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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Civil Society—More vital than ever

Our world is buffeted by tectonic political shifts and huge uncertainty—ranging from a potentially unravelling Europe, a Trump presidency, and populist/fundamentalist crusades under various guises. It is a politics born from grotesque and unprecedented levels of inequality that deprive people of dignity and capabilities.

Post-World-War-Two institutions that have underpinned a period of relative global stability patently need reform—particularly if they are to regain and inspire much needed public confidence and trust. We need strong institutions to promote and protect the principles and values enshrined in the United Nations Charter—among them faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, and better standards of life in larger freedom.

I am convinced that more than ever we need progressive civic organizations and associations to educate and remind leaders, states and the public of those principles and values, to provide the political incentives that encourage them to govern according to those principles and to hold leaders to account where they fail to do so. It is in this context that our Comment in Globalization and Health argues that we need to appreciate, support and resource civil society to ensure that the ambitious health targets in Agenda 2030 are realized for all.

@kentbuse,*  UNAIDS

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