PAHO’s project on public health and international human rights law is part of WHO global strategies in this area (http://www.who.int/hhr/NEW37871OMSOK.pdf). Integrating human rights norms and standards into policies, laws, practices and programs of WHO corresponds to the need for the organization as a whole to respond effectively to a complex, multi-dimensional and changing international context in a manner consistent with the UN and OAS Charters which stablish that one of the purposes of both organizations is the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.
PAHO’s work on public health and human rights is a step toward a more proactive, systematic, and sustainable effort of the entire Organization to enhance health outcomes in PAHO’s Member States by recognizing the synergy between health and international human rights law.
Since 1999 the Area of Technology, Health Care and Research (THR) have expanded the use of human rights instruments from mental health to many other areas of work. For instance, PAHO (through the inter-programmatic approach of THR, FCH and the Office of the Legal Counsel) has conducted technical workshops promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms in the context of HIV/AIDS, disabilities, the health of indigenous peoples, sexual and reproductive health and older persons, among others. As a consequence of PAHO’s strategies on the dissemination of human rights norms and standards through training workshops, many countries are in the process of reforming national laws and policies according to international human rights law or have established national monitoring mechanisms with governmental agencies such as the Ombudspersons’ offices which are visiting health centers. PAHO is also collaborating with regional human rights bodies such as the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights through participation in technical hearings on health issues, collaboration in formulating human rights guidelines, and formulation of technical opinions to interpret human rights treaties in the context of the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and other related human rights. PAHO’s newest initiative in public health and human rights is the issue of exposure to second hand tobacco smoke and also in this area international human rights instruments have been an underutilized but powerful mechanism that can help diminish deaths and diseases in the Americas
After so many years of consistent work in specific areas of health, recently, PAHO and WHO’s work on human rights has been recognized by PAHO’s Governing Bodies as an important strategy to promote and protect health. Thus, on September 25th of 2006, the 35 Member States of PAHO discussed and approved a Resolution entitled “Disability: prevention and rehabilitation in the context of the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health and other related rights” which urges Members States to use the human rights treaties and standards to reform the disability and rehabilitation services, policies, plans, programs and practices and to collaborate more closely with national, regional and international human rights bodies. This is a significant precedent for PAHO’s work. In summary, PAHO’s project on health and international human rights law involves:
- The Dissemination, through training workshops, of international human rights norms and standards related with health that protect vulnerable groups (persons with mental disorders, disabilities or living with HIV; older persons and indigenous peoples, among others) with emphasis in the right to health of women and girls.
- Close collaboration with ombudspersons’ offices and other national governmental agencies in charge of protecting human rights;
- Technical collaboration with PAHO Member States on the review and, if necessary, reform national health policies, plans, laws and programs in the context of vulnerable groups to ensure their conformity with international human rights treaties, declarations, standards and PAHO technical guidelines
- Collaboration with organizations of civil society in activities related to the promotion and protection of the basic human rights and fundamental freedoms of vulnerable groups, especially those human rights that deal with the access to health care, services and essential medicines
- Technical collaboration with regional and UN human rights treaty bodies dedicated to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, such as the IACHR, including participation in hearings and the provision of technical opinions related with health; and
- Publication and dissemination of technical documents outlining the human rights framework applicable to the health and well being of vulnerable groups.