Health and human rights violations in the Human Rights Watch World Report 2018

January 22, 2018

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A quick scan of the latest annual report of Human Rights Watch reveals a number of health-related human rights violations that have taken place in 2017. Most infringements included in the report can be categorized into the following categories:

  • Sexual and reproductive health and rights – e.g., a new law criminalizing all abortions, without exceptions, in Angola, and the withdrawal of funding for SRHR services in the USA
  • Refugees and asylum seekers – e.g., delays and sometimes even denial of medical care in Manus and Naura (Australian detention centres in PNG), lack of access to services in Lebanon, and overcrowded and inhuman conditions in refugee centres on the Greek islands
  • Access to medicines – e.g., shortages in the supply of essential medicines in Mozambique and Venezuela, and lack of access to pain medication for people with cancer in Ukraine
  • Environmental pollution – e.g., poisoned drinking water in Bangladesh and Canada, and open burning of waste in Lebanon
  • Stigmatization and discrimination – e.g., of people with disabilities in Armenia and transgender people in Azerbaijan

To give you an idea of the type of infringements listed in the report, we have excerpted five country-specific examples highlighting these issues below.

Angola: Access to legal abortion

Women’s reproductive rights were threatened after parliament approved an amendment to the abortion law on February 24, making all abortions illegal. As part of the process of replacing Angola’s 1886 penal code, the government had proposed a bill that would criminalize abortion, except in cases of rape, or when the mother’s health is in danger. However, parliament rejected that proposal and made abortion, without exceptions, illegal and punishable by 4-10 years’ imprisonment. Parliament passed the first reading of the bill without any public consultations, and activists accused parliamentarians of ignoring their views. The final vote on the draft penal code, which had been scheduled for March 23, was cancelled and the bill was withdrawn pending further debate after women marched on the streets supporting the right to abortion. At time of writing, a new version of the abortion bill had not been submitted to parliament.

Lebanon: Access to services for refugees

As the Syrian refugee crisis continued, an estimated 80 percent lack legal status. […] Lebanon’s residency policy makes it difficult for Syrians to maintain legal status, heightening risks of exploitation and abuse and restricting refugees’ access to work, education, and healthcare. According to humanitarian organizations, an estimated 80 percent of [the approximately 1.5 million] Syrians in Lebanon now lack legal residency and risk detention for unlawful presence in the country.

Ukraine: Access to pain medication

Tens of thousands of patients with advanced cancer suffer from severe pain every year. The regulatory reforms adopted in recent years that made oral morphine available to patients have not been fully implemented. Healthcare workers lack proper education and training in pain treatment, or simply refuse to change their practices.

Bangladesh: Arsenic poisoning of drinking water

Bangladesh again failed to address its decades-long problem of arsenic in drinking water, with the World Health Organization estimating that 40 million people in the country are affected by arsenic poisoning. In February, three United Nations special rapporteurs published a joint letter raising their concerns which they had sent to the government the previous year, and to which the government had not responded. In 2017, the government finally began to relocate about a third of the approximately 300 tanneries out of Hazaribagh, a residential area of Dhaka, to a dedicated industrial zone in Savar just outside the capital. The tanneries produce environmentally hazardous waste containing chemicals such as sulfur, ammonium, and chromium. However, many continue to operate in Hazaribagh, in contravention of multiple High Court orders, most recently in March. In November, the government announced that the move to Savar had been delayed again and would not be completed until 2019.

Armenia: Discrimination and ill-treatment of people with disabilities

Following its March review, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities commended the government’s commitment to inclusive education by 2025 and other steps, but raised concerns about lack of accessibility; discrimination; institutionalization of children with disabilities; neglect, inhuman treatment, and deprivation of liberty of persons with disabilities in institutions; deprivation of legal capacity; inadequate support for living independently in communities; and barriers to accessing inclusive education.

Source: World Report 2018. Events of 2017. Human Rights Watch, January 2018

Read more on these issues and the right to health in our Topics section:   | discrimination |  | people with disabilities