Accountability mechanism

Committee, commission, court, institution or other procedure which monitors whether and to what extent a government complies with its human rights obligations.


Evidence based strategic action to influence laws, policies, practices, public opinion and attitudes.

Complaint mechanism

A clear, accessible, acceptable, confidential and structured procedure to file complaints within the healthcare system.

Dual loyalty

A conflict between a health worker’s professional duties to the patient and obligations to a third party such as an employer or the state. These obligations can be expressed or implied, real or perceived. When health workers give priority to the interest of a third party this can have the effect of violating individual patient’s human rights.

Essential medicines

Medicines that satisfy the priority health care needs of the population. Essential medicines are intended to be available within the context of functioning health systems at all times in adequate amounts, in the appropriate dosage forms, with assured quality and adequate information and at a price the individual and the community can afford.

Health policy

A health related strategy, plan or programme agreed upon by a (local) government, institute or organisation.

Health worker

All those developing, managing, delivering, monitoring and evaluating preventive, curative and rehabilitative health in the private and public health sectors, including traditional healers.

Healthcare system

All institutions, organisations, facilities, services and individuals providing care to promote, restore or maintain health.

Human Rights Court

Supra-national court where individuals can file complaints about government violations of the corresponding human rights treaty. The rulings of the court are legally binding. There exist three regional human rights courts: the African Court on Human and People’s Rights, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights.

Human rights treaty

A binding agreement between two or more nations in which human rights are legally protected.


To persuade an official, most often legislators or members of regulatory agencies, with the purpose to change a particular law or guideline.


The process of observing, checking closely or continuously to collect information necessary to measure and report compliance with human rights.

National Human Rights Institute

An institution with a constitutional and/or legislative mandate to protect and promote human rights. National Human Rights Institutes are independent, autonomous institutions that operate at the national level.

Patient autonomy

The right of patients to make their own decisions about their medical care. Health workers can inform and educate the patient but cannot make the decision for the patient.

Patient confidentiality

The rule that all information about the patient will be kept secret unless the patient gives permission to share information. This is to allow patients to make full and frank disclosure to their physician, enabling appropriate treatment and diagnosis.

Professional association

An organisation formed to unite and represent people with the same profession. Usually the organisation provides guidelines to maintain a certain standard within the profession.

Respect, protect, fulfil

Government’s obligations related to human rights. Respect: government must refrain from violating human rights. Protect: government must prevent others from violating human rights. Fulfil: government has to take measures necessary for the realisation of human rights.

UN Special Rapporteur

An individual appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate, monitor, advise and report on human rights concerns.

UN Treaty Body

Committee of independent experts which examines government reports to assess compliance with the corresponding international human rights treaty. Several committees also accept individual complaints of human rights violations.

Underlying determinants of health

Conditions that are necessary for health and people’s health, this includes safe and potable water, adequate sanitation, adequate supply of safe food, housing, healthy occupational and environmental conditions and access to health-related education and information.

Vulnerable groups

Groups of people that need special protection because they are at a higher risk of human rights abuse due to marginalization, socially exclusion, prejudice, discrimination, or limited opportunities and income. Examples of vulnerable groups are minorities, people with disabilities, older persons, children, refugees, people with HIV, detainees.