Societies have found a clear connection between the promotion of public health and freedom of expression, freedom of association and other fundamental freedoms. At UNHR, we make this link at the international level, by articulating and improving international norms, and at the country level, through concrete programs aimed at helping states improve their legal framework so that society and government can partner most effectively to fight public health crises.
Far too often, states have thought that the best answer to an outbreak or signs of a new disease was to cover it up or minimize the extent of the problem. In fact, we know from empirical evidence that such reactions were counterproductive. When fundamental rights of expression, press and association are trampled we have seen an accelerated spread of SARS, Ebola, Avian flu and HIV, among others.
Civil society groups are often at the forefront of identifying new health crises, ensuring delivery of services, and making effective partnerships for public health education. In the countries where we work, we ensure close collaboration with these groups for effective policy making and implementation. We also educate civil society to advocate for and defend its rights.
People living with Ebola, HIV and many other diseases face discrimination in their receipt of public services, in their access to health care and in their daily lives. UNHR helps to highlight these issues for vulnerable populations and to ensure equal treatment for all.
One of UNHR's directors introduced to the UN Human Rights Council the idea of protection of medical workers as a human rights concept. Thanks to this advocacy, the humanitarian principle that attacks on medical workers for providing care to dissidents or members of political opposition groups is a serious violation is now gaining traction in human rights law.
UNHR is well-positioned to advocate and articulate the right to health, especially given the expertise of its consultants who come from Harvard Medical School and the World Health Organization. With a special focus on health and youth, communicable diseases, and mental health issues, UNHR advocacy extends from the World Health Assembly to the Human Rights Council.