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Statement at opening of Social Forum 2017

Distinguished Co-Chairs,
Mr. High Commissioner,
Excellencies,
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my great honour and pleasure to welcome you all to the 2017 Social Forum on behalf of the President of the Human Rights Council.  This Forum is one of the highlights of the Human Rights Council agenda, an important event that brings together States, academics, practitioners, civil society and rights holders themselves. This year, as decided by the Human Rights Council in its resolution 32/27, the Social Forum will discuss the protection and promotion of human rights in the context of HIV and other communicable diseases and epidemics.

I wish to congratulate my distinguished colleague, Her Excellency Ambassador Maria Nazareth Farani Azevêdo of Brazil and His Excellency Ambassador Yury Ambrazevich of Belarus, for their co-chairmanship of this year’s Forum. I am certain that under their chairmanship this year’s Social Forum will be even more inclusive and engaging.

Although the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health is unequivocally reaffirmed in many human rights treaties, the Constitution of the World Health Organization and the Declaration of Alma-Ata, the relationship between health and human rights has not always been well understood. The work of advocates involved in the HIV movement did much to elucidate these links. Yet, greater rapprochement between these two disciplines remains a work-in-progress.

The Human Rights Council has been particularly active and engaged on health issues in the last few years, with resolutions on access to medicines, HIV/AIDS, capacity-building in health and mental health, as well as health within the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Your discussions over the next few days are an important part of this work, as the Council seeks to gather the views, expertise and experiences of those who find themselves, in one way or another, on the frontline of promoting and protecting human rights in the context of HIV and other epidemics and diseases.

Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

One theme that continues to emerge in the work of the Human Rights Council – and which has been affirmed by the World Health Organization - is that health truly is more than the absence of disease or infirmity: it is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing. In recent years, we have been confronted by the challenges posed by outbreaks of Zika, cholera and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (or SARS), among others. When we consider, for instance, the social impact of HIV, Zika or Ebola, it is clear that a comprehensive approach to addressing these public health challenges is critical.

What these epidemics and outbreaks have also made clear is that the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health enjoys a symbiotic relationship with other human rights, including the rights to life, an adequate standard of living, education, food and work. When the right to health is protected, the enhanced enjoyment of other rights necessary to preserve dignity, realise potential and assert autonomy becomes possible. Conversely, health can only be improved when other human rights are upheld.

Excellencies,
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The programme for this year’s Social Forum touches on a range of issues that are vital for advancing the health agenda and for the promotion and protection of all human rights. You will have the opportunity to discuss, for instance, the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals through a human rights framework; the role of civil society in epidemics; health workers on the frontline; international cooperation; and access to medicines.

Over the next three days, I encourage you to draw from your various experiences and be forthright about how we can all, collectively, continue to work towards protecting human rights more fully where health is concerned. We look forward to hearing your contributions on best practices, challenges and recommendations for concrete action to protect human rights, with the view towards permanently bridging the gap between health and human rights.

I wish you a very productive and successful 2017 Social Forum.

Thank you.