The World Health Organization announced a public comment period for a new treaty aimed at better tackling future pandemics, but critics say the process, which has now ended, has so far been too short and secretive.
“A public comment period on the World Health Organization’s power grab becomes nothing more than a public relations charade when there is no accountability from the governed over those who seek to regulate their lives—and should not and cannot be used as justification for moving forward with this egregious breach of constitutional principle,” Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., told Fox News Digital in a statement.
At issue is the WHO’s so-called “Pandemic Accord,” a proposed treaty that proponents say will help organize international response to future pandemics. The WHO officially launched the process to draft a treaty last year, setting a goal to have an agreement in place by the 77th World Health Assembly in 2024.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the many flaws in the global system to protect people from pandemics: the most vulnerable people going without vaccines; health workers without needed equipment to perform their life-saving work; and ‘me-first’ approaches that stymie the global solidarity needed to deal with a global threat,” WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at the time.
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“But at the same time, we have seen inspiring demonstrations of scientific and political collaboration, from the rapid development of vaccines to today’s commitment by countries to negotiate a global accord that will help to keep future generations safer from the impacts of pandemics,” Tedros added.
But the effort has raised concerns that such a treaty could encroach on the sovereignty of member nations, giving too much power to an organization that has faced criticism for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Smith, who is the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Global Human Rights, added that “Congress and the American people must remain vigilant against any effort by the Biden Administration to surrender power to unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats or technocratic elites both at home and abroad.” He continued, “We are a self-governing nation—not one to be commanded by mandates from a global bureaucracy like the World Health Organization that is subject to the corrupting influence of the Chinese Communist Party.”
Such concerns led Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., to introduce legislation in May aimed at preventing the U.S. from agreeing to a WHO treaty without the approval of the Senate.
“The WHO, along with our federal health agencies, failed miserably in its response to COVID-19,” Johnson said at the time. “Its failure should not be rewarded with a new international treaty that would increase its power at the expense of American sovereignty. What WHO does need is greater accountability and transparency. This bill makes clear to the Biden administration that any new WHO pandemic agreement must be deemed a treaty and submitted to the Senate for ratification. The sovereignty of the United States is not negotiable.”
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Now the WHO is facing backlash for its handling of the public comment period for the treaty, with the Freedom First Foundation arguing that the announcement gave the public a “brief window” to submit input and criticizing the organization’s restrictive rules for those who are able to submit a comment.
“For a treaty granting the WHO authority over the ‘whole of society’ to neglect to inform most of society of the hearing is deeply concerning,” president of First Freedom Foundation Patrice Pederson said in a recent statement. “For a treaty with ‘equity’ as an overarching theme to exclude the vulnerable and marginalized from participating demonstrates a lack of understanding of the challenges that exist.”
The Freedom First Foundation also called out the organization’s use of Twitter to make the announcement, noting that only a fraction of the world’s population uses the social media network.
“No press conference was held to announce the comment period, no public information campaigns were undertaken, and there was no mention on the WHO’s official Facebook or Instagram pages,” the organization claimed in its press release. “The announcement seemed more like an ‘unvitation’ than an invitation,” Pederson said of the post.
The WHO also faced backlash for saying the comment period would be the last, with Pederson arguing that it appears the organization is not genuinely seeking input. The public comment period ended last week.
In a statement to Fox News Digital, Tarik Jasarevic, a spokesperson for the World Health Organization, claimed stakeholders were encouraged to participate: “The WHO Secretariat engaged in extensive outreach efforts to promote and facilitate broad public participation in this second round of public hearings to support the work of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB), comprised of all of WHO’s 194 sovereign Member States, on the new international accord on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.”
He continued: “This outreach included informing our Member States, all Non-state actors in official relations with WHO, all those who have been in contact with the WHO Secretariat during the #PandemicAccord process, and all those who had made verbal statements during the first round of public hearings in April 2022, that we would be accepting video submissions in September 2022.”
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The spokesman argued that the organization gave plenty of warning about the event on social media, noting that announcements were posted in all the WHO’s regional accounts.
“WHO’s outreach also included messaging on the organization’s social media accounts across all of six WHO’s regions. Furthermore, the Public Hearings and the invitation for submissions were published on WHO’s website, and WHO Regional and Country Offices publicized the Public Hearings and calls for submissions in their respective languages.”
The spokesman also noted that all video submissions will be posted on the organization’s website, which is something the organization did during the first round of public comments.
As to the passage of the accord, the spokesman noted, “As with all international instruments, any new accord, if and when agreed by WHO’s Member States, would be determined by governments themselves, who would take any action while considering their own national laws and regulations.”
The 194 members of WHO are expected to meet to decide on the accord in 2024.