Special Rapporteur on the right to health presents his ‘right to health framework’
Monday, 06 June 2011 15:01


On 1 June, the Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Mr Anand Grover, presented his report to the Human Rights Council (the Council). The report examines the ways in which human rights, and specifically the right to health, can add value to development policies. In addition, Mr Grover sets out the ‘right to health framework’, by means of which the right to health is to be implemented. The framework focuses on participation, community empowerment, and vulnerable populations. Mr Grover illustrated the benefits of this framework through presentation of case studies in which it has been successfully applied to limit the spread of HIV/AIDS. He argued that the failure to adopt a human rights approach to HIV/AIDS can result in the marginalisation and stigmatisation of those living with the disease, which in turn has a detrimental effect on efforts to reduce infection rates. Mr Grover also noted that development approaches to health tend to rely on easily quantifiable data and evidence-based evaluation, which can result in neglecting less easily quantifiable strategies, such as capacity-building.


The Special Rapporteur also presented the findings of country visits to Guatemala and Syria. In its response, Syria criticised Mr Grover for some of his recommendations, including those made with respect to stateless persons, to ratify OPCAT, and to allow Iraqis to work in Syria, stating that these issues lie outside his mandate. Mr Grover responded that the recommendations were all related to health, for example, the recommendation on stateless persons focused on the fact that without identity papers, they were unable to access health services.


Many States did not directly engage with Mr Grover’s framing of the right of to health, instead setting out their own development-related health policies. Of those who did address the ‘right to health’, several commended the people-centred approach adopted, in particular the focus on marginalised and vulnerable groups (the EU, Norway, Austria, Sweden, Thailand, Saudi Arabia) and the Special Rapporteur’s emphasis on the right to health approach as a means of reducing gender inequality in access to health (Norway). Egypt agreed with the Special Rapporteur that reliance on quantifiable benchmarks and indicators was insufficient in adopting a human rights approach to development. Other States criticised Mr Grover for pushing the ‘right to health’, arguing that adopting this approach had resulted in him losing sight of his original mandate which focuses on ‘the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health’. In particular, several States (Pakistan (on behalf of the OIC), Nigeria (on behalf of the African Group), Iran), stated that the main problem in realising higher standards of health was resource constraints, something they argued that Mr Grover did not give sufficient attention to in the recommendations of his report.


The US, on the other hand, stated that the focus on health as a human right should not exclude approaches based on quantified data, and added that it did not find the right to health framework developed by the Special Rapporteur well-defined, as a result of which it is not a useful guide to action. In his response, Mr Grover directly countered this claim. He also clarified that his criticism of reliance on easily quantifiable approaches was not to advocate non-evidence based approaches, and that he had tried very hard to ensure that his approach was evidence based. The US noted however that it appreciated the application of the human rights based approach to the case studies on HIV/AIDS. Egypt, on the other hand, felt the focus on individual cases was insufficient to develop a full analysis of how the right to health links to the fight against HIV/AIDS and to development more broadly, a point with which Mr Grover agreed.


Finally, Venezuela reacted to Mr Grover’s urgent appeal in which the Special Rapporteur expressed concern at the deteriorating state of health of former judge Maria Afiuni, who has been under arrest since December 2009, awaiting trial. In the urgent appeal the Special Rapporteur noted that two previous urgent appeals had been sent, the most recent, in April 2010, by the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, and arbitrary executions, the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. No response has been received. In its remarks, Venezuela stated that it had sent five notes verbales to the relevant special rapporteurs in the past year, and claims that it had failed to respond to the special procedures' concerns were part of a ‘warped’ campaign to discredit the State. It contradicted Mr Grover’s assertion in the urgent appeal that Ms Afiuni is being held at the National Institute for the Guidance of Women, stating that she has in fact been under house arrest after having undergone surgery for an illness that did not result from her previous detention. The case of judge Afiuni has received significant attention from various special procedures during successive sessions of the Council. However, this attention has been limited to exchanges between the mandate holders and Venezuela, with no further action considered by the Council.  

© by The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) 2019