"We Must Ensure That There Is Equitable Distribution Of COVID19 Vaccine": Justice Indira Banerjee

Mehal Jain

13 Dec 2020 2:40 PM GMT

  • We Must Ensure That There Is Equitable Distribution Of COVID19 Vaccine: Justice Indira Banerjee

    "We must ensure that there is equitable distribution of the COVID vaccine, that the benefits of the vaccine are not just confined to the affluent countries but also extended to the less-developed in the underdeveloped countries", Justice Indira Banerjee expressed on Friday.The Supreme Court judge was speaking at a webinar on "World Human Rights Day" organised by St. Thomas College of Law...

    "We must ensure that there is equitable distribution of the COVID vaccine, that the benefits of the vaccine are not just confined to the affluent countries but also extended to the less-developed in the underdeveloped countries", Justice Indira Banerjee expressed on Friday.

    The Supreme Court judge was speaking at a webinar on "World Human Rights Day" organised by St. Thomas College of Law and INDIA LEGAL on "STAND UP FOR HUMAN RIGHTS, THE NEED OF GLOBAL SOLIDARITY"
    "For the COVID problem to be controlled, it will also have to be tackled unitedly, not by any one country alone. As regards the development of the vaccine, there is the Oxford vaccine, there is a Russian vaccine, then Pfizer is also working on one. So different countries are working towards it. We must ensure that there is equitable distribution of the COVID vaccine, that the benefits of the vaccine are not just confined to the affluent countries but also for the less-developed in the underdeveloped countries", said the judge.
    Justice Banerjee mentioned various international documents on the issue of Human Rights- that of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Genocide Convention, agreements regarding trafficking, exploitation and prostitution, the International Labour Organisation convention on the right to organise and collective bargaining, conventions as regards refugees, slavery, racial discrimination, discrimination against women, religious discrimination, torture, right to development, child rights, migrant workers and minorities.
    "The enforcement of obligations arising out of human rights documents depends on the will to implement these rights. This will has to be across the board. The State certainly owes a responsibility, however, we, as individuals, are also accountable as much of the human rights violation occurs at the behest of individuals, on account of their behaviour towards other individuals", explained the judge.
    She referred to a case on manual scavenging that she had dealt with- "It was the individual who was getting the manual scavenging done. So citizens have an individual as well as a collective responsibility towards securing each other's human rights". "The Covid pandemic has violated human rights in more ways than one. Several people have died, many have fallen ill, others and lost their jobs. Then there was the problem of the migrant workers, who were left jobless and had to walk back hundreds of miles, hundreds of kilometres to their homes", she explained.
    Justice Banerjee continued to observe that international cooperation is necessary as it is the core of international solidarity, this being solidarity which is not limited to assistance alone but one which includes sustainability of development, international relations and improvement. "The United Nations Commission on Human Rights had taken a step in 2005 and had appointed an independent expert on human rights to prepare a draft declaration on the rights of people to international solidarity", she added.
    "The extension of people's right to include more categories was meant to be effected through elevation of the duty to cooperate in pursuing the objectives of the United Nations Charter- for the correlative duty which is intrinsic in human rights to be transformed into an obligation. The first example of it was the African Charter on Human and People's Rights which contained binding legal obligations", continued the judge.
    "The right to development, to peace, to a clean and healthy environment, the rights of minorities and of the indigenous people...Domestic violence, with strikes at the very root of the human rights of women...Sexual harassment and sexual exploitation of women...there is nothing worse than trafficking and trading of human beings, buying and selling them like chattel for material considerations for the purposes of slavery, prostitution, bonded labour. All this needs to be checked by collective effort, not only at an individual level, not even by any nation-state alone", she elaborated.
    "That is why December 20 has been declared as the International Solidarity Day for human rights. There is also a draft declaration on rights of people to international solidarity. A World Solidarity Fund has also been set up", said Justice Banerjee.

    Quoting from the report of the independent expert, she cited that International solidarity is the expression of a spirit of unity among individuals, peoples, States and international organizations. It encompasses the union of interests, purposes and actions and the recognition of different needs and rights to achieve common goals. International solidarity is a foundational principle underpinning contemporary international law in order to preserve international order and to ensure the survival of international society.

