The COVID-19 pandemic caught much of the world unprepared. The respiratory virus spread quickly without proven treatments, protective equipment was scarce and there were limited tests for the virus. To avoid a similar future scenario, the World Health Organization has been drafting pandemic prevention and preparedness plans — but those plans have become fodder for false claims online.
In one Facebook post, a woman in a video claimed the WHO’s plans would strip people of certain rights.
“We’re undergoing a soft coup,” said a woman sitting behind a name plate that read “M. Nass” and in front of a backdrop that read “europarl.eu” — the website for the European Parliament. “The idea is to create a whole new set of laws and ignore the existing human rights laws and other laws under the pretext of pandemic preparedness and the biosecurity agenda,” the woman said.
The United States and leadership of the WHO, a United Nations agency, she continued, were working to develop “a pandemic treaty and amendments to the existing International Health Regulations that will remove the human rights protections currently embedded in the IHRs,” enforce surveillance and censorship and “get rid of freedom of speech.”
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(Screenshot from Facebook.)
The woman in the video is Meryl Nass, an internist whose medical license was suspended by the Maine Board of Licensure in 2022 after she made numerous false claims about COVID-19. Nass was speaking at a May 2023 conference, the International COVID Summit, which featured several speakers who have spread COVID-19 misinformation, including Dr. Robert Malone and Dr. Ryan Cole.
A WHO spokesperson told PolitiFact that member states agreed to draft and negotiate a convention or agreement to strengthen pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.
We found no evidence to suggest that this pandemic-focused accord would remove human rights protections, mandate surveillance or infringe on people’s freedom of speech.
The accord is being created with member states’ input. A draft of the pandemic accord is expected to be ready “for consideration by the Seventy-seventh World Health Assembly in 2024,” according to a Q&A on the WHO’s website.
A preliminary draft of the document (also known as the zero draft) was created for member states to evaluate during meetings in February and April 2023. The zero draft did not give the WHO power to override member states’ sovereignty or restrict rights. The proposed language explicitly encouraged member states to prioritize the protection of human rights.
Chapter 4, Article 14 said parties shall “incorporate non-discriminatory measures to protect human rights as part of their pandemic prevention, preparedness, response and recovery, with a particular emphasis on the rights of persons in vulnerable situations.”
Member states’ sovereignty and “respect for human rights” were included among the first three of the draft’s 18 “guiding principles and rights.”
If the finalized language is different from what was proposed in the early draft, experts told PolitiFact in February that the WHO lacks the power to make a member state do something against its will.
The WHO’s website says that the new pandemic accord aims to be coherent with and complementary to existing International Health Regulations. The new accord would be something determined and agreed upon by member state governments, each taking into account “their own national laws and regulations,” according to the WHO.
“Member States will decide the terms of the accord, including whether any of its provisions will be legally binding on Member States as a matter of international law,” reads the site.
The WHO site also says that member states would decide what mechanisms, if any, would be included to ensure compliance with the new accord.
“It is a general principle of international law that once an international law instrument is in force, it would be binding on the parties to it, and would have to be performed by those parties in ‘good faith,’” the WHO site said.
A video claimed the WHO is developing a pandemic treaty that will remove current human rights protections, enforce surveillance and eliminate freedom of speech.
WHO member states are collectively drafting an accord focused on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response. It is a work in progress, but experts have said the WHO lacks the power to make a member state action — or restrict rights or freedoms — against its will. An early draft of the accord also included language about protecting human rights and member state sovereignty.
We rate that claim False.
PolitiFact researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.