War in Ukraine upends the opening of WIPO’s Intergovernmental Committee on Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge, and Folklore

The World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) 42nd session of the Intergovernmental Committee on Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge, and Folklore (IGC) meets from 28 February 2022 to 4 March 2022. The focus of WIPO’s work this week is to finalize an international legal instrument relating to intellectual property, genetic resources, and traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources. This draft legal instrument aims to prevent the misappropriation of genetic sources through a mandatory disclosure requirement, which lays at the heart of the Chair’s text. It should be noted that Japan and the United States of America do not favor a mandatory disclosure requirement so currently the Committee is at an impasse.

Article 3.1 of the Chair’s text states:

    3.1 Where the claimed invention in a patent application is [materially/directly] based on GRs, each Contracting Party shall require applicants to disclose:

    (a) the country of origin of the GRs, or,

    (b) in cases where the information in sub paragraph (a) is not known to the applicant, or where sub paragraph (a) does not apply, the source of the GRs.

On Monday, 28 February 2022, prior to the election of officers, a delegate from Ukraine took the floor to condemn the Russian invasion noting that the war in Ukraine prevented four Kyiv-based experts from meaningfully engaging in the IGC’s work to finalize an instrument relating to intellectual property, genetic resources, and traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources.

    The work of this Committee is of the utmost importance to the development and protection of genetic resources, traditional knowledge, and folklore and technical assistance activities supporting member states. We stress on the importance of the Committee working towards reaching a common understanding and consensus on cross cutting issues in front of us as well as moving forward on them. These processes would require full engagement of the delegations, regional groups, and our capitals.

    However, for my delegation, the latter would be an almost impossible task.And you can see four empty seats next to me. On 24th February, the Russian Federation, supported by the Republic of Belarus began launching strikes on peaceful Ukrainian cities. Russian Federation commits an act of aggression, an attack on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, a brutal violation of the UN Charter, and basic norms and principles of international law.

    Due to current security circumstances, Ukrainian delegation cannot travel to Geneva nor participate remotely at the work of the IGC. The absence of one delegation’s voice in this Committee, [an] expert body of WIPO, makes it impossible to ensure that the work of the Committee takes account of all Member States’ interests.

    Now and before, during the previous sessions of the Committee we all stressed the detrimental effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on our work to move forward in the area of genetic resources, traditional knowledge, and folklore. People cannot do much to immediately stop pandemics and natural disasters.

    But acts of war – we can!

France on behalf of the European Union, took the floor next to support Ukraine.

    In this dark moment for Europe and the international community, the European Union and its member states condemn in the strongest possible terms, Russia’s unprecedented military aggression against Ukraine. By its unprovoked, unjustified military actions, Russia is grossly violating international law and the core principles on which the international rules-based order is built on. It is an attack on Geneva as a capital of multilateralism and on what WIPO as a UN agency stands for.

    The European Union and its member states also condemn the involvement of Belarus in this aggression against Ukraine. We call on Russia to immediately cease the hostilities, withdraw its military from Ukraine, and fully respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity, sovereignty, and independence. The European Union and its member states made clear from the outset and the highest political level that any further military aggression against Ukraine will have massive consequences and severe costs.

    Consequently, both sectoral and individual restrictive measures have been adopted by the EU but also by many other WIPO members.

The United States provided the following intervention.

    My delegation too must speak up regarding to the current situation in Europe.

    While WIPO is a specialized agency with a specific mandate, it’s also part of the UN family. We cannot and will not stay silent when one Member State blatantly violates Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter to the catastrophic detriment of another Member State.

    Russia’s illegal attack on Ukraine was unprovoked and unwarranted. President Putin has unilaterally launched a premeditated war that is bringing catastrophic loss of life and human suffering. Russia alone is responsible for the death and destruction this attack is bringing, and the world must hold Russia accountable.

    Here at WIPO, we strive to improve the lives of people everywhere through the recognition and utilization of intellectual property in the pursuit of socio-economic and cultural development. The Director General Tang’ mantra since assuming office has been that WIPO should help to build a world where innovation and creativity is supported by IP for the good of everyone, everywhere. Unfortunately, this is not possible in Ukraine because of the Russia’s naked aggression.

    We call upon Russia to immediately cease its use of force against Ukraine and refrain from any further unlawful threat or use of force against any and all internationally recognized sovereign member states. The United States also joins Secretary-General Guterres’s urgent plea for Russia to immediately withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.

    We also call upon all parties to allow and facilitate the rapid, safe, and unhindered access of humanitarian assistance to those in need in Ukraine, to protect civilians, including children, and to respect their rights.

The United Kingdom intervened next.

    Thank you, Assistant Director General, for giving me the floor at this moment.

    The Delegation of the UK supports the statement by the delegation of Ukraine made just moments ago.

    Russia’s assault on Ukraine is an unprovoked, premeditated attack against a sovereign democratic state. The UK and our international partners stand united in condemning the Russian government’s reprehensible actions, which are an egregious violation of international law and the UN Charter.

    As a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council, Russia has a particular responsibility to uphold international peace and security. Instead, it is violating the borders of another country and its actions are causing widespread suffering.

    The Russian Government has shown that it was never serious about engaging in diplomacy – it has deliberately worked to mislead the world, in order to mask its carefully planned aggression.

    As the UN Secretary-General has said, such unilateral measures conflict directly with the United Nations Charter. The use of force by one country against another is the repudiation of the principles that every country has committed to uphold.

    Russia must urgently de-escalate and withdraw its troops. It must be held accountable and stop undermining democracy, global stability, and international law.

Thank you.

Canada noted:

Canada condemns the egregious attack on Ukraine. These unprovoked attacks are a clear violation on sovereignty and territorial integrity and existing obligations under international law.

Switzerland made the following intervention.

Switzerland is seriously concerned by the war in Ukraine. The Russian attack is a violation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine and a flagrant violation of international law, and in particular the UN Charter. Switzerland roundly condems these violations by Russia. Switzerland would like to remind Russia of the need to meet their international obligations and to make a step back, to withdraw their troops and contribute to a de-escalation. Switzerland calls on the stakeholders to observe international law with a special emphasis on humanitarian international law.

The Russian Federation provided the following response.

In conjunction with interventions by individual delegations, we would like to point out that the Russian Federation highly appreciates the role and significance of the IGC on genetic resources, TK and folklore and as a site for constructive discussions involving experts in the area of intellectual property. it is also the site of a wide range of topical issues under the aegis of the Committee. I would like to call on the members of the Committee to focus on the matters in the purview of this meeting and the Committee and adhere to the agenda that was suggested by the organizers.

Ukraine provided these concluding remarks.

    First this delegation would like to align itself with the statements by the European Union earlier, as well thank all delegations speaking on this matter in particular the delegations of European Union, United States, UK, Canada, Japan, Switzerland and Australia and definitely not thanking one delegation.

    Also I would like through you to request the International Bureau to include the statement by Ukraine into the records of this meeting.