Voices in the Field: Robert Simons

Robert Simons has gained extensive knowledge as a practitioner working with human rights. Simons was previously the Nurse Director of the Academic Medical Center Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and has international healthcare experience in Sudan, Pakistan and Vietnam.  Currently, he serves as a Chair of IFHHRO, the Medical Human Rights Network.  In the following video, Simons joins Voices in the Field* to discuss his time working in a Sudanese refugee camp and with Romanian political prisoners, and to share one important message with colleagues and decision makers.

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Milieudefensie and Others v the State: Will the Dutch State Be Ordered to Reduce Air Pollution?

By Mirjam Beeftink, University of Groningen, m.l.beeftink(at)student.rug.nl

At the time of writing there is a remarkable case pending in the Netherlands concerning the effects of air pollution on the health of the population. Two foundations and 57 individual plaintiffs have launched a case against the Dutch State in which they ask the court to order the State to reduce air pollution below the European maxima to the norms set in the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines on air quality. If the case is successful, this will have significant consequences for the government as it will be ordered to protect the health of its citizens in a more effective manner by improving air quality. What are the chances of the plaintiffs succeeding in winning the case?

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‘Equitable access to controlled medicine: between drug control and human rights in post-market access in low- and middle income countries’ – Conference report

By Marie Elske Gispen, Utrecht University, m.e.c.gispen@uu.nl

On 8 and 9 October 2015 several GHLG members participated in a symposium on ‘Equitable access to controlled medicine: between drug control and human rights in post-market access in low- and middle income countries’ (co-organized by Marie Elske Gispen, Utrecht University). Marie Elske presented the preliminary conclusions of her Ph.D. research on access to controlled medicines at this meeting. GHLG fellows Brigit Toebes and Hans Hogerzeil commented on her work from a legal and global health perspective respectively. Brigit mainly touched upon the question whether or not the normative framework of the right to health is sufficiently equipped to further access to medicine provision. Hans particularly reflected on the progress, or lack thereof, made so far in the area of access to (controlled) medicines. GHLG fellow Katrina Perehudoff joined on the second day of the symposium as participant.

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Court decision in the case concerning the close ties between the Dutch Government and the tobacco industry (November 9th, 2015): no violation of Article 5(3) FCTC

Brigit Toebes, University of Groningen, b.c.a.toebes@rug.nl

Summary in Dutch: in september 2014 dagvaardde de Stichting Rookpreventie Jeugd de Staat in een zaak betreffende de nauwe banden tussen de overheid en de tabaksindustrie. De zaak is voornamelijk gebaseerd op Artikel 5 lid 3 van het WHO-Kaderverdrag inzake tabaksontmoediging van de Wereldgezondheidsorganisatie. Op 9 november deed de Rechtbank Den Haag uitspraak in deze zaak. De rechter oordeelde dat Artikel 5 lid 3 WHO-Kaderverdrag geen rechtstreekse werking heeft. Geciteerd uit de samenvatting van de uitspraak: ‘De stichting Rookpreventie Jeugd kan deze bepaling dus niet inroepen om de Staat de verplichten meer maatregelen te nemen om de invloed van de tabaksindustrie tegen te gaan. Artikel 5 lid 3 kan ook niet als een substantiering worden gezien van het in mensenrechtenverdragen verankerde recht op leven en gezondheid. Evenmin kan het via de zorgvuldigheidsnorm van artikel 6:162 BW worden ingeroepen.’ Voor een bespreking vooraf van deze zaak zie de bijdrage van Brigit Toebes in Nederlands Juristenblad, Afl 37, 30 oktober 2015.

English – on November 9th, 2015 the Court of First Instance in The Hague took a decision in the case concerning the close ties between the Dutch Government and the tobacco industry. The Court ruled that Article 5(3) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which requires States Parties to protect their tobacco control and public health policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry, does not have direct effect.

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Ebola in West Africa: Lessons to Strengthen the WHO International Health Regulations

By Thomas Mulder, LLB

The Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa has caused over 11,000 reported deaths. The World Health Organization (WHO) has been widely criticized for its late response to the outbreak and has pledged to reform its organization. However, many in the field of global health law remain deeply concerned by the struggles of the international community to find effective ways to prevent spread of disease. From a legal perspective, the Ebola crisis raises the question what obligations states and WHO have under international law to prevent (international) spread of contagious disease and whether these rules are effective in reality.

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A Human Rights Approach to Non-Communicable Diseases: Expert Meeting Report

Text adopted from the website of the International Development Law Organization (IDLO).

More than twenty international law and global health experts have adopted a consensus statement on responses to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) at the end of an expert meeting in The Hague on 22 September 2015. The IDLO-hosted event was examining human rights-based approaches and domestic legal responses to NCDs. Participants reviewed how international human rights law could contribute to the global response to NCDs, and discussed whether new sources of legal obligation were needed. The focus was on obesity, diabetes and unhealthy diets, but the conclusions contain lessons for all NCDs.

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How to improve equitable access to medicines for non-communicable diseases (NCDs)? GHLG comments on WHO’s discussion paper

Equitable access to medicines to treat non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as cancer and diabetes, is a major public health challenge in need of a global response. In August 2015, GHLG submitted comments to the WHO’s consultation on its discussion paper Essential medicines and basic health technologies for non-communicable diseases: towards a set of actions to improve equitable access in Member States. Our response presents key findings to date as strategies on legal approaches to promote access to essential medicines, including those for NCDs, such as:

The rational selection of medicines as a legal requirement: A national essential medicines list is a valuable tool to promote the rational use of medicines while also achieving the greatest public health impact for the least cost. Creating a legal obligation in domestic law to maintain an EML may be an effective way of giving effect to States’ core obligation to provide essential medicines defined by the WHO and to support access in the national context. GHLG provided model legal text identified in our pilot study of 14 countries in our Essential Laws for Medicines Access project.


Reliable health & supply systems for access to essential pain treatment: In many low- and middle-income countries, the availability and accessibility of opioid analgesics, often used to treat pain, conform human rights law could conflict with international drug control standards, whereas the quality and cultural appropriateness of medicines could conflict with international standardisation guidelines. There is a certain degree of urgency in low- and middle-income countries that increasingly suffer from the threat of NCDs, and where curative care is often unavailable, leaving palliative treatment, which heavily relies on the use of opioid analgesics, as the only viable therapeutic option. GHLG drew on its research of approaches taken at the national level.


Constitutional commitments to essential medicines to enhance advocacy efforts: A guarantee of access to essential medicines in national constitutions may create a supportive environment for advocacy efforts by creating a rights-based framework to guide the implementation of policy and programmes. In some countries, constitutional health rights are also enforceable before domestic courts. Results from GHLG’s global survey of constitutional language for access to medicines from our project Constitutional Health Commitments.

Next steps: Legal & policy responses to NCDs in 2016 GHLG Summer School

Besides our response to the WHO’s consultation, GHLG continues to follow the development of legal and policy responses to NCDs. We’ll tackle access to medicines for NCDs, and the link between NCDs and the regulation of tobacco and food in our July 2016 summer school NCDs & the law: A human rights response to the global health crisis.