Research Article


DOI :10.26650/mecmua.2021.79.4.0010   IUP :10.26650/mecmua.2021.79.4.0010    Full Text (PDF)

Evaluation of the “Viral Sovereignty” Claims of States Under International Law

Sezercan Bektaş

Access to samples and genetic sequence data of virus pathogens is important for the production of medical tools to fight epidemics. While the genetic sequence data of pathogens can be obtained from scientific studies, states claim sovereignty over isolated biological samples of pathogens, based on the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Nagoya Protocol, thereby limiting access to pathogens. This claim is known as “viral dominance” and is particularly made by developing countries. The claim is hinged on the fact that developing states cannot access medical devices using shared pathogen samples due to their high commercial value and low supply. This presents a challenge to international law as it exposes the difficulty in ensuring access to benefits from information sharing and presents obstacles in preventing threats of epidemics to humanity. This study examines the birth, historical development, and legal bases of states’ claims of “viral sovereignty.” These claims present a challenge to the international community as they question whether a fair system can be established to ensure equal access to pathogen samples and data. Current claims and existing regulations that regard pathogen samples as a natural resource in the international arena have dragged developing states, who cannot access vaccines, into a great legal dilemma. This study argues that the dilemma can be resolved by the establishement of an international treaty with broad participation under the leadership of the World Health Organization (WHO). In this treaty, the existing powers of the WHO should be increased, its institutional structure should be strengthened, and the normative bindingness of its decisions on states should be reconsidered. This will make it possible for international law to contribute to the fair sharing of vaccines and other medical benefits in the fight against epidemics..


DOI :10.26650/mecmua.2021.79.4.0010   IUP :10.26650/mecmua.2021.79.4.0010    Full Text (PDF)

Uluslararası Hukuk Ekseninde Devletlerin İleri Sürdüğü “Viral Egemenlik” İddiasının Değerlendirilmesi

Sezercan Bektaş

Salgın hastalıklara sebebiyet veren virüs patojenlerine ait numune ve genetik dizi verilerine erişim salgın ile mücadelede kullanılacak tıbbi araçların üretilmesi için önemlidir. Patojenlerin genetik dizi verilerine bilimsel çalışmalar vasıtasıyla serbestçe erişilebilmekteyken; patojenlerin izole edilmiş biyolojik numuneleri üzerinde devletlerin, Biyolojik Çeşitlilik Sözleşmesi ve Nagoya Protokolü’ne dayanarak egemenlik iddia ettikleri ve patojenlere erişimin sınırlandırıldığı görülmektedir. Özellikle gelişmekte olan ülkelerin bu erişimi sınırlamak için ileri sürdüğü bu iddiaya “viral egemenlik” adı verilir. Gelişmekte olan devletlerin kullandığı bu iddianın hukuki gerekçelerinin yanı sıra reel gerekçesi ise paylaşılan patojen numuneleri kullanılarak elde edilen tıbbi araçlara, yüksek ticari değeri ve arzının azlığı sebebiyle, bu devletlerin ulaşamamasıdır. Adil olmayan fayda erişimi gerçekliği ve salgın hastalıkların insanlığa karşı önemli bir tehdit oluşturması ikilemi karşısında uluslararası hukuk içinden çıkamayacağı büyük bir sorun ile karşılaşmaktadır. Çalışmada devletlerin “viral egemenlik” iddialarının doğumu, tarihsel gelişimi ve hukuki dayanakları incelenmiştir. Viral egemenlik iddiasının uluslararası toplum için tehdit oluşturması nedeniyle patojen numunelerine etkin bir erişim sistemi ile elde edilen faydaların paylaşımı konusunda adil sistemin oluşturulup oluşturulamayacağının cevabı aranmıştır. Netice olarak virüs patojenlerinin bilimsel çalışmalar için paylaşımındaki engellerin bütün insanlığın ortak sorunu olduğu ve patojen numunelerinin uluslararası alanda doğal kaynak olduğuna ilişkin iddialar ve düzenlemelerin, aşı ve diğer tıbbi faydalara erişemeyen gelişmekte olan devletleri uluslararası alanda büyük bir hukuki çıkmaza sürüklediği ortadadır. Bu çıkmazdan ancak Dünya Sağlık Örgütü (DSÖ)’nün öncülüğünde, geniş katılımlı uluslararası bir andlaşma ile çıkmak mümkün olabilecektir. Bu andlaşma ile DSÖ’nün mevcut yetkileri artırılmalı, kurumsal yapısı güçlendirilmeli, kararlarının devletler açısından normatif bağlayıcılığı tekrar gözden geçirilmelidir. Böylece, salgın hastalıklar ile mücadelede aşı ve diğer tıbbi faydaların adil paylaşımına ilişkin uluslararası hukukun katkıda bulunabilmesi mümkün olabilecektir.



EXTENDED ABSTRACT


When there is an outbreak of a pandemic in the world, the first course of action is to isolate the virus and access its genetic data. Only then will it be possible to carry out scientific studies that will end the pandemic. Rapid sharing of the virus’ genetic data and the isolated biological sample of its pathogen with researchers is vital in combating a pandemic and curtailing the spread and number of fatalities. The greatest responsibility falls on the states where the virus first appeared. Although with the current COVID-19 pandemic, relevant data was quickly shared with the world by the People’s Republic of China, where the virus first appeared, this was not always the case during previous pandemics, as countries were not willing to share data and samples. In fact, in the case of the emergence of a lethal form of H5N1 in Indonesia in 2006, Indonesia did not want to share the samples of this virus that emerged within the country with other countries and claimed sovereignty over the virus based on the principle of absolute state sovereignty over natural resources. Indonesia characterized the virus as a “natural resource” according to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Nagoya Protocol, leading to the emergence of a new type of sovereignty in academic litereture called “viral sovereignty.”

