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International Human Rights Law and Global Health: The Right to Health in Theory and Practice

Course Number
5700 (Global Health)
Course Instructor(s)
Lisa Forman

Course Description

The course is structured in three modules: The first module will introduce students to international law, human rights and the right to health. It will explore the theory behind the relationship between health and human rights, and whether human rights complement or impinge on public and global health concerns with remediating inequity and marginalization and achieving social justice. It will overview the international human rights law system, including relevant international human rights law treaties and committees, focusing on the right to health. It will examine core principles and categories of human rights, including the idea of indivisibility. It will explore critiques of international law and human rights, including its relevance to global and public health. The second module will turn to explore mechanisms for realizing the right to health, including international procedures, domestic litigation and advocacy. It will investigate rights-based health policy, programming and evaluation and the role of public health professionals in promoting health and human rights. Students will then apply these principles and mechanisms in a role-play exercise simulating an international human rights law problem and/or process. The third module will investigate global health and human rights case-studies, including disability and global mental health, sexual and reproductive health rights and maternal mortality, and the social determinants of health (focusing on the right to water).

Course Objectives

The objectives of this course are to enable students to

  1. Gain basic knowledge about international human rights law and institutions
  2. Gain substantive knowledge about the scope and content of the right to health
  3. Understand debates about the relevance of international human rights law to global health
  4. Understand various mechanisms for realizing the right to health, including the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, litigation, advocacy and rights-based approaches
  5. Apply a human rights-based approach to their global health research and practice.
  6. Explore the application of human rights to health inequities through case-studies

Methods of Assessment

     Assignment Grades Length
1. Participation and attendance 15%
2. Paper/project proposal 15% 3 pages
3. Reflection papers (optional) 5% extra credit 2 pages
3. Group role-play presentations 30%
4. Final paper/project 40% 15 pages

Overview of Course Schedule

  Module 1: Introducing international law, human rights & right to health (4)
Week 1 Introducing health and human rights
Week 2 Introducing international human rights law
Week 3 Exploring the international human right to health
Week 4 Critiques of the right to health
  Module 2: Accountability and Applications (5)
Week 5 International human rights institutions
Week 6 Litigation and advocacy
Week 7 Human rights for public health
Week 8 Role-play preparation
Week 9 Role-play exercise
  Module 3: Case-Studies (3)
Week 10 Social determinants of health
Week 11 Disabilities and mental health
Week 12 Reproductive/sexual health rights

Rationale for Course

This course aims to equip graduate students at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and across the University with knowledge about human rights, international law and the right to the highest attainable standard of health (“the right to health”), understanding of their relevance to global health challenges, and the skills-base to apply a rights-based approach to global health research and practice. It is an entry-level exploration of international law, designed specifically for non-law students. The rationale for this course draws from the growing global understanding that human rights are inextricably linked to public and global health outcomes, and therefore that human rights are crucial components of health-practitioner education. This course complements other courses offered at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health exploring global health from social, political, ethical or human rights perspectives, and offers students a distinctive and unique focus on the relevance and utility of international human rights law for global health.

General Requirements

No prior legal education is required. The sole prerequisite for effective participation in this course is close reading of the required readings for each session.