Health, Human Rights Linked
By Susan Peterson
Human rights are a vital part of international policy, says John Shattuck, a human rights activist who has worked in such troubled hotspots as Bosnia, Rwanda, and the Middle East.
Shattuck, who is assistant secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor in the U.S. State Department, gave the inaugural address for "Health and Human Rights Week," on Monday as part of the School of Public Health's 75th Anniversary.
Formerly Harvard's Vice President for Government, Community and Public Affairs (from 1984 to 1993), Shattuck taught human rights and civil liberties law at the Law School and served as senior associate in the Program on Science, Technology and Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Government. He also served as vice chair of the United States Section of Amnesty International, and was the National Counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (from 1971 to 1976).
Shattuck sees human rights issues as "persistently transcending national borders," and says that public health workers and human rights activists share a need to address human rights crises as a global challenge.
"There are powerful lessons to be learned from the atrocities that have been perpetuated in conflicts in Bosnia, Rwanda, Haiti, and elsewhere," Shattuck said. "Chief among these is that following a human rights catastrophe, no peace can be established without attention being paid to the demands for justice."
At a time when nongovernmental organizations are playing a pivotal role, both politically and financially, in addressing human rights issues, Shattuck explained that fostering new partnerships between governments and nongovernmental organizations is important.
"The work of nongovernmental organizations is critically related to the work of diplomacy and humanitarian organizations, which have often been on the sidelines," he said. "This is where the connection between human rights [and public health] comes sharply into focus."
Partnerships between these organizations should work toward several broad objectives, Shattuck explained, such as:
* conflict prevention
* working to foster a more civil society
* having effective, humanitarian organizations
"Focusing on issues of interaction among people is perhaps the single most important way to address [human rights] problems," he said.
Copyright 1998 President and Fellows of Harvard College