Mr. Perkins stated.

“Government officials intentionally took down credible scientific voices that challenged the global misdiagnosis and subsequent global protocols; families were separated, churches and other support groups were closed.

“At the tip of the spear of these failed approaches was the World Health Organization. Instead of acknowledging its failures, the WHO seeks to submit its disastrous approach to the entire world as the way forward in a binding agreement.”

In November 2023, Human Rights Watch stated that “the current draft [of the WHO agreement] fails to enshrine core human rights standards protected under international law … therefore risking a repeat of the tragic failures during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Protesters against vaccine mandates pray and rally near City Hall following the Los Angeles City Council vote to require proof of vaccination to enter many public indoor spaces in Los Angeles on Aug. 14, 2021. (David McNew/AFP via Getty Images)

“The current proposed text offers a weak framework for ensuring that countries will be accountable for maintaining a rights-compliant response to future pandemics,” Human Rights Watch stated.

The group said other human rights organizations agreed with its stance, including Amnesty International; the Global Initiative for Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights; and the International Commission of Jurists.

One core human right that may come into conflict with the WHO accord is the freedom of speech, in light of efforts by the WHO and other global institutions to fight “misinformation.”

One of the directives under the WHO’s net zero draft accord is that members will commit to “tackle false, misleading, misinformation or disinformation” and “conduct regular social listening and analysis to identify the prevalence and profiles of misinformation.”

This is consistent with the World Economic Forum’s 2024 Global Risks Report, which calls misinformation the “most severe global risk.”

Echoing that viewpoint, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told attendees at the World Economic Forum’s Davos summit in January that “the top concern for the next two years is not conflict or climate, it is disinformation and misinformation.”

That view also appears to be gaining traction in the United States, despite First Amendment protections against regulating speech. Recently, several academicians and doctors have charged that their research, which criticizes government policies such as lockdowns and compulsory vaccinations, is being censored in academic journals and the media.

In a case currently before the Supreme Court, Murthy v. Missouri (originally filed as Missouri v. Biden), state attorneys general from Louisiana and Missouri have charged that the Biden administration pressured social media companies to censor protected speech that contradicted the government narrative regarding COVID-19 origins, vaccines, and treatments.

In September 2023, a district court judge ruled against the Biden administration in this case, declaring that the administration’s effort to censor Americans was “the most massive attack against free speech in United States’ history” and that the Biden administration “blatantly ignored the First Amendment’s right to free speech.”

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