Patents, Human Rights and Access to Science
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Patents, Human Rights and Access to Science

Aurora Plomer

The new millennium has been described as ‘the century of biology’, but scientific progress and access to medicines has been marred by global disputes over ownership of the science by universities and private companies. This book examines the challenges posed by the modern patent system to the right of everyone to access the benefits of science in international law.
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Chapter 4: From moral ideals to legal obligations: the genesis of Article 15 ICESCR

Aurora Plomer


On the adoption and proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) on 10 December 1948, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly envisaged that the Universal Declaration would be followed by a legally binding covenant. The Human Rights Commission was instructed to prepare such a covenant as a matter of priority. But the process took almost 20 years to complete. Moreover, the outcome was not a single legally binding covenant, as originally envisaged, but two distinct international covenants, one dealing with civil and political rights, the other with economic, social and cultural rights. The substantive content of the two international covenants was drawn in the shadow of the earlier division of labour and separate drafts for a declaration and a covenant which had taken place in 1947 and 1948, reflecting the ‘deep and enduring disagreement over the proper status of economic, social and cultural rights.’ This chapter recovers the drafting history of Article 15 in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) recorded in archived documents and the role played by key actors in the evolution of the draft. The first part sets out the transformation of the UDHR into two separate legally binding treaties and shows how the inclusion of Article 15 in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights underscores the deep divide in the political visions of the drafters.

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