Health and Human Rights

Rights and Humanity has long advocated for greater priority to be given to the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. This right was recognised in the Constitution of WHO in 1946, and in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1966. Despite this, at the beginning of the 1990s, there was little understanding of this right. Consequently health was not given the priority it deserved in international and national policies and in development programmes.


Physical and mental health is critical for development and to poverty-reduction efforts throughout the world. For this reason, it became a priority of Rights and Humanity. As in our AIDS programme, we found ourselves playing the role of “interpreter” between the health and human rights communities.


Articulating the Right to Health and Influencing WHO

From 1993, Rights and Humanity played a ground breaking role in articulating the right to health within the UN and international conferences.

Rights and Humanity’s success in shaping global AIDS policy through the lens of human rights encouraged us to expand our work to advocate the use of the human rights framework for the work of the World Health Organization as a whole.

We pointed out that the WHO’s Constitution recognises that:
"the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being...”.

From 1993 to 1997, Rights and Humanity participated in two major WHO policy bodies - The Global Commission on Women’s Health and The Task Force on Health in Development. These high level bodies comprised global political leaders and health experts.

Their roles were to advise WHO’s Director-General and recommend strategies for action to ensure greater health. Rights and Humanity ensured that a human rights approach to health was integrated into both of these influential policy bodies, which in turn had an influence on global health policies.

Rights and Humanity personnel represented the Global Commission and the Task Force at several World Health Assemblies. We also represented WHO at a number of international conferences and undertook briefing sessions on human rights for its staff.

Rights and Humanity has been frequently called upon to assist WHO in developing policy and educational materials. In particular, we developed strategies to use a health and human rights approach to combat violence against women, developed guidelines for WHO staff on maximising use of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and explored the impact of discrimination on women’s health together with strategies for action.

Of particular importance was our contribution to The World Summit for Social Development at which we considerably strengthened the references to health in the Declaration and Programme of Action adopted by Heads of State and Government at the Summit.

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