The role of the judicial system in protecting the human right to health

The Union’s Regional Director for Latin America, Gustavo Sóñora, advocated for the judicial system to play a role in the protection of the human right to health at a regional event held at the Supreme Court of Paraguay and co-hosted by the Ministry of Health.

The event, held on 26-27 August, was organised by the Pan American Health Organization/ World Health Organization to examine the extent to which the judicial system should be responsible for upholding human rights in public health.

Representing The Union, Mr Sóñora presented an analysis of the Philip Morris International (PMI) versus Government of Uruguay case. PMI brought a lawsuit against Uruguay, arguing that the country’s tobacco control policies – i.e. tobacco branding limitations and graphic health warnings covering 80 percent of the surface area of tobacco packaging – contravened trademark and investment protections. In July 2016, after a six-year long legal battle, the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes rejected PMI’s claims and awarded the victory to Uruguay.

“This case is an important example of how the legal system can support the public’s right to health,” said Mr Sóñora. “The State has an obligation to public health, and the adoption of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is a crucial exercise of the State’s power to protect people from the harms of tobacco.” 

Uruguay is a model of how strong leadership can combat the devastation caused by tobacco. In 2018, with technical support from The Union, it became the first country in Latin America to require plain packaging on tobacco products. Uruguay now has the world’s most comprehensive restrictions on tobacco branding, due to its coupling of plain packaging and ‘single presentation’ regulations. The latter means that tobacco companies can only sell one variant within their brand family.

The Union has worked with Uruguay since 2014 under the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use, offering technical assistance to further tobacco control policies, improve enforcement and evaluate policy impact. Along with the plain packaging legislation, a five-year strategic tobacco control plan to guide government actions and an updated implementation manual for health inspectors resulted from this collaboration.

The Union urges countries to follow the example set by Uruguay in standing up to the tobacco industry and defending the human right to health.