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1. An International Obligation upon States to Respect Human Rights in Epidemic Situations

In 2005 the World Health Organisation (the WHO), through its World Health Assembly released a revised version of the International Health Regulations (the IHR). The new regulations were the fruit of ten years work attempting to redraft the old regulations in order to make them more suitable for modern needs. For the first time, the IHR recognises the importance of respecting human rights, stating that the implementation of the IHR should be with the full respect for the dignity, human rights and fundamental freedoms of all persons. This is unlike the previous version were the emphasis was mainly placed on restrictions on trade and not on restrictions of individual rights. In addition to this general obligation to respect human rights, some common human rights principles are found throughout the text. Article 42 for example states that all health measures must be applied in a non-discriminatory way.
Article 23 stresses the need for informed consent stating that State parties should not apply health measures such as vaccination, medical examination or isolation of international travellers without ‘prior express informed consent’ except in circumstances where there is evidence of an ‘imminent public health risk’.

The IHR also contains requirements on any limitations that are applied to existing human rights principles in public health emergencies.There had been calls for the new version of the IHR to require states to avoid, where possible, the stigmatisation of groups, and individuals. This however did not happen; the revised version of the IHR makes no mention of stigmatisation.
The IHR provisions require inter alia the application of the least intrusive and invasive medical examination that achieves the public health objective (Articles 17, 23, 31 and 43) and the need for prior express informed consent except in special circumstances (Article 23). States Parties must treat travellers undergoing health measures with respect for their dignity and human rights, and provide certain facilities to minimize their discomfort (Article 32). The Regulations provide some protection as to confidentiality and lawful use of personal data collected under the IHR (Article 45) and introduce a general requirement of transparency and non-discrimination in the application of health measures (Article 42).