Trade, foreign policy, diplomacy and health

7. International Law

David P Fidler


International Law and the Protection of Human Health

Important as it may be, focusing only on the WHO's neglect of international law nonetheless produces a distorted image of the role of international law in the area of public health. The protection of human health is an objective that states, IGOs, and NGOs have embedded in many areas of international law. A significant proportion of international environmental law exists, for example, to protect human health; yet none of this international law was developed within the WHO. Other areas of international law that contain rules and institutions that protect human health include international trade law, international human rights law, international humanitarian law, international law on arms control, international law on narcotic drugs, and international labor law, as illustrated in this table.

The frequency with which international law addresses the protection of human health suggests that this objective represents a strongly held common interest and value among states in the international system. In other words, the shared value of protecting human health is part of what characterizes contemporary international society. The widespread presence of international legal rules on the protection of human health also underscores the practical and normative importance that states, IGOs, and NGOs attribute to such protection in the operation of the international system. These observations reinforce this chapter's argument that international law is necessary to the production of GPGH.

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