Human rights is now the dominant language for claims of human emancipation around the world; human rights theory and practice have permeated many domains beyond the law, including health. Yet the landscape of global health is marked by vast inequities and brutal deprivation, and it is not yet clear how bringing human rights concepts and strategies to bear will change the lives of the millions of people around the globe who are suffering. In this course, we will explore these questions and see how human rights provides not the only, but one, critical framework and set of tools through which to advance social justice in health. Nonetheless, the use of human rights to advance social justice faces vexing challenges, including being reduced to rhetoric by powerful actors and becoming overly legalistic.
The class will explore the conceptual and practical implications of adopting human rights frameworks relating to health policymaking and programming, including emphases on accountability, participation and non-discrimination. We will examine how human rights discourses are shaped and contested, and how this determines the relevance of ‘human rights-based approaches’ to addressing the health needs of different populations. Throughout the course, as we discuss specific issues, we will examine potential limitations as well as strengths of using human rights to improve global health.
The course seeks to answer the following questions:
- What are international human rights standards that relate to health?
- What does it mean in practice to set out a “right to health,” and how might such a right be implemented?
- What is (and should be) the role of courts in enforcing health rights?
- What are the key elements of ‘rights-based approaches’ in programs and policies, with reference to specific health issues and affected populations?
- How might adopting a rights-based approach to global health issues challenge traditional human rights assumptions and practices?