Before We Need OHCHR Help

Before OHCHR Two years ago, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the United Nations agency to protect, defend, and promote our human rights, published ”How To Follow Up On United Nations Human Rights Recommendations”. It is intended for civil society organizations (CSO), specifically the larger national and international ones. This sixty-page “Practical Guide” has both useful information on OHCHR procedures and mechanisms, and offers many short case studies and insights into how different CSOs have used the UN system to advance human rights.

The OHCHR system of ‘follow up’ is well-intentioned, although it is extremely slow, bureaucratic, and not accessible to those without resources — who are perhaps those most in need of having their rights defended. Although this OHCHR guide is good at what it aims to do, it doesn’t take into account the needs of individual rights-holders or small rights-seeking organizations in communities around the world. Poor people from marginalized communities need to be able to address, simply, cheaply and without fear, the failures of their governments or local authorities to implement UN human rights recommendations – failures that can be fatal for them or their families.

For example, there are billions of poor marginalized people currently being denied access to medicines and adequate care, water, or food, all of which are the legal obligation of Governments to provide. They also have little or no access to free legal aid, which means that this system of ‘follow-up’ is often a non-starter — it leaves behind those most in need.

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Human Rights and WHO Election

Human Rights and WHO ElectionHuman Rights and the Election of the Next WHO Director-General: Public Accountability Now

By Eric Friedman

I believe that human rights, and the right to health in particular, should be a top priority of and guiding principle for the next WHO Director-General, whom the world’s health ministers will choose at the World Health Assembly in May. Human rights, after all, encompass the values needed to achieve health for all and health justice, such as equity, non-discrimination, universality, participation, and accountability. They are legally binding precepts. Above all, they embrace human dignity, and the utmost respect for all people in health systems and health-related decisions. They embody the notion of people-centered health services.

This importance demands electing to the post a credible and strong leader on human rights, someone with a history of fighting injustice, of opposing human rights violations, of standing up for the marginalized and oppressed, of resisting political, corporate, or other interests that stand in the way of human rights. This centrality of human rights means electing an individual willing to stand against forces and policies that tolerate or even perpetuate discrimination, or that let political or other concerns override the rights of women, minorities, immigrants, political opponents, or anyone else. It entails appointing a person who views organizations fighting for human rights as partners, even when their own governments may oppose them.

Three candidates remain in the race to be the next WHO Director-General: Tedros Adhanom, David Nabarro, and Sania Nishtar. All candidates should be accountable for their past support of human rights, and outline their plans for furthering human rights around the world if chosen to lead WHO. While it is important for all candidates to do this, one candidate in particular ought to provide a detailed public account of where he stands, and has stood, on human rights. Having spent more than a decade as a cabinet minister in a government that has committed large-scale human rights abuses, Dr. Tedros must make clear his position and intention.

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