Rethinking the International System of Health Governance

Cambridge, Massachusetts
September 15–17, 2017

Symposium: (overview) (agenda) (participants)

The United Nations was born in the last weeks of World War II as a network of states “endowed with strength to keep the peace for generations and to give security and wider opportunity to all men” (Schlesinger 2009:10). It was tied closely to the concept of human rights. U.S. president Franklin Roosevelt, a key early advocate of the UN, promoted the idea as a mechanism for building security through the political, economic, and social development of free citizens rather than military power alone. “Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere,” he proclaimed (Normand & Zaidi 2008:89).

Seventy-five years later, the ability of the international system to deliver on this slogan is increasingly in doubt. Tragically, at the very moment when legitimate international institutions are more needed than ever to address the growing pains of a global society, those institutions are badly weakened. The crisis of legitimacy stems not only from the UN’s inability to engage effectively in global trouble spots like Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, but also from a succession of profound institutional failures which contributed directly to the violation of highly vulnerable people’s basic human rights. These failures have led, among other things, to deadly environmental contamination and other recent public health disasters: mass lead poisoning in Kosovo, epidemic spread of cholera in Haiti, Ebola disease in West Africa, and drug-resistant tuberculosis worldwide. These cases highlight the difficulty in applying existing transnational accountability mechanisms to the UN. Despite the rhetoric that accompanied its founding, the jurisdiction of human rights law over multilateral agencies remains fraught with ambiguity.

This interdisciplinary symposium will gather a select group of experts and practitioners to consider recent crises in health care delivery and population protection—cholera, tuberculosis, and Ebola—and their implications for the ability of the international community to hold the UN and its technical agencies answerable for failure in an increasingly interconnected world. Participants will consider the historical evolution of the UN, gaps that have emerged from its structure and organization, and challenges to pragmatic action over the course of its history. The workshop will conclude by envisioning the road toward accountability and its potential impact on the shape of the international system.

Catherine A. Admay

Catherine A. Admay, [admay@duke.edu]
BA, Yale University
JD, Yale University

Catherine Admay taught at New York University Law School (1994–96) and Duke Law School (1996–2002) before joining, as visiting faculty, the departments of Political Science and Public Policy/Duke Center for International Development. Admay now serves as lecturer of public policy and a faculty affiliate to Duke’s Global Health Institute. She co-founded NYU Law’s first international law clinic (serving the government of Eritrea and civil society organizations) and founded and directed Duke Law School’s first international development law clinic (serving the government of South Africa and civil society organizations). She has served as a legal consultant to the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission (report issued May 2006) and as a legal scholar contributing to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (report issued October 1998).

Admay worked for the Legal Resources Centre in Pretoria and Gazankulu, South Africa, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Office of the Legal Advisor in the United States Department of State, and with private law firms in Washington, DC and Seattle. She clerked for Hon. Betty Binns Fletcher of the United States Court of Appeals on the 9th Circuit in Seattle, Washington.

Admay’s teaching and research interests are in the areas of human rights, law and development, global health, comparative constitutional law of socio-economic rights, conflict transformation, and interdisciplinary engagements with law (ethics, arts, storytelling).