Human rights and public health; towards a balanced relationship

Brigit Toebes, University of Groningen

Does the right to health embrace claims to public health? And how should we exercise such claims? In international law there are many references to the protection of public health contrasting with other interests, including the interests of trade, commerce, intellectual property protection, transportation, and warfare. Potentially, in such contexts,  the ‘right to health’ as an economic and social right can be used as an additional collective claim to advance the health of the public, thus counterbalancing such interests as international and domestic trade and the conduct of warfare. While this approach has potential, it should be born in mind that public health measures potentially infringe on the civil and political rights of individuals, including their rights to privacy and freedom of movement. We are thus dealing with a complex relationship between public health, human rights, and international law that is still ill-understood. An integrated approach to human rights, taking into account both civil and political and economic, social and cultural rights, seems the most balanced response to public health concerns.

Read more on this matter in an article by Brigit Toebes in the International Journal of Human Rights, available at and also available at

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