In April 2002, the Commission on Human Rights established the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health. Since then, four Special Rapporteurs have been appointed to lead the mandate. On July 3, 2020, the Human Rights Council appointed Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng to succeed Dr. Dainius Pūras (2014-2020) as the current Special Rapporteur on the right to health.
Handover meetings serve a critical role in ensuring a smooth transition between mandate holders. These conversations explore the transformative capacity of the right to health and the critical role of UN special procedures. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, this tradition was reimagined as a series of virtual conversations: the Handover Dialogues.
Alongside the Handover Dialogues, this online platform aims to preserve the legacy of Dr. Pūras' work as UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health and introduce the incoming mandate holder, Dr. Mofokeng, to a range of critical actors with experience in rights-based approaches to physical and mental health. It will also make information about the Handover Dialogues accessible to the general public.
"Dignity is a pivotal principle. Vulnerability should be positioned not as a personal choice or inherent trait, but as something that is brought about by environmental challenges." Tlaleng Mofokeng
Each Special Rapporteur has made significant contributions to our understanding of states’ obligations and the entitlement of all people to the right to health. The first dialogue in this series provided a unique opportunity for the current and former mandate holders to come together and reflect on the successes and challenges of the mandate since its creation in 2002.
In this dialogue, the Rapporteurs discussed how the mandate has transformed the meaning and operationalization of the right to health. They explored the meaning of economic and social rights in an era of rights restrictions, as well as the current and future impacts of COVID-19 on the right to health. Dr. Dainius Pūras reflected on his work over the last six years to emphasize the interdependence of all rights, and the urgent need to prioritize mental health as an equal human right.
Left to right: Paul Hunt, Dragana Korljan, Anand Grover, Dainius Pūras and Tlaleng Mofokeng
“Mental health is part of a larger human rights issue and my very strong position was and remains that the protection and promotion of universal human rights principles in general, and addressing inequities, violence, and discrimination, is crucial to the mental health of everyone.” Dainius Pūras
The second dialogue in this series explored the history, challenges, and possibilities of global mental health, focusing on the need for a paradigm shift in global health. It emphasized the importance of special procedures in advancing the right to physical and mental health within a complex system of global health governance. In this discussion, Dr. Mofokeng was introduced to key partnerships with civil society organizations developed under previous mandate holders.
Panelists included psychiatric survivors, people with lived experience, and people from the global south — important, but often overlooked, voices. They examined the different roles and experiences of the global north and south, as well as the current dominance of the western biomedical model and the accompanying risk of colonialist practices. They discussed broader critiques of global health governance, international cooperation and assistance, and advocacy, including how the United Nations mandate can shape advocacy for a rights-based future.
China Mills, Julian Eaton, Bhargavi Davar, Ph. D., and Alberto Vásquez Encalada. Facilitated by Alexandre Cote. Read more.
“When there are laws that criminalize and persecute different groups of people who do not live or behave according to the norm, it affects us, our loved ones, and society as a whole. Because the services that we receive—while we are persecuted for our choices, our lives, our genders—are going to have neutral effects.” Nataliia Isaieva
The third dialogue in this series explored criminal laws and law enforcement mechanisms, machinery, and practices that have led to harmful physical and mental health outcomes for the world’s most vulnerable groups. This panel examined how the human rights framework can be used to overcome structural and punitive forms of oppression.
The panelists discussed existing policies that target and disproportionately impact vulnerable and marginalized communities. These policies have led to the ongoing criminalization of sex work, same-sex relations, and HIV transmission, as well as the global war on drugs, which has resulted in the mass incarceration of Black and Brown people.
Vulnerabilities and identities intersect in complex ways (poverty, sex work, substance use, mental health conditions, gender, disabilities, race, and ethnicity), and as such, an intersectional perspective is needed. This dialogue explored the necessity of intersectional approaches to vulnerability reduction and presented alternative solutions including, and moving beyond, decriminalization.
Judy Chang, Nataliia Isaieva, Lucas Ramón Mendos, Charles Hawthorne, Edwin J Bernard. Facilitated by Adrian Jjuuko and Naomi Burke-Shyne. Read more.
LOTM - Lawyering on the Margins Established in 2011, Lawyering on the Margins is a global network of lawyers and community paralegals working on human rights and access to justice for people who use drugs, people living with HIV, LGBTQI individuals, and sex workers. Lawyering on the Margins is currently hosted by Harm Reduction International.
The panel will focus on the intersection between the right to health, sexuality, and gender. In this dialogue, former mandate holders will address their work on sexual health and rights, in particular: Mr. Anand’s work on behavior decriminalization, including sex work, Mr. Paul’s work on maternal mortality, and Dr. Dainius’ work on violence prevention and sexual health of adolescents.
Panelists will reflect on the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which exposed the political, social, and cultural dimensions of sexuality, as well as the crucial role of activism and social engagement in affirming women’s health and reproductive health rights.
Panelists will also discuss the relationship between state laws and policies, global health architecture, and paternalistic policy-making structures, with issues including racial and gendered forms of oppression, gender-based violence, mental health stigmatization, substance use and disabilities, and women and gender minorities’ sexual and reproductive rights.
With the support of
In this final dialogue, we return to basics: imagining physical and mental health in which people are at the centre, claiming their entitlements to all social determinants of health.
The themes arising throughout this series of webinars have shown the work undertaken across the mandate by all the Special Rapporteurs. The panel uses these themes to help equip Tlaleng Mofokeng to make the most of the opportunities that the world is now facing, for physical and mental health. It takes inspiration from movements in mental health, and looks at what these mean in terms of empowering people in all aspects of claiming their human rights.
This dialogue focuses on the need to reframe dominant punitive and biomedical models of community safety and well-being and suggest possible futures: state control of populations through medicalization, coercion and social surveillance; or participatory, rights-based approaches that place social justice at its core. The series will close with recognition of the importance of the mandate in helping ensure the second alternative is achieved.
With the support of
Former Special Rapporteur on the right to health 2014 - 2020
Dainius Pūras is a medical doctor and human rights advocate. He served as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health from 2014 to 2020. He is also a professor at Vilnius University, Lithuania, and the director of the Human Rights Monitoring Institute, an NGO based in Vilnius.
Special Rapporteur on the right to health
2020 - Present
Tlaleng Mofokeng is a medical doctor with expertise advocating for universal health access, HIV care, youth friendly services, and family planning. She is Commissioner at the Commission for Gender Equality in South Africa and board member of Safe Abortion Action Fund, Global Advisory Board for Sexual Health and Wellbeing, and Accountability International.