Health Rights Initiative

Judges Gavel with Stethescopte laying on table Judges Gavel with Stethescopte laying on table

The 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 and freedom from violence.


  • Please find a factsheet on the international human right to the highest attainable standard of health in English and Spanish.
  • The Health Rights Initiative includes a focus on human rights in patient care.

The Human Rights Clinic is working with the Florida Health Justice Project (FHJP) on advocacy to address the maternal and infant health crisis in Florida by expanding Medicaid, improving the Family Planning Waiver Program, and increasing access to midwives and doulas. The Clinic and FHJP are developing an advocacy agenda and report on this topic, as well as a submission to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on racial injustice in maternal and reproductive care in Florida.

In 2022, the Clinic further collaborated with the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on a report on the impact of commercialized healthcare on the right to health and COVID-19 response in Kenya.

  • 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 HIV Legal Network, the Eurasian Harm Reduction Association, LUNEST, and the Russian network of women who use drugs, 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 ApproachDrug Policy and the Fundamental Human Rights of Women Who Use Drugs, and Women Who Use Drugs: Key Issues, Violations, and Recommendations. These reports served as a basis for a thematic briefing before the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which resulted in strong Concluding Observations in the Committee’s subsequent reviews of Russia and Kyrgyzstan. In both sets of Concluding Observations, the Committee highlighted the need to address discrimination and gender-based violence against women who use drugs and women living with HIV. In its review of Kyrgyzstan, the Committee further recommended improved access to harm reduction, no automatic deprivation of parental rights based on drug dependence, and no criminalization of drug possession for personal use without intent to sell. Please find a web story on this at Via U.N. Advocacy, Clinic Addresses Discrimination and Violence against Women Who Use Drugs.

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 and freedom from violence.

In 2021, the Human Rights Clinic produced a report on the impacts of COVID-19 on Indigenous Peoples and women, in particular, as well as a report on the "Rights of Nature and Indigenous Communities." Another project addresses the intersection of gender-based violence against Indigenous Peoples and environmental justice. 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. In 2022, The Clinic submitted a report, “The Climate Crisis and Gender-Based Violence against Indigenous Peoples: Impacts and Responses,” to the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women. Additionally, the Clinic published Human Rights at Home blogs on Celebrating World Water Day by Calling for Respect for our Environment and Indigenous Communities and Past Time for Respect for Indigenous Peoples and the Environment.

The Human Rights Clinic further advocates on behalf of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. In February 2019, the Clinic contributed to a written and oral submission before the Canadian National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, with a report focused on the right to truth. Read the web story and partners' press release, building on a previous thematic hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

  • 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.


  • Film Screening & Panel Discussion on Nothing Without Us; The Women Who Will end AIDS: On February 16, the Human Rights Program and Clinic hosted a film screening and panel discussion on Nothing Without Us: The Women Who Will End AIDS, in collaboration with the Miami Law Clinics, Human Rights Society, University of Miami Miller Medical School’s Human Rights Clinic, the Center for HIV and Research in Mental Health (CHARM), and the Center for Ethics and Public Service. This documentary tells the story of the inspiring women at the forefront of the global HIV and AIDS movement in the U.S. and sub-Saharan Africa. The panel discussion featured the filmmaker, local advocates, and faculty from law, medicine, psychology, and history and explored intersections between health and human rights, gender and race dimensions, and interactions between social movements and legal advocacy. Please find a write-up of the discussion prepared by the Human Rights Clinic.
  • 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:

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