Handing over the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Health

Posted by Kate Barth on October 31, 2014

On October 6 and 7th, a group of around 30 health activists, advocates and human rights experts from around the world met in New Delhi to celebrate the handover of the mandate of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. Anand Grover, who had held the mandate since 2008, hosted the meeting in honor of Dainius Puras, the incoming Special Rapporteur. The meeting opened with the previous UN Special Rapporteurs (Anand Grover and Paul Hunt) and their teams discussing the work they accomplished during their respective mandates, as well as some of the on-the-ground challenges they faced in pursuing the mandate.

For the next two days, experts in the areas of communicable and non-communicable diseases, situations of conflict and emergency, access to medicine, and issues relating to LGBTI, drug user, sex worker, migrant, indigenous and women’s rights presented and moderated discussions on what they saw to be the most pressing challenges in their fields. Among many other topics, meeting participants considered how lessons learned from the response to the HIV epidemic could be applied to campaigns to fight other communicable or non-communicable diseases; the difficulty of appropriately identifying the rights-holders for campaigns against non-communicable diseases which are related to lifestyle; the split of NGO support for voluntary licensing; the lived-experience of LGBTI individuals in obtaining health care and the need to develop an enabling environment to deliver services to marginalized populations; the importance of harmonizing international frameworks regarding drug control with the view of drug use as a human rights issue; the dangers in conflating all sex work with trafficking and aiming health interventions accordingly; issues of criminalization of sexual and reproductive rights; the barriers and high costs that migrants face when seeking health care; concerns regarding lack of UN follow-up on prior interventions and the need for greater legal, moral and administrative accountability; the barriers faced by women in enjoying their health and reproductive rights, focusing on issues of abortion, transnational tourism and medical technologies; and the future challenges to the implementation of a right to health based approach, particularly in a post-Millennium Development Goals world.

In his closing remarks,  the new Special Rapporteur noted his concern that the world was forgetting the spirit of concern which had birthed the human rights movement after the World War II and highlighted the interdependence of all rights. He stressed the importance of including both private and public stakeholders in his work and hoped that his background as a medical doctor would help him advocate for these rights from a new and interesting approach.

Dr. Puras’s expertise lies in mental health, children’s health, and the health of other vulnerable populations, none of which have been the singular focus of any prior Special Rapporteur report. It will be interesting to watch the work of Dr. Puras as UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health as he develops his mandate.


Kate Barth is a legal officer at Lawyers Collective