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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The Dignity of Protest

Stand Up, Speak Up, Speak Out: The Dignity of Protest
By Eric Friedman

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Show up, dive in, stay at it,” implored President Obama in his recent farewell address. In a different context, Congressman John Lewis (the civil rights leader best known for his courage in leading a peaceful 1965 march for voting rights, during which he was severely beaten by state troopers as the march got underway in Selma, Alabama), who serves as a moral compass for so many, including myself, also recently spoke of the need to “stand up, speak up, and speak out.”

I expect that over the next several years, in the United States, many people will be in the streets, standing up and speaking up, as the next administration takes charge amid widespread fear that it will seek to roll back a sweeping array of human right and social justice advances. Yet probably far more people who deeply oppose what appears to lie ahead will not join the marches, rallies, and other avenues of peaceful protest. One reason: quite understandably, they may feel – as many of those who decide to march or otherwise make their voices heard might feel as well – that those in power in Washington will pay them no heed. What good is protesting, they may wonder, if when they speak truth to power, no one listens?

Yet with good reason, such protests have long been at the core of social justice movements – and are at the heart of what we need to do when justice is on the line in the days and years ahead. I believe we need to speak out whenever we see injustice – even when there appears little chance that those who hold office will heed our call. Here are reasons why.

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