20 February 2019
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
The High Level Working Group on the Health and Human Rights of Women, Children and Adolescents, established by joint initiative of OHCHR and WHO in May 2016, issued its report in May 2017. In addition to addressing nine recommendations to Member States, the High Level Working Group recommended that the WHO Director-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights:
a. Establish a joint programme of work to support the implementation of the recommendations, including at regional and country levels;
b. Build institutional capacity and expertise at all levels to assist States to advance their realization of human rights to health and through health; and
c. Ensure ongoing coordination of, and tracking of progress towards, the realization of human rights to health and through health, particularly for women, children and adolescents, which will enable prompt dissemination of good practices.
In response to these recommendations, WHO and OHCHR concluded a Framework of Cooperation in November 2017. A joint work plan was concluded earlier this year, with a focus on five areas, namely: standard-setting, technical support, capacity-building, guidance and advocacy
1) In order to advance a rights-based approach to the health of women, children and adolescents, including maternal health, OHCHR organized multi-stakeholder processes in multiple countries. After a regional workshop, human rights assessments were undertaken and multi-stakeholder dialogues convened to discuss assessments in Uganda, Malawi, Zambia and United Republic of Tanzania.
2) OHCHR has also organized capacity building workshops and follow-up activities for civil society at regional and local level in Eastern Africa (2017) and Southern Africa (2018), particularly on sexual and reproductive health and rights.
3) The Office also developed guidance at the international level to enhance understanding of rights-based approach to the health of women, children and adolescents. This work has resulted in reflections guides available at OHCHR website.
4) OHCHR also worked with UN human rights mechanisms to ensure that attention is devoted to concerns about health of women, children and adolescents.
UN human rights treaty bodies have integrated the technical guidance as a tool of review and analysis. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) adopted its General Comment No. 22 (2016 – UN Doc. E/CN.12/GC/22) on the right to sexual and reproductive health, which draws on the technical guidance, in particular in relation to ensuring the availability of medical and professional personnel and skilled providers trained to perform the full range of sexual and reproductive health-care services. Different treaty bodies, such as CESCR, CEDAW and CRC have incorporated the technical guidance into their concluding observations of state parties’ periodic reports.
The UN Working Group on discrimination against women in law and in practice also dedicated its 2016 report (A/HRC/32/44) to health and safety, particularly regarding the instrumentalization of women’s bodies which lies at the heart of discrimination against women and obstructs the achievement of their highest attainable standard of health.
In October 2016, OHCHR presented amicus curiae in regards to the Zika virus in Latin America, when denial of abortion reached the threshold of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment. In 2017, OHCHR also submitted an amicus curiae to the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights in regards to the laws on abortion in El Salvador.
For more information regarding all of the above, please consider the Follow-up reports on the application of the technical guidance on the application of a human rights-based approach to the implementation of policies and programmes to reduce preventable maternal mortality and morbidity (A/HRC/27/20 from 2014; A/HRC/33/24 from 2016 and upcoming 2018 report).
Key achievements and milestones:
– Right to health, including SRHR, is now a specific result in OHCHR’s Office Management Plan
– OHCHR has worked closely with other United Nations agencies to integrate the technical guidance in wider United Nations processes, notably the Secretary-General’s Strategy on Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health, including through the convening of the High-Level Working Group on Health and Human Rights of Women, Children and Adolescents established by World Health Organisation (WHO) and OHCHR. OHCHR and WHO have concluded a Framework of Cooperation and are elaborating a joint programme of work to support further implementation of the recommendations, which will include efforts to promote the technical guidance.
OHCHR commits to providing support for the application of human rights-based approaches to women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health, capacity building of rights holders and duty bearers, technical advice and guidance and working with Human Rights Mechanisms. This commitment would be grounded in the High Commissioner’s mandate to promote and protect human rights; advocacy for the implementation of the Global Strategy, including on accountability, into OHCHR’s work in promoting and protecting the right to health (including sexual and reproductive health and rights) will be an important component.
The focus of OHCHR’s activities in support of the Global Strategy will include: (1) support for multi-stakeholder processes to advance a rights based approach to the health of women, children and adolescents, including maternal health, where our existing technical guidance serves as the framework; (2) building the capacity of civil society actors to utilize human rights mechanisms to claim their health and health-related rights; (3) developing guidance at the international level to enhance understanding of what is required by a rights based approach to the health of women, children and adolescents; (4) working with human rights mechanisms to ensure that attention is devoted to concerns about the health of these populations. More detailed information relating to activities will be made available on finalization of OHCHR’s work plan for 2016.
The establishment of the High Level Working Group on the Health and Human Rights of Women, Children and Adolescents (HLWG) was a key highlight in efforts to support the implementation of the Global Strategy. The HLWG was established by joint initiative of the WHO Director General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights in May 2016, with a year-long mandate. The objectives of the HLWG are to:
(a) secure political support, at both national and international levels, for the implementation of the human rights-related actions of the Global Strategy on Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health (Global Strategy);
(b) enhance national level implementation of health and human rights for women, children and adolescents, promote multi-sectoral and meaningful participation for this purpose; and
(c) make recommendations for the Global Strategy’s Unified Accountability Framework with a view to enhancing accountability for the health and human rights of women, children and adolescents.
The HLWG is supported by a Technical Advisory Group of experts in the field and a joint WHO-OHCHR secretariat. The HLWG’s report will be presented to the World Health Assembly in May 2017 and to the Human Rights Council in June 2017.