Health Rights Initiative

stethescope and gavelThe Health Rights Initiative is based out of Miami Law’s Human Rights Program and is founded and directed by Faculty Director Tamar Ezer. Projects focus on realization of the right to the highest attainable standard of health, the intersection of health rights and drug policy, including addressing discrimination and violence against women who use drugs, and Indigenous health rights, including the right to a healthy environment.


  • Please find a factsheet on the international human right to the highest attainable standard of health in English and Spanish.
  • The Health Rights Initiative addresses the intersection of health rights and drug policy.

In 2020, the Human Rights Clinic provided an analysis of drug policies in the United States in two submissions to the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. The first submission discusses drug policies resulting in arbitrary detention and discrimination on the basis of gender and race. Please find a web story on this at Via U.N. Advocacy, Human Rights Clinic Addresses Arbitrary Detention Resulting from Drug Policy. The second submission to the Working Group discusses the problems with drug courts, which put drug treatment in the hands of the criminal justice system, which lacks medical expertise, and function in a context of scarce treatment resources. Please find a blog on “Care Not Criminalization to Address Drug Dependence,” published with the Bringing Human Rights Home series.

The Human Rights Initiative further works to address discrimination and violence against women as a result of drug policy. The Human Rights Clinic has collaborated with partners, including the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, the Eurasian Harm Reduction Association, and LUNEST, to ensure the rights of women who use drugs and women living with HIV in Estonia and Russia. This has entailed preparing a submission to the U.N. Special Rapporteurs on the Right to Health and on Violence against Women and the Working Group on the Issue of Discrimination against Women in Law and in Practice. Our advocacy with the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights further resulted in strong Concluding Observations protective of human rights on both drug policy and HIV/AIDS (paragraphs 44-47). Please find a web story on this at Via U.N. Advocacy, Clinic Addresses Discriminatory Drug Laws Against Women).

Globally, the Human Rights Clinic developed an analysis of obstetric violence experienced by women who use drugs for the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women and published the following reports with partners: Harm Reduction and Women: A Human Rights Approach, Drug Policy and the Fundamental Human Rights of Women Who Use Drugs, and Women Who Use Drugs: Key Issues, Violations, and Recommendations.

Furthermore, the Clinic made two submissions in response to the International Commission of Jurists’ call for civil society consultation to help develop “principles that address the detrimental impact on health, equality and human rights of criminalization with a focus on select conduct in the areas of sexuality, reproduction, drug use and HIV.” Please see Alternative Models to Punitive Drug Policy and The Impact of Criminalization on Women Who Use Drugs in Estonia.

  • The Health Rights Initiative works to realize Indigenous health rights, including the right to a healthy environment.

In 2021, the Human Rights Clinic produced a report on the impacts of COVID-19 on Indigenous Peoples and women, in particular. Another project addresses the intersection of gender-based violence against Indigenous Peoples and environmental justice. Another project addresses the intersection of Indigenous rights with gender and environmental violence. A series of reports provide a human rights framework to address gender and environmental violence, a synopsis with key recommendations, and case studies focused on Pipelines and Man Camps on Indigenous Lands in the Northern United States and on Canada’s National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, submitted to the CEDAW Committee and UN Working Group on discrimination against women and girls.

Additionally, Miami Law has a Health Rights Clinic, a medical-legal partnership in collaboration with the UM Miller School of Medicine, where students represent clients in different legal matters related to health with a focus on social security/public benefits and immigration. The Health Rights Clinic operates under the guidance of Director JoNel Newman and Associate Director Melissa Swain.


  • Strategy Meeting on Realizing the Rights to Food, Health and Housing in the U.S.: On November 12-13, 2020, the Human Rights Clinic and Cardozo Law Institute in Holocaust and Human Rights hosted a National Strategy Meeting on Realizing the Rights to Food, Health and Housing in the U.S. that brought together advocates and scholars to share strategies and experiences for realizing the rights to housing, health, and food. The meeting provided participants with the opportunity to jointly strategize on cross-cutting issues. For the meeting, the HRC developed factsheets in English and Spanish on the international human rights to food, housing and health. For more information about this meeting, please see the meeting agenda and report, as well as a Human Rights at Home blog and web story.
  • International Law and COVID-19 Symposium: On April 12 and 16, 2021, the University of Miami School of Law International and Graduate Law Programs and Human Rights Clinic, in collaboration with the Human Rights Society, Health Law Association, Environmental Law Program, and University of Miami International and Comparative Law Review, hosted a symposium on the impact of COVID-19 on international law. The International Law and COVID-19 Symposium delved into the intersections of COVID-19 with human rights and public health, including state obligations towards vulnerable populations, rights restrictions to protect public health, environmental aspects, reactions by international and regional human rights bodies, and public health responses. The symposium featured various international experts, including the president of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to housing, and members of the U.N. International Law Commission. Professor Claudio Grossman, dean emeritus and Raymond I. Geraldson Scholar for International and Humanitarian Law at the American University Washington College of Law; and member of the U.N. International Law Commission, provided introductory remarks.


Faculty and student scholarship addressing health rights includes:

Human Rights in Patient Care

Blogs & Op-Eds:

Health and Access to Justice


Drug Policy and Human Rights


Tamar Ezer & Gita Howard, Care Not Criminalization to Address Drug Dependence, Human Rights at Home Blog (Nov. 18, 2020).

Palliative Care and Human Rights


Brain Injury and Human Rights

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