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The United Nations (UN) plays a central role in realizing human rights to advance global health. Looking beyond state obligations, the UN has called on all its specialized agencies to mainstream human rights across all their activities. With globalization compelling these UN institutions to meet an expanding set of global challenges to underlying determinants of health, human rights are guiding these international organizations in addressing public health. These international organizations within the UN system are actively engaged in implementing health-related human rights—in both their mission and their actions to carry out that mission. Through this mainstreaming of human rights, global health institutions have embraced human rights treaty obligations as a framework for global governance. Given the dramatic development of human rights law through the UN and the parallel proliferation of UN institutions devoted to global health and development, there arises an imperative to understand the implementation of human rights in global health governance. This special section analyzes the evolving UN focus on health and human rights in global governance, examining an expansive set of UN institutions that employ human rights in responding to public health challenges in a rapidly globalizing world.

To understand the ways in which human rights are implemented, this special section examines the role of institutions across the UN system in the realization of human rights for public health. Drawing from our recent Oxford University Press volume on Human Rights in Global Health: Rights-Based Governance for a Globalizing World, this special section brings together several of the contributors to analyze ongoing efforts to reform UN institutions to mainstream human rights. These contributors—from academia, nongovernmental organizations, and the UN system—explore (1) the foundations of human rights as a framework for global governance, (2) the work of UN organizations across a range of health-related human rights, (3) the influence of rights-based economic governance on public health, and (4) the advancement of health through UN human rights institutions. Looking beyond the chapters in Human Rights in Global Health, this special section examines how international institutions are changing to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with sweeping implications for the mainstreaming of human rights for health across the UN.

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Health & Human Rights Journal, Vol. 21, Number 2, 199.