Health and Human Rights

Across the U.S. and around the world, profound inequities and discriminatory barriers undermine or prevent access to health services for tens of millions of people. In addition, some health programs and policies are instituted in ways that tolerate or reinforce discrimination, facilitate stigma or undermine human dignity. Increasingly, the public health field is recognizing that integrating human rights approaches into public health practices and policies can provide a powerful force for social justice and improved health.

This Certificate will prepare graduates with the conceptual frameworks and practical tools for designing, implementing and evaluating rights-based health programs, policies and systems. Areas to be covered include, for example, HIV/AIDS; the human rights of people living with addictions; sexuality and sexual health; reproductive rights and reproductive justice; and human rights in humanitarian action. 

Graduates of the program will be well equipped for positions in local, national, and international public health programs, and institutions, as well as non-governmental organizations and foundations that employ rights-centered analysis and action.


  1. Assess human rights norms, instruments, and tools that are pertinent to advancing social justice in public health, and conceiving of public health as a tool of social justice (or injustice). 

  2. Apply provisions from a range of human rights instruments, including international human rights law, humanitarian law, and national and constitutional laws that embody rights.

  3. Make connections among key milestones in the history and current efforts of applying human rights ideas to public health, including the role of social movements.

  4. Report on health-related human rights violations and advocate for their elimination.

  5. Critically evaluate the extent to which health programs and policies are demonstrably based on human rights norms and approaches. 

Admissions Eligibility

Health and Human Rights is open to Columbia MPH students in:

Environmental Health Sciences
Health Policy and Management
Population and Family Health
Sociomedical Sciences

Note that given the required classes, the program may be most compatible for students enrolled in Epidemiology, Population & Family Health or Sociomedical Sciences.

Learn More

Visit the Certificates Database to learn more about core and credit requirements.

Sample Courses

Health and Human Rights

The class explores how laws, policies, and rights function to shape public health, with particular emphasis on the implications of this interaction for rights-based approaches to health programs and policy. After introducing the principles, practices, and underlying assumptions of law, policy, and rights, the class offers students the opportunity to use human rights tools in documentation of health-related human rights violations and formulating programs, policy responses, and advocacy strategies to violations. A wide range of issues, including sexual and reproductive rights, HIV/AIDS, health problems of criminalized populations, and the intersection of the environment and health, are explored to illustrate the importance of sustained human rights inquiry and analysis in public health.

Seminar in Sexuality, Gender, Health, and Human Rights

This seminar uses the new scholarship on sexuality to engage with ongoing theoretical conversations and activism in human rights, gender, and health. Pressed by the increasing recognition of the importance of sexuality in a wide range of rights and advocacy work (for example, HIV/AIDS, sexual and reproductive health, and sexual violence), theorists and advocates alike have struggled with complex, sometimes fluid and elusive nature of sexuality. What is this "sexuality" in need of rights and health? How does it manifest itself across a range of persons and cultures? And how can culturally and historically situated work about sexuality inform and improve legal and advocacy interventions? The seminar also turns a critical eye on recent scholarship, in light of current issues raised by policy interventions and advocacy in many countries and cultures. Finally, the seminar aims to promote dialogue and exchange between academic, activist, and advocacy work.

Related Certificates

History, Ethics, and Law
Public Health and Humanitarian Assistance
Sexuality, Sexual, and Reproductive Health

Related Links

Center for the History and Ethics of Public Health
Center for the Study of Social Inequalities and Health