In defence of a renewed multilateralism to address the COVID-19 pandemic and other global challenges: report

September 2021
To the HRC at its 48th session and the GA at its 76th session


The mandate holder decided to devote his 2021 reports to the HRC and GA to the need for renewed multilateralism in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To prepare, in addition to extensive research and desk review, the Independent Expert issued a questionnaire to Member States, civil society and other stakeholders (see below the inputs received), and he consulted bilaterally with a number of stakeholders to seek their views on the topic at stake.


After looking at the new impetus for multilateralism at the UN level, the Independent Expert examined how multilateralism is the sole path towards an equitable health response and fair socioeconomic recovery, while making broader considerations on this matter. More specifically, he scrutinized issues pertaining to, inter alia, equitable global access to vaccines; the need to strengthen WHO and the global health architecture; a possible international treaty for pandemic preparedness and responsepandemic treaty; the need to increase fiscal space for countries impacted by the pandemic; an overhaul of the global tax system; the establishment of a global fund for social protection; the introduction of an emergency universal basic income; the exacerbated impact of unilateral coercive measures; the impact of the pandemic on the participation of civil society in multilateral processes and their funding; and a series of needed reforms of UN organs.

The Independent Expert concluded that in this time of great upheaval, where the very concept of multilateralism is under significant threat, and with a virus that keeps mutating and does not stop at borders, it is essential that renewed multilateralism be embraced, with a more effective and more inclusive approach, in order to respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, with people and respect for human rights at the centre of this process. Such an endeavour necessitates the global leadership and coordination of a robust and adequately funded United Nations, and the full commitment and sustained engagement of Member States, international financial institutions, the private sector and civil society.

The momentum gathered within the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council and the World Health Assembly around the existential threat of the pandemic and the need to fully and unequivocally embrace multilateralism, international cooperation and solidarity as the sole way to defeat the pandemic should sustain and ultimately prevail.

Such an unwavering multilateral commitment is indeed needed to overcome other ongoing global challenges, first and foremost climate change, and to face future pandemics, possibly of a greater magnitude, which will undoubtedly come in the not-so-distant future.

The pandemic presents an opportunity for the world to be better prepared next time and to build back better and more resilient, while achieving a democratic and equitable international order. It should be seized decisively.

Inputs received

To inform his reporting on this issue, the Independent Expert sought the views from various stakeholders on the following three questions:

  1. What are the key obstacles to a more effective, inclusive and networked multilateralism to handle the COVID-19 pandemic, in terms of both health response and economic recovery?                             
  2. What are the solutions to overcome such obstacles in a fair and sustainable manner (including targeted reforms)?
  3. What are your views on a new international treaty for pandemic preparedness and response?

The deadline for these contributions was 30 June 2021.

A total of 26 submissions were received (one stakeholder requested not to make its submission public).

Member States

Civil society

International governmental organizations