Health and Human Rights

Seminar Series

WHO has a "Health and Human Rights seminar series" which aims to raise awareness of pertinent health and human rights issues in WHO by bringing in leading experts to a broad WHO audience.

  • On 2 March 2012, Ewa Spasowski (Junior Professional Officer from Sweden) presented on the challenges, opportunities and lessons learnt from her work as Health and Human Rights Officer at WHO Country Office Uganda (2010-2011). Her experiences in mainstreaming Human Rights included supporting a review of the Health Sector Strategic and Investment Plan and of a Draft Mental Health Bill. She further helped to provide technical input in relation to a maternal mortality case before the Constitutional Court in Uganda, and collaborated with the UN Country Team on its report to the UN Universal Periodic Review mechanism of the UN Human Rights Council. Ewa further contributed to capacity building activities through trainings, and the development of a manual on health and human rights for health professionals. She pointed to the increased recognition of the importance of a human rights-based approach within the health sector in Uganda, but acknowledged that more work is needed to ensure that the benefits of a human rights-based approach are understood more widely. Challenges in this context include the high turnover of staff and lack of funding, which call for continued advocacy and capacity building, and the need for increased guidance and sharing of good practices in this area.
  • At a seminar on 19 August 2011, Professor Alicia Yamin presented her recent book "Litigating Health Rights: Can courts bring more equity to Health?". Dr Yamin (JD, MPH) is Director of the Program on the Health Rights of Women and Children at the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights, and Adjunct Lecturer on Health Policy and Management, Harvard University. She is one of the ten expert members of the 2011 Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Commitments Report Advisory Panel. Drawing on experiences in Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Colombia, India and South-Africa, she discussed the potential of litigation as a strategy to advance the right to health, the types of health care services and interventions that have been the subject of successful litigation, and the remedies that have been ordered by the courts.
  • On 7 March 2011, Olivier De Schutter presented a seminar on "the Right to Food". Professor Schutter was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food in 2008 by the UN Human Rights Council, and regularly comments on issues related to food security and food crises. His most recent reports focus on agroecology and the right to food, and on access to land and the right to food. In recent months he has visited China, South Africa and Madagascar and reported on the progress achieved in food security, highlighting gaps between urban and rural areas including key links to health. Being fully independent of any government or organisation, the Special Rapporteur has commented regularly on issues related to food security and food crises and called, for example, for shifts to low-carbon agriculture and a “Green Marshall Plan for Agriculture”.
  • On 8 February, 2011, a seminar entitled "Lessons Learned from Integrating Law & Human Rights into the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS" was held. The speaker was David Patterson, Manager, Health Law Programme, International Development Law Organization. The International Development Law Organization (IDLO) is an international inter-governmental organization dedicated to promoting the rule of law and good governance in developing countries, countries in economic transition and in those emerging from armed conflict. IDLO is increasing its work in the area of health law and is collaborating with WHO and the O’Neill Institute to strengthen WHO capacity to support countries design and implement national pubic health laws. Since 2009, David Patterson has served as manager of IDLO's health law programme and brings to this position a wealth of experience, which includes integrating law & human rights into the development response to HIV and AIDS since 1994. The seminar focused on what we can learn from this; what role law and human rights play; what are the results and are there future opportunities?
  • On 15 July, 2010, a seminar entitled "Closing the Indigenous Health Gap: the contemporary Australian Indigenous health policy landscape" was held. Professor Ian Anderson, Director of Onemda VicHealth Koori Health Unit and Murrup Barak the Melbourne Institute for Indigenous Development and Director of Research and Innovation for the Lowitja Institute, shared his experiences of having worked in Aboriginal health for twenty two years in a number of contexts, including as an Aboriginal health worker, health educator and general practitioner; as the chief executive officer of the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service; and as medical adviser to the Office for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health in the Australian Government's (former) Department of Health and Aged Care.
  • On 20 January, 2009, a seminar entitled "Treatment access for children living with HIV: the case of Kenya" was organized jointly by UNAIDS and WHO. Ms Juliane Kippenberg, Senior Researcher at Human Rights Watch, reported on her research on sexual violence in the armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
  • On 10 December, 2008, a seminar entitled "Strengthening Attention to Human Rights in WHO and UNAIDS Health and Development Work: A Lunchtime Seminar and Informal Discussion on the Occasion of the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights" was held. The seminar highlighted ways in which staff members of the WHO and UNAIDS can successfully address human rights in their work.
  • On 24 November, 2008, a commemoration was held to honour Dr Jonathan Mann entitled "HIV, Health and Human Rights: The Legacy of Jonathan Mann" The discussion featured opening remarks by Peter Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS, a keynote address by Michael Kirby of The High Court of Australia, and closing remarks from Hiro Nakatani, Assistant Director-General, HIV/AIDS, TB, Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases, WHO. There were also two informal "sofa talk" sessions. The first session, "Jonathan Mann: his life and legacy," was moderated by Kevin De Cock and had four panellists, Sofia Gruskin, Teguest Guerma, Bila Kapita, and Daniel Tarantola. The second session was entitled "Ten years later: HIV, human rights and public health - some critical concerns;" it was moderated by Jonathan Cohen and featured four panellists, Robert Carr, Mark Heywood, Anastasia Kalmyk, and Betty Makoni.
