Special Rapporteurs are independent experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The position is honorary and the expert is not a staff of the United Nations nor paid for his/her work. He/she expresses his/her view in an independent capacity and does not represent his/her Government.
Since 1979, special mechanisms have been created by the Commission on Human Rights, the UN human rights body, to examine specific country situations or themes from a human rights perspective. The United Nations Commission on Human Rights, replaced by the Human Rights Council in June 2006, has mandated experts to study particular human rights issues. This system of experts is better known as the Special Procedures system.
The human right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health
The right to health is an inclusive right, extending not only to timely and appropriate health care, but also to the underlying determinants of health, such as access to safe and potable water and adequate sanitation, healthy occupational and environmental conditions, and access to health-related education and information, including on sexual and reproductive health.
The right to health contains both freedoms and entitlements. Freedoms include the right to control one’s health, including the right to be free from non-consensual medical treatment and experimentation. Entitlements include the right to a system of health protection (i.e. health care and the underlying determinants of health) that provides equality of opportunity for people to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health.
The right to health is a broad concept that can be broken down into more specific entitlements such as the rights to: maternal, child and reproductive health; healthy workplace and natural environments; the prevention, treatment and control of diseases, including access to essential medicines; access to safe and potable water.
The obligations of States
The nature of the legal obligations of State parties are set out in article 2 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in General Comment No. 14 also defined the obligations that States parties have to fulfill in order to implement the right to health at the national level. These are as follows:
The obligation to respect the right to health requires States to, inter alia, refrain from denying or limiting equal access for all persons, including prisoners or detainees, minorities, asylum seekers and illegal immigrants, to preventive, curative and palliative health services; abstain from enforcing discriminatory practices as a State policy; and abstain from imposing discriminatory practices relating to women’s health status and needs.
The obligation to protect includes, inter alia, the duties of States to adopt legislation or to take other measures ensuring equal access to health care and health-related services provided by third parties. States should also ensure that third parties do not limit people’s access to health-related information and services.
The obligation to fulfil requires States parties, inter alia, to give sufficient recognition to the right to health in the national political and legal systems, preferably by way of legislative implementation, and to adopt a national health policy with a detailed plan for realizing the right to health. This obligation entails also the state to take positive measures that enable and assist individuals and communities to enjoy the right to health.
While all the rights under the Covenant are meant to be achieved through progressive realization, States have some minimum core obligations which are of immediate effect. These immediate obligations include the guarantees of non-discrimination and equal treatment, as well as the obligation to take deliberate, concrete and targeted steps towards the full realization of the right to health, such as the preparation of a national public health strategy and plan of action. Progressive realization means that States have a specific and continuing obligation to move as expeditiously and effectively as possible towards the full realization of the right to health.
Implementation of the mandate by the Special Rapporteur
The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the right to of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health was originally established by the Commission on Human Rights in April 2002 by resolution 2002/31. Subsequent to the replacement of the Commission by the Human Rights Council in June 2006, the mandate was endorsed and extended by the Human Rights Council by its resolution 6/29 of 14 December 2007. For more information on the history of the mandate, please refer to the following link: Overview of the mandate
The Special Rapporteur implements the mandate through different means and activities. As assigned by the different resolutions related to the mandate:
• The Special Rapporteur presents annual reports to the Human Rights Council and to the General Assembly on the activities and studies undertaken in the view of the implementation of the mandate (See Annual Reports);
• He/She monitors the situation of the right to health throughout the world. He/she identifies general trends related to the right to health and undertakes country visits which provide the Special Rapporteur with a firsthand account on the situation concerning the right to health in a specific country (See Country visits;
• He/She communicates with States and other concerned parties with regard to alleged cases of violations of the right to health (See Individual complaints) and other issues related to his/her mandate;
• He/She promotes the full realization of the right to health through dialogue with relevant actors by participating in seminars, conferences, expert meetings.
For more information on the Special Rapporteurs, please refer to : Fact Sheet N° 27: Seventeen Frequently Asked Questions about United Nations Special Rapporteurs.
For more information on the definition of the right to health, please refer to General Comment No. 14 of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
For more on the obligations of States, please refer to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights General Comment No. 3 on the nature of States parties’ obligations (art.2 (1)).