International roundtable explores human rights and maternal mortality


Organizer:Clemens Nathan Research Centre, International Initiative on Maternal Mortality and Human Rights, SAHAYOG, CARE Peru, Health Equity Group (East Africa), Essex University Human Rights Centre
Event dates: 2 September 2010
Venue: Geneva

02 SEPT 2010 | GENEVA - Some 120 experts gathered in an international roundtable on maternal mortality, human rights and accountability to look at ways to ensure that “Resolution 11/8 – Preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and human rights”--turn into concrete actions in countries. The session, which was in part chaired by PMNCH Director Dr Flavia Bustreo, featured examples of successful country accountability initiatives which monitor human rights violations and assess the level of compliance of countries to the charters which they have signed. The meeting strategically took place a few weeks before the UN Human Rights Council Meeting in Geneva and the planned Millennium Development Goal Summit to be held in New York.

Country examples included: monitoring mechanisms and initiatives such as the Peruvian citizen surveillance program, which uses volunteer vigilantes to ensure the delivery of quality services in their districts; the use of indicators and benchmarks to assess compliance with human rights norms in countries; maternal death audits as a means of collecting information used in campaigns; and the analysis of national health budgets as a reflection of government priorities to measure compliance with human rights engagements.

The roundtable also looked at ways of using the evidence from the monitoring exercises to increase accountability through public reporting and advocacy, pointing to the advantages and disadvantages of constructive accountability vs. naming and shaming. Examples of parliamentary tracking of the implementation of health rights and of national human rights institution advocacy were shared. Finally the meeting shared some of the tools available to redress human rights violations linked to maternal mortality, including international courts, treaty monitoring bodies, universal periodic reviews and various special procedures of the UN system.

The roundtable provided an opportunity for experts to exchange ideas on the different methods available to move Resolution 11/8 and other human rights frameworks from passive written commitment to tools for enforcing the implementation of health improvement measures for women and children. It included among recommendations from participation the development of an expert body on human rights violations as related to maternal, newborn and child health.

The meeting, which was convened by the former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, Paul Hunt and featured keynote speeches from:

  • the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay who stated that this year's report of the office of the High Commissioner A/HRC/14/39 featured maternal health prominently and would be shared at the UN MDG Summit;
  • the President of Realising Rights Mary Robinson, who highlighted the UN Secretary General's “Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health” as an example of the rising integration of accountability mechanism in global policies;
  • and former Minister of Health of Mozambique Dr. Francisco Songane, who highlighted maternal, newborn and child health trends worldwide.

Said High Commissioner Navanethem Pillay: "As my office's report makes clear, the application of a human rights approach [to maternal, newborn and child health] helps us understand that maternal, mortality and morbidity are not simply issues of public health but the consequence of a lack of fulfilment of multiple rights. A rights-based approach assists states to understand and make visible the connections among poverty, discrimination, quality and health."

The papers presented during this meeting are to be compiled into a publication in early 2011.