TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (July09/14)
20 July 2009
Third World Network

Pope denounces North's zeal for rigidly asserting IPRs
Published in SUNS #6738 dated 10 July 2009

Geneva, 9 Jul (Kanaga Raja) -- Civil society groups and activists campaigning against strict intellectual property rights (IPR) standards have found a powerful ally in Pope Benedict XVI, who has criticized the "excessive zeal" of rich countries for protecting knowledge through an "unduly rigid assertion" of the right to intellectual property, especially in health care.

The Pontiff's criticism came in a section of an encyclical letter which highlighted a myriad of human development issues of concern to the Vatican and examined the problems associated with it.

As recently as last month, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Mr Anand Grover, in a report to the UN Human Rights Council, found that the WTO TRIPS Agreement and the TRIPS-plus provisions in Free Trade Agreements have had an adverse impact on prices and availability of medicines, making it difficult for countries to comply with their obligations to respect, protect and fulfil the right to health.

The rights expert called on developing countries and the least developed countries (LDCs) not to introduce TRIPS-plus standards in their national laws. Developed countries should not encourage developing countries and the LDCs to enter into TRIPS-plus FTAs and should be mindful of actions which may infringe upon the right to health.

The encyclical letter from the Pontiff is titled "Caritas in Veritate of the Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI to the Bishops, Priests and Deacons, Men and Women Religious, the Lay Faithful and All People of Good Will on Integral Human Development in Charity and Truth."

In paragraph 22 of the document, under the heading of "Human Development in Our Time", Pope Benedict XVI says: "On the part of rich countries there is excessive zeal for protecting knowledge through an unduly rigid assertion of the right to intellectual property, especially in the field of health care."

In a blog post on 7 July, Knowledge Ecology International (KEI) referred to an announcement made by the Pope on 13 June, in which the Pontiff said that the document would "highlight what, for us as Christians, are the objectives that need to be pursued and what values to be tirelessly promoted and defended in order to create a truly free and united form of human coexistence."

The encyclical letter issued on 29 June is on the Vatican's website.

KEI notes in its blog post, "While Papal Encyclicals do not determine official doctrine for the Church, they do offer a chance to annunciate the personal thoughts of the Pope and encourage specific priorities that the Pope wishes to set for the Church. Encyclicals such as the Caritas in Veritate are traditionally addressed to church heads, and not to the laity at large (though the current one seems to be an exception, and all are made available publicly)."

"They are the second most important statement that can be issued by the Pope (after an Apostolic Constitution, which proclaims dogma and/or issues of canon law)," said KEI.

Paragraph 22 of the encyclical letter says: "22. Today the picture of development has many overlapping layers. The actors and the causes in both underdevelopment and development are manifold, the faults and the merits are differentiated. This fact should prompt us to liberate ourselves from ideologies, which often oversimplify reality in artificial ways, and it should lead us to examine objectively the full human dimension of the problems. As John Paul II has already observed, the demarcation line between rich and poor countries is no longer as clear as it was at the time of Populorum Progressio[55]. The world's wealth is growing in absolute terms, but inequalities are on the increase. In rich countries, new sectors of society are succumbing to poverty and new forms of poverty are emerging. In poorer areas some groups enjoy a sort of "superdevelopment" of a wasteful and consumerist kind which forms an unacceptable contrast with the ongoing situations of dehumanizing deprivation. "The scandal of glaring inequalities"[56] continues. Corruption and illegality are unfortunately evident in the conduct of the economic and political class in rich countries, both old and new, as well as in poor ones. Among those who sometimes fail to respect the human rights of workers are large multinational companies as well as local producers. International aid has often been diverted from its proper ends, through irresponsible actions both within the chain of donors and within that of the beneficiaries. Similarly, in the context of immaterial or cultural causes of development and underdevelopment, we find these same patterns of responsibility reproduced. On the part of rich countries there is excessive zeal for protecting knowledge through an unduly rigid assertion of the right to intellectual property, especially in the field of health care. At the same time, in some poor countries, cultural models and social norms of behaviour persist which hinder the process of development."

(Footnote 55 refers to Cf. Encyclical Letter, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 28: loc. cit., 548-550, whereas footnote 56 refers to Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio, 9: loc. cit., 261-262. The full encyclical letter can be found on the Vatican's website - www. vatican. va. Section 22 of the letter and the KEI blog post on this issue can be found at www. keionline. org/blogs/2009/07/07/pope-ipr/).

[Pope Benedict's encyclical letter, and its publication and notice in the media on its paragraph 22, has come even as the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) has been holding a four-day high-level segment, around the theme of the current global and national trends and their impact on social development, including health.

[Ironically, even as the Pope has come out in such critical terms on "unduly rigid assertion" of IPRs and particularly in health care, outside the ECOSOC meeting hall inside the UN complex in Geneva, where the various UN systems organisations have booths and "billboards", is a booth and "billboard" for the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations (IFPMA), about the contributions of IFPMA "on R&D for diseases of the developing world ."

[IFPMA, an NGO in consultative status with ECOSOC, is a strong exponent of a high level of IPR protection in respect of health issues, and pushed for the TRIPS agreement at the WTO during the Uruguay Round. And post-Marrakesh, it has been pushing for TRIPS-plus arrangements in Free Trade Agreements.] +