Power, Suffering, and the Struggle for Dignity image

University of Pennsylvania Press, December 2015
Alicia Ely Yamin (Global Health and Human Rights Initiative Fellow Alumna)


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“A brilliant, highly readable, and moving book.” -Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty

“This book deftly illustrates the core purpose of a human rights-based approach—eradicating the suffering arising from dramatic inequality within and between nations…. [Yamin’s] writing transcends the academy and, true to human rights practice, reaches out to an audience that does not need to be privileged to be included. ” -Paul Farmer, from the Foreword

In this exciting new book, internationally renowned human rights lawyer, Alicia Ely Yamin invites a diverse audience—students, legal and public health practitioners, and interested lay readers—to think seriously and creatively about what human rights-based approaches (HRBAs) to health and development mean and why they matter. Applying a human rights framework to health demands that we think about our own suffering and that of others, Yamin argues, as well as the fundamental causes of that suffering. What is our agency as human subjects with rights and dignity, and what prevents us from acting in certain circumstances? What roles are played by others in decisions that affect our health? How do we determine whether what we may see as “natural” is actually the result of mutable human policies and practices? Coupling theory with personal examples of human rights-based approaches at work, Yamin provides a solid foundation for understanding what a human rights framework implies, the potential for social transformation it entails, and the impact HRBAs have had on people’s lives and health outcomes. Analyzing successes of and challenges to using human rights frameworks for health, Yamin charts what can be learned from these experiences, setting out explicit assumptions about how we can create social transformation.

Alicia Ely Yamin, JD, MPH, is Lecturer on Law and Global Health and Director of the JD/MPH program at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, as well as Policy Director at the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University, and Global Fellow of the Centre on Law & Social Transformation, in Bergen, Norway. Trained at Harvard in both law and public health, Yamin’s career has bridged academia and activism. From 2007 to 2011, Yamin held the Joseph H. Flom Fellowship on Global Health and Human Rights at Harvard Law School. Prior to that, she served as Director of Research and Investigations at Physicians for Human Rights, where she oversaw all of the organization’s field investigations, and was on the faculty of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. Yamin has been recognized globally for her pioneering scholarship and advocacy in relation to economic and social rights and rights-based approaches to health. She has contributed to the drafting of multiple General Comments by UN treaty bodies, as well as UN Human Rights Council resolutions. Yamin regularly advises UN bodies in relation to health and human rights, and has provided strategic guidance to NGOs as well as courts on landmark litigation relating to health- and sexual and reproductive rights, in various countries and regions, as well as in supra-national adjudication. In 2014, She was named the 2015-2016 Visiting Gladstein Professor of Human Rights at the University of Connecticut, and she is currently serving on the Lancet-O’Neil Institute Commission on Global Health and the Law.


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