Human rights tools

4. How can human rights be used for better health care?

There are many different ways in which human rights can help address deficiencies and abuse in healthcare systems. This guide takes a practical approach by viewing human rights as tools which can be used to improve healthcare. These ‘human rights tools’ have been subdivided into five categories of action that are described below. Concrete examples of types of action for each category can be found under Step 5 of Section 2.


Human rights can be used to protect individuals against shortcomings or mistreatment in healthcare systems. As an internationally recognised and legally guaranteed set of values human rights provide strong arguments to stop, prevent and remedy unjust situations or practices.


Health related human rights provide an indication of what the ideal healthcare system should look like. In this way human rights serve as a framework for the collection of evidence on what should or should not be happening within a healthcare system.

Human rights indicate what type of information is needed to monitor progress in healthcare systems. Similarly, human rights can act as an instrument to measure the impact of health policies and programmes on individuals.


One way to gain broader attention for a problem in the healthcare system is to frame it as a human rights issue. Human rights add weight to a discussion and send a strong message that what is happening cannot be ignored.

Human rights offer new avenues for spreading information about difficulties in healthcare systems. Among human rights institutions at the international, regional and national level there is a high demand for details about what is taking place in practice to be able to bring governments to account.

Human rights can be a basis for education and awareness-raising about specific issues within the healthcare system. By bringing an alternative perspective human rights can be used to clarify why changes are necessary.


When trying to gain support to address problems in healthcare systems human rights can bring together different stakeholders by creating a common issue to rally around. Human rights can be used to uncover multiple causes of an issue to show that cooperation between different people and groups is necessary for change.

Human rights are a legitimate claim and as such can provide access to forums and individuals that can be influential in bringing about changes within a healthcare system.


The human rights framework provides standards for both the end result and process needed to achieve this result. In this way human rights can give direction to the development of new practices and procedures within healthcare systems.

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