HTML> Bioethics in Asia pp. 17-19 Bioethics in Asia

Editors: Norio Fujiki and Darryl R. J. Macer, Ph.D.
Eubios Ethics Institute

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Please send comments to Email < 1.1. Human Rights and Health: Some Global Perspectives

Sev S. Fluss

Programme Manager for Human Rights, Office of Health Policy in Development, WHO.

This presentation outlines the remarkable growth of international and regional human rights treaties that include substantive provisions addressing health and health-related issues, commencing with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in December 1948, and focusing particularly on instruments adopted under the auspices of the United Nations. The contributions of the United Nations system, including the Commission on Human Rights and its subsidiary entities as well as of the United Nations treaty bodies and of WHO, were described as was that of such regional organizations as the Council of Europe, the Organization of African Unity, and the Organization of American States (see Table below).

Table 1: Health/Human Rights interface as reflected in Global International Instruments and Regional Conventions and Other Instruments

Organization or Entity



Relevant articles

UN General Assembly Dec. 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights


UN General Assembly Mar. 1966 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination


UN General Assembly Dec. 1966 International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights


UN General Assembly Dec. 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women


UN General Assembly Dec. 1982 Principles of Medical Ethics relevant to the Role of Health Personnel, particularly Physicians, in the protection of prisoners and Detainees against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Punishment

Entire text

UN General Assembly Nov. 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child


UN General Assembly Dec. 1989 International Convention on the protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and members of Their families


UN General Assembly Dec. 1991 Principles for The Protection of Persons with mental Illness and the Improvement of mental health Care

Entire Text

UNESCO IBC Nov. 1997 Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights

Several articles

Ninth International Conference of American States (Bogota) May 1948 American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man


Council of Europe Oct. 1961 European Social Charter

3, 11, 13

Organization of African Unity June 1981 African Charter on Human and People’s Right


Organization of American States Nov. 1988 Additional protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Protocol of San Salvador)  
Organization of African Unity July 1990 African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child

Several articles (notably XIV)

Commonwealth of Independent States May 1995 Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms


Council of Europe May 1996 Revised European Social Charter

3, 8, 11, 13, 22, 23

Council of Europe Nov. 1996 Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine

Several articles

Particular reference was made to the provisions on human rights as they relate to health contained in the final texts adopted by the World Conference on Human Rights (Vienna, June 1993), the International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo, September 1994), the World Summit for Social Development (Copenhagen, March 1995), and the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, September 1995). Information will likewise be provided on the contributions of certain academic centres and nongovernmental organizations to the global discourse on health and human rights. Special mention will be made of the growing attention focused on violence against women, as a human rights and as a public health issue, the linkages between human rights and bioethics, and ongoing efforts to ensure that human rights are safeguarded in HIV/AIDS prevention and control programmes (including the development of prospective anti-HIV vaccines) as well as in advances in the biomedical sciences and health technologies.

For example, article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), reads:

1. The State Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

2. The steps to be taken by the States Parties to the present Covenant to achieve the full realization of this right shall include those necessary for:

(a) The provision for the reduction of the stillbirth-rate and of infant mortality and for the healthy development of the child;

(b) The improvement of all aspects of environmental and industrial hygiene;

(c) The prevention, treatment and control of epidemic, endemic, occupational and other disease;

(d) The creation of conditions which would assure to all medical service and medical attention in the event of sickness.

and Article 12 of the Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (1979), reads:

1. State Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the filed of health care in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, access to health care services, including those related to family planning.

2. Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph 1 of this Article, States Parties shall ensure to women appropriate services in connection with pregnancy, confinement and the postnatal period, granting free services where necessary, as well as adequate nutrition during pregnancy and lactation.

These issues have also been the subject of UN meetings, for example, the health and health-related issues on the agenda of the 53rd session of the commission on human rights (Geneva, 10 March - 18 April 1997): Human rights and extreme poverty, Human rights and the environment, Adverse effects of the illicit movement and dumping of toxic waste and dangerous products, Violence against women, Violence against women migrant workers, Human rights and bioethics, Traditional practices affecting the health of women and children, Human rights and HIV/AIDS, Human rights and mass exoduses, Internally displaced persons, Human rights of persons with disabilities, Allegations of illicit removal of organs and tissues, and Indigenous issues.

A list of some milestones for protecting human rights is in Table 2. Some of the international organizations which have addressed patients’ rights include Council of Europe, European Union, International Labour Organization, WHO Regional Office for Europe, Standing Committee of the Hospitals of the EU (NGO), World Medical Association (NGO), and European Forum of Medical Associations (NGO). There are patient rights legislation or corresponding measures in Australia (1987), Denmark (1991), Finland (1992), France (1974), Greece (1992), Guatemala (1977), Indonesia (1992), Israel (1991), Lithuania (1996), Malaysia (1993), Netherlands (1995), Portugal (1983), San Marino (1983), Spain (1986), Sri Lanka (1995), Sweden (1980), Switzerland (1985), United Kingdom (1991), USA (1973), Uruguay (1992) and Vietnam (1991) [Dates refer to the first significant known measure].

Table 2: Protecting Human Rights in the Light of Scientific, Technological, and Biomedical Progress: Some key milestones

Further Reading

Commitments to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights for All (Family Care International, New York, 1995).

Cook, RJ., Women’s Health and Human Rights (WHO, Geneva).

Health Aspects of Human Rights. With Special Reference to Developments in Biology and Medicine (WHO, Geneva, 1976).

Physicians, Patients and Society. Human Rights and Professional Responsibilities of Physicians (World Psychiatric Association, Kiev 1996).

Principles of Medical Ethics, relevant to the Protection of Prisoners Against Torture (CIOMS, Geneva, 1983).

(Note: Any views expressed are not necessarily those of the World Health Organization, and this is a summary of the paper given)

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