A human rights approach to health care in conflict

Attacks on and interference with health care services, providers, facilities, transports, and patients in situations of armed conflict, civil disturbance, and state repression pose enormous challenges to health care delivery in circumstances where it is most needed. In times of armed conflict, international humanitarian law (IHL) provides robust protection to health care services, but it also contains gaps. Moreover, IHL does not cover situations where an armed conflict does not exist. This paper focuses on the importance of a human rights approach to addressing these challenges, relying on the highest attainable standard of health as well as to civil and political rights. In particular we take the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights General Comment No. 14 (on Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) as a normative framework from which states' obligations to respect, protect and fulfil the right to health across all conflict settings can be further developed.

Keywords: human rights, right to health, conflict, violence, health worker, hospital, ethics.

About the authors

Katherine H. A. Footer

Katherine H. A. Footer is a Research Associate.

Leonard S. Rubenstein

Leonard S. Rubenstein is Director of the Program on Human Rights, Health, and Conflict at the Center for Human Rights and Public Health of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Mr. Rubenstein is also faculty at the Berman Institute of Bioethics at Johns Hopkins University.