The central idea behind Indonesia’s claim was not based on issues with the sharing of data and treatments such as vaccines, medicines, etc. that are developed by the developed countries, as is the case with the current pandemic as argued by developing countries. However, although these arguments are justified, current international has not considered situations involving virus pathogen samples as captured in these arguments. If viruses are accepted as “natural resources,” it means that they are to be considered as the “common heritage of mankind” which has economic value, therefore making it imparative for information on them to be shared with other countries. However, the bargaining process at the point of sharing virus pathogen samples may slow down the pace of the fight againt pandemics, resulting in delays in developing treatments. As a matter of fact, this happened with the Mers-CoV virus that emerged in Saudi Arabia in 2012; the development of treatments was delayed till after the virus spread to other countries. Today, the World Health Organization (WHO) has only issued the Global Influenza Preparedness Framework to ensure the sharing of influenza virus pathogen samples, but it has not been able to realize any other solution regarding the sharing of other virus pathogen samples.

Based on the foregoing, it is necessary to create a fair balance in sharing virus pathogen samples that will improve access to treatment tools for all countries within the scope of the right to health, which is a fundamental human right. Within this context, it is obvious that accepting virus pathogen samples as “natural resources” and providing them with economic value may be incompatible with the right to health. However, it should not be forgotten that the CBD, from which “natural resource” claims are derived, imposes obligations on countries to prevent the spread of the virus. Thus, the claims made by developing countries for “viral sovereignty” are justifiable. However, there are certain steps that must first be undertaken: the WHO should obtain an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on whether the virus pathogen samples will fall within the scope of the sovereignty of states. Depending on the result of this opinion, considering that the CBD does not only permit a definition of virus pathogen samples as “natural resources” but also includes obligations to prevent epidemics, by approaching the issue especially in the context of the right to health, it needs to abandon the strict “natural resource” understanding and adopt the “common heritage of mankind” argument, but this time on a fair basis. In this context, as an expert international organization, the WHO should take initiative and play an active role. The WHO, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic that increased the general awareness of pandemics and showed the undeniable emergence of the importance of combating epidemic diseases, should ensure the establishment of an international agreement that will bind all signatory states and ensure wide participation of states. In order to achieve this goal, the organizational structure of the WHO would have to be reconsidered.



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APA

Bektaş, S. (2021). Evaluation of the “Viral Sovereignty” Claims of States Under International Law. Istanbul Law Review, 79(4), 1421-1443. https://doi.org/10.26650/mecmua.2021.79.4.0010


AMA

Bektaş S. Evaluation of the “Viral Sovereignty” Claims of States Under International Law. Istanbul Law Review. 2021;79(4):1421-1443. https://doi.org/10.26650/mecmua.2021.79.4.0010


ABNT

Bektaş, S. Evaluation of the “Viral Sovereignty” Claims of States Under International Law. Istanbul Law Review, [Publisher Location], v. 79, n. 4, p. 1421-1443, 2021.


Chicago: Author-Date Style

Bektaş, Sezercan,. 2021. “Evaluation of the “Viral Sovereignty” Claims of States Under International Law.” Istanbul Law Review 79, no. 4: 1421-1443. https://doi.org/10.26650/mecmua.2021.79.4.0010


Chicago: Humanities Style

Bektaş, Sezercan,. Evaluation of the “Viral Sovereignty” Claims of States Under International Law.” Istanbul Law Review 79, no. 4 (Jul. 2022): 1421-1443. https://doi.org/10.26650/mecmua.2021.79.4.0010


Harvard: Australian Style

Bektaş, S 2021, 'Evaluation of the “Viral Sovereignty” Claims of States Under International Law', Istanbul Law Review, vol. 79, no. 4, pp. 1421-1443, viewed 6 Jul. 2022, https://doi.org/10.26650/mecmua.2021.79.4.0010


Harvard: Author-Date Style

Bektaş, S. (2021) ‘Evaluation of the “Viral Sovereignty” Claims of States Under International Law’, Istanbul Law Review, 79(4), pp. 1421-1443. https://doi.org/10.26650/mecmua.2021.79.4.0010 (6 Jul. 2022).


MLA

Bektaş, Sezercan,. Evaluation of the “Viral Sovereignty” Claims of States Under International Law.” Istanbul Law Review, vol. 79, no. 4, 2021, pp. 1421-1443. [Database Container], https://doi.org/10.26650/mecmua.2021.79.4.0010


Vancouver

Bektaş S. Evaluation of the “Viral Sovereignty” Claims of States Under International Law. Istanbul Law Review [Internet]. 6 Jul. 2022 [cited 6 Jul. 2022];79(4):1421-1443. Available from: https://doi.org/10.26650/mecmua.2021.79.4.0010 doi: 10.26650/mecmua.2021.79.4.0010


ISNAD

Bektaş, Sezercan. Evaluation of the “Viral Sovereignty” Claims of States Under International Law”. Istanbul Law Review 79/4 (Jul. 2022): 1421-1443. https://doi.org/10.26650/mecmua.2021.79.4.0010



TIMELINE


Submitted03.04.2021
First Revision17.09.2021
Last Revision17.09.2021
Accepted22.11.2021
Published Online31.12.2021

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