    "The permanent sovereignty of nations over their natural wealth, their freedom to determine the objectives of sustainable development, to set the priorities and to choose the means and methods of obtaining the objectives must, however, continue to be free from any external interference. The sovereignty needs to be protected, and at the same time, there must be equitable, just and fair partnership of States for the protection and fulfilment of human rights of all persons and fundamental freedoms of all. States are accountable to their people as regards their foreign policy, their bilateral and international agreements, as regards the actions of international organisations of which they are members, and as regards their failure to sanction conduct of the private sector within their jurisdiction", she said.

    "The time has come for the corporate bodies, at least in this country, in the discharge of their corporate social responsibility, to take up the issue of protection of human rights", Justice Banerjee expressed.

    "Human rights include the right to live with human dignity which, in turn, encompasses the right to food, shelter, clothing, education, healthcare, the right to express oneself, equality, the right to be presumed innocent when accused of an offence until proven guilty beyond all reasonable doubt after an opportune hearing before an impartial tribunal...Generally, it is the most vulnerable people whose human rights are violated- the weaker section. We must think of the underprivileged, the poor, the differently-abled, the migrant labourers, the homeless. The human rights of children- every child is born equal and entitled to the same rights of being brought up with love and care. It is the essential responsibility of the family but if the family is unable to do so for some reason or is absent, it must be ensured that any adoption is for the benefit of the child, not under the garb of trafficking or forced labour or prostitution".
    She recounted an incident from her tenure as a judge, which, she said, "still gives (her) shivers"- "During my years as a Calcutta High Court judge, when I was also the head of the High Court legal services committee and then the West Bengal Legal Services Authority, it was an eye-opener for me when I met the victims at a gender sensitisation event organised by an NGO. There was a rescued victim, a girl aged 13-14, who did not have any parents and had stayed with her aunt in the village. The aunty could hardly meet ends for her own family but gave whatever she could to this girl. There was hardly any food for her to eat. A so-called aunt in her village offered her a job in Bombay. And what was the lure? That she would get four square meals! Nothing more! The girl had asked if she would actually get rice four times a day. The answer had been, 'Why only rice? You will get nice clothes and other things also'. She was told that she would work at a restaurant. So without telling her aunt, the girl left for Bombay, hoping that she would be able to make money and send some back to her aunt also. There, in Bombay, she was sold to a brothel. Just in one night, she was sexually abused by multiple clients. Several of them insisted on unprotected sex. At the age of 14 or 15, she became pregnant. Hearing her plight, one client helped her escape and she came to be handed over to the NGO. She never saw her earnings, no money was ever given in her hands, thinking that it would help her escape!... She held my hand and spoke to me and I had no answer to give her. She asked, 'What is my fault? This is not the kind of life I had wanted. I had been told that I would be required to clean utensils etc'...At the age of 16, she had contracted HIV. We had organised retroviral therapy for her"
    The judge narrated another incident where a girl of a very poor family had been forced into prostitution, having been lured away from her parents on the pretext of a fraudulent marriage- "The boy had said that he does not want any dowry and no money is to be spent on the wedding. The parents did not hear again from the girl post the marriage, and it was an NGO which reported to the police. It turned out that the marriage was a fraud, a pretence and the girl had been pushed into prostitution...At the awareness events, when we warned the parents to not get lured by proposals from unknown persons, one lady once asked me that if we receive a proposal and we go to the police, will the proposal work out then? I said educate your children and get them a job and that it is not necessary to marry the daughter off. She said that we have no proper place to live, it is not safe for my child and we don't know how to protect our children. So we must ensure that there are creches for children of the poor and shelters for those who don't have proper homes"
    "Before my mother passed away, for almost 3 years she was suffering from dementia. So I had procured help from a centre- this lady used to come and work from 8 PM till 8 AM. She was a single parent and had been abandoned by her husband. She had a child of 8 to 10 years, who was left alone in her one-room house in a city like Calcutta in the slum area. The child used to be petrified of ghosts, of predators and of thieves...So it is the collective responsibility of the State and the people at large, and of each and every country. When a fraud marriage happens and the woman is taken from India to another country, the cooperation of that country is also important. Similar is the case when a child is trafficked", urged the judge.

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