  • On 19 November, 2007, a seminar entitled "Monitoring the Right to Health in the Human Rights System" was held. Organized by the Office of the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCR), it was designed to brief WHO employees on how to use the Universal Human Rights Index, an online database which contains health-related human rights information.
  • On 13 November, 2008, Stephen Marks - the Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Health and Human Rights Professor, Department of Global Health and Population, Harvard School of Public Health - gave a presentation entitled "The Right to Development." Professor Marks, who also serves as Chairperson of a group advising the Human Rights Council on the right to development, focused on the right to health and access to medicine.
  • On 26 April, 2007, a panel discussion entitled "Primary Health Care Today: How can we get it right?" was held. The main presenter was Dr Ravi Narayan, the former coordinator of the NGO People's Health Movement (PHM) India. Special guests who also participated in the discussion were Dr Halfden Mahler, Director-General Emeritus, and Paul Hunt, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right of Everyone to the Enjoyment of the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health. Dr Narayan articulated the PHM's call for a revitalisation of the principles of the Alma-Ata Declaration which promised Health for All by the Year 2000, and a complete revision of international and domestic policy that has shown to impact negatively on health status and systems.
  • On 9 February, 2007, a seminar was organized to brief WHO staff on the adoption of the new UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006). Ambassador Don MacKay of New Zealand, who chaired the drafting group of the Convention, presented the background to the Convention and the key provisions of the Convention itself. He underscored the paradigm shift from a social welfare model of disabilities to a rights-based approach. Dr Federico Montero (DAR/VIP) presented the work of WHO in the area of rehabilitation and Helena Nygren-Krug, Health & Human Rights Adviser (ETH/SDE) outlined some of the key implications of the Disabilities Convention for the work of the WHO as well as potential opportunities to strengthen WHO's work on disability rights.
  • On 7 December 2006, a panel discussion entitled "Health, Human Rights & Poverty" was held to commemorate International Human Rights Day (10 December). Panelists included Paul Hunt, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right of Everyone to the Enjoyment of the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health, and Mac Darrow, Coordinator at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.  This event also served as the official launch of the video "Health: My Right!".
  • On 20 March 2006, Andrew Clapham, Professor of Public International Law at the Graduate Institute of International Studies, Geneva made a presentation entitled "Time for a Radical Re-think about Human Rights". Human rights law traditionally imposes obligations on Governments. Key among these is the obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health. Professor Clapham contended that human rights could also be seen as the responsibility of non-state actors such as private corporations, rebel groups and inter-governmental bodies such as the World Health Organization, the World Trade Organization and the European Union.
  • On 2 December 2005, a panel discussion entitled, "The Right to Health: Charting the Ways Forward" was held. It set out concrete ways and means to move forward in advancing health as a human right. Each panelist presented a distinct perspective on this issue. Dr Abhay Shukla of the National Secretariat of the Peoples Health Movement spoke of the challenges in India. Dabney Evans, Executive Director of the Emory University Institute of Human Rights, presented some of the findings of a global conference held on "Lessons learned from Rights-based Approaches" in Atlanta in April 2005. Paul Hunt, the Special Rapporteur on the Right of Everyone to the Enjoyment of the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health, shared some of the key challenges identified in implementing his mandate and set out what he deemed necessary action to strengthen the right to health.
  • On 28 November 2005, Professor Urban Jonsson made a presentation entitled "A Human Rights-Based Approach to Programming : Lessons learned from UNICEF", with examples from Eastern and Southern Africa where Urban served as UNICEF Director and as Senior Adviser on a human rights-based approach to programming.
  • On 25 November 2005, Ms Tauli-Corpuz, the chair and health focal point of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) gave a presentation entitled "Why should we care? Indigenous Peoples, Health and Human Rights, and you!". There are 370 million Indigenous Peoples within 70 countries worldwide and invariably their health status is below that of the general population. The presentation highlighted this disparity, the reasons for it, the solutions identified, and how the work of each WHO staff member is intimately linked to the amelioration of the health status of indigenous peoples.
  • On 3 December 2004, Leonard S. Rubenstein, the Executive Director of Physicians for Human Rights, USA, gave a presentation entitled, "Physicians for Human Rights". Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is an NGO with global outreach which promotes health by protecting human rights. Using medical and scientific methods, PHR investigates and exposes violations of human rights worldwide and works to stop them. Recent activities include addressing rights abuses in the context of HIV/AIDS and the challenge that migration of health professionals poses to the right to health.
  • On 13 October 2004, Paul Hunt, the UN Special Rapporteur on “The Right of Everyone to the Enjoyment of the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health” updated us on the direction of his mandate including recent country missions and reports to the UN Commission on Human Rights and the upcoming UN General Assembly.
  • On 5 August 2004, David Patterson LLM, MSc, Health and human rights consultant, presented on "Programming HIV/AIDS: a human rights approach". The human rights approach offers a potentially effective, globally integrated framework for addressing the underlying determinants of HIV infection, care and impact over the longer term. Mr Patterson presented a tool published by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network which combines international human rights principles, guidelines, and emerging best practice, and which provides practical, concrete guidance to integrating rights-based approaches into HIV programming.

These seminars are held at WHO/HQ, Geneva and are primarily for WHO staff but members of the public can attend, subject to availability of space, by contacting