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The World Health Organization (WHO) recently released a zero draft of its international pandemic treaty which will give the unelected global health agency new powers to “tackle” anything that it deems to be “false, misleading, misinformation or disinformation” if passed.
The WHO has been pushing the treaty since December 2021 and those drafting the treaty intend to present a final report to the World Health Assembly (WHA), the WHO’s decision-making body, in May 2024.
If adopted, the treaty will be legally binding under international law and the WHO’s 194 member states (which represent 98% of all the countries in the world) would be required to comply with the treaty’s demands to target misinformation.
The zero draft is similar to previous versions of the treaty and the provisions related to misinformation are described in Article 17 (“Strengthening pandemic and public health literacy”).
This section of the treaty calls for member states to “tackle false, misleading, misinformation or disinformation, including through promotion of international cooperation.”
It also urges member states to manage “infodemics” — a term coined by the WHO that refers to “too much information including false or misleading information in digital and physical environments during a disease outbreak.” Specifically, member states are told to manage these so-called infodemics “through effective channels, including social media.”
The scope of this treaty also extends beyond the WHO’s member base. Article 16 (“Whole-of-government and whole-of-society approaches at the national level”) urges member states to collaborate with non-state actors and the private sector as part of a “whole-of-society response in decision making, implementation, monitoring and evaluation, as well as effective feedback mechanisms.”
We obtained a copy of the zero draft of the WHO’s pandemic treaty for you here.
As with any attempt to censor content that’s deemed to be misinformation, this pandemic treaty raises questions about how these so-called authorities will decide what misinformation is. Experts are now starting to admit that many claims that were once pushed as being true by authorities, such as the claim that Covid vaccines would prevent infection, are false.
And these questions are particularly pertinent in this instance because the WHO is infamous for a misleading tweet during the early stages of the pandemic that amplified claims from Chinese authorities that there was “no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission” of the coronavirus.
The WHO released this zero draft of the international pandemic treaty during its 152nd executive board meeting which began on January 30 and will end on February 7.
The international pandemic treaty will be adopted under Article 19 of the WHO Constitution if passed. This article lets the WHA impose legally binding conventions on WHO member states with a two-thirds majority vote.
Typically, elected officials vote on the laws that apply to their country, but with this WHO lawmaking process, a handful of global representatives decide the rules that apply to all countries. Regardless of whether a third of WHO member states vote against the international pandemic treaty, it will still apply to their countries under international law.
In addition to limiting politicians’ power to decide on the laws that apply to their country, this process also limits citizens’ ability to hold politicians accountable at the ballot box. WHO member state representatives are mostly unelected diplomats who remain in their positions regardless of changes in governments. And the majority of votes determining whether an international law applies to a particular country are cast by representatives from other nations.
The international pandemic treaty has the backing of many democratic countries, including the United States (US), United Kingdom (UK), Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the European Council (EC) (which represents 27 European Union (EU) member states), despite the WHO’s undemocratic lawmaking process.
The release of this zero draft international pandemic treaty comes days after the WHO said misinformation needs to be tackled. The WHO also recently shared a video stating that “anti-vaccine activism” is deadlier than “global terrorism.”