Promoting health through the life-course

High-Level Working Group on health and human rights handover their final report to WHO’s Director-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Mr. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
WHO/L. Cipriani

22 MAY 2017 – GENEVA. The High-Level Working Group for Health and Human Rights of Women, Children and Adolescents launched its report to an enthusiastic audience at a high-level side-event at the 70th World Health Assembly. The report – the first of its kind that will be presented both to the World Health Assembly and the Human Rights Council – calls on governments to step up their action to uphold the right to health in national law; to protect people who advocate for rights – including health workers; and to strengthen the collection of rights-sensitive data for better monitoring and reporting.

Two Working Group members spoke at the report launch, including Working Group co-chair Tarja Halonen, former President of Finland, and Natasha Stott Despoja, former Australian Global Ambassador for Women and Girls. President Halonen noted that the report is premised on the notion that health and human rights are inseparable – human rights cannot be fully enjoyed without health; likewise, health cannot be fully enjoyed without the dignity that is upheld by all other human rights.

In her remarks, Ms. Stott Despoja emphasized that discrimination on the basis on gender remains the most pervasive human rights violation in the world, and no country is immune. She called for more dedicated efforts to enable women and girls to claim their rights, and for greater recognition of the agency of women and young people to make transformative change in their own lives and those of their communities and countries.

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan and High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein were both there to receive the report on behalf of their respective agencies. The report specifically addresses three recommendations to both leaders, calling for a joint programme of work to support the Working Group’s recommendations, building capacity within their organizations to advance health and human rights, and ensuring a mechanism to track progress on the recommendations.

In her remarks, DG Chan welcomed the report, which she said built upon the efforts of the Every Women Every Child initiative, “the most game-changing strategy of my tenure.” She indicated that the Working Group’s recommendations were a priority for her in the transition to the next head of the organization (Dr Tedros was elected as the next WHO Director-General, and will take office on 1 July 2017).

High Commissioner al Hussein also warmly welcomed the report, noting that “nowhere is the attack on health and human rights more obvious than in the systematic roll-back of sexual and reproductive health and rights, and deliberate attacks on health facilities.” He committed to continue to raise his voice to denounce violations of health and human rights against women, children and adolescents.

Following the opening panel, Ministers of Health Fiji and Uruguay, and the Minister of International Development from Canada – all Working Group members – made remarks on the importance of a human rights-based approach to health to leaving no one behind and achieving the SDGs. In addition, Ministers of Health from Chile, Colombia, Ghana and the Secretary of State for Health from Sweden contributed their own experiences, and also indicated forward-looking actions to support the Working Group’s recommendations.

Maryam Ahmed,  human rights activit from Nigeria
White Ribbon Alliance

The event closed with two speakers from civil society. Ms Maryam Ahmad, a 17-year old human rights activist from Nigeria working with the White Ribbon Alliance, spoke passionately about her own experience of working with adolescent girls and young women in her country, emphasizing the need for safe spaces and for comprehensive information on sexual and reproductive health and rights, as well as youth-friendly services. Dr Carmen Barroso, co-chair of the Independent Accountability Panel (IAP), welcomed the report’s focus on strengthening evidence and public accountability, and committed to following up the recommendations to push for progress on realizing human rights to health and through health.