Rights-based approaches to health: three papers

September 26, 2013

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Recently, three papers have been published that present a human rights analysis of specific health-related issues. The first one focuses on health care in conflict, the second on intellectual property rights and access to medicines, and the third on maternal health.

A human rights approach to health care in conflict

Katherine Footer & Leonard Rubenstein

International Review of the Red Cross, Volume 95, Number 889, 2013


Attacks on and interference with health care services, providers, facilities, transports, and patients in situations of armed conflict, civil disturbance, and state repression pose enormous challenges to health care delivery in circumstances where it is most needed. In times of armed conflict, international humanitarian law (IHL) provides robust protection to health care services, but it also contains gaps. Moreover, IHL does not cover situations where an armed conflict does not exist. This paper focuses on the importance of a human rights approach to addressing these challenges, relying on the highest attainable standard of health as well as to civil and political rights. In particular we take the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights General Comment No. 14 (on Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) as a normative framework from which states’ obligations to respect, protect and fulfil the right to health across all conflict settings can be further developed.

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A human rights approach to intellectual property and access to medicines

Hannah Brennan, Rebecca Distler, Miriam Hinman & Alix Rogers

Global Health Justice Partnership Policy Paper 1, Yale Law School and Yale School of Public Health, September 2013


In this paper, we address whether and how human rights norms and frameworks can be used to improve access to medicines (A2M) by reducing the barriers that intellectual property (IP) laws create to such access. We evaluate the feasibility and usefulness of four human rights based strategies that our contacts in the A2M community suggested might be particularly productive:(1) the use of human rights arguments in domestic court cases that deal with intellectual property laws, (2) the articulation of norms in the United Nations (UN) human rights system, (3) the use of human rights arguments and frameworks to secure greater pharmaceutical corporate accountability, and (4) the use of health-related rights to build multilateral and regional alliances that can more effectively oppose free trade agreements (FTAs) with TRIPS-plus provisions (TRIPS being Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights). We offer insights and specific short- and long-term action steps for each strategy, including recommendations for further research.

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Applying human rights to maternal health: UN Technical Guidance on rights-based approaches

Alicia Ely Yamin

International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics, Volume 121, Issue 2 , Pages 190-193, 2013


In the last few years there have been several critical milestones in acknowledging the centrality of human rights to sustainably addressing the scourge of maternal death and morbidity around the world, including from the United Nations Human Rights Council. In 2012, the Council adopted a resolution welcoming a Technical Guidance on rights-based approaches to maternal mortality and morbidity, and calling for a report on its implementation in 2 years. The present paper provides an overview of the contents and significance of the Guidance. It reviews how the Guidance can assist policymakers in improving women’s health and their enjoyment of rights by setting out the implications of adopting a human rights-based approach at each step of the policy cycle, from planning and budgeting, to ensuring implementation, to monitoring and evaluation, to fostering accountability mechanisms. The Guidance should also prove useful to clinicians in understanding rights frameworks as applied to maternal health.

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