Paul Hunt (academic)

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Paul Hunt, a New Zealand and British national, is a human rights scholar-activist who specialises in economic, social and cultural rights. A Professor of Law at the Human Rights Centre, University of Essex (UK), he has held senior UN appointments, including Rapporteur of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1999–2002), UN Special Rapporteur on the right to the highest attainable standard of health (2002–2008) and Senior Human Rights Advisor to the Assistant Director-General, World Health Organization, Flavia Bustreo (2011–2013). He is a Visiting Professor at the University of Waikato, New Zealand/Aotearoa.


Hunt is a New Zealand and British national. For most of his formative years, he lived in Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk (UK). In 1979, he graduated from Cambridge University (UK) with a law degree. In 1995, he was awarded a Masters of Jurisprudence (1st Class Hons) by the University of Waikato (New Zealand). In 2008, he was given an Honorary Doctorate by the Nordic School of Public Health. Since 2000, he has lived in Wivenhoe, Essex. In 1982, Hunt qualified as a solicitor in England and Wales. Between 1982 and 1985, he worked for Kingsley Napley (London) as a civil and criminal litigation solicitor, and assistant to the Senior Partner, Sir David Napley, formerly President of the Law Society. During this period, Hunt was elected to the National Council of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

Human rights in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, UK and Gambia[edit]

In 1985, Hunt left private practice and became a human rights lawyer in Israel/Palestine working for Quaker Peace and Service (now Quaker Peace and Social Witness). Between 1985 and 1987, he lived in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and researched the Israeli Military Courts. Published in 1987, Justice? The Military Court System in the Israeli-Occupied Territories, examined the Military Courts through the 'lens' of Israel's international human rights obligations.[1]

On his return to the UK, Hunt worked with Sydney Bailey on an inter-denominational project about human rights in Britain and Ireland. The project included Mary Robinson, shortly to become the President of Ireland, and David Trimble, shortly to become leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and First Minister of Northern Ireland. The project led to Human Rights and Responsibilities in Britain and Ireland, edited by Bailey,[2] and a shorter version, A Christian Perspective on Human Rights and Responsibilities: with Special Reference to Northern Ireland, edited by Hunt.[3]

Between 1987–1990, Hunt worked for the National Council for Civil Liberties/Liberty (UK) as Legal Officer, Head of the Legal and Campaign Team and Acting general secretary. He conducted national and international human rights cases, including litigation in Strasbourg under the European Convention on Human Rights.[4] In addition to prisoners' rights, he worked on the lawfulness of Northern Ireland's emergency laws.[5] and was responsible for one of the earliest publications in favour of incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law.[6]

Between 1990–1992, Hunt was appointed Associate Director of the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (Gambia), working under Raymond Sock (formerly Solicitor-General) and Hassan Jallow (then Minister of Justice). The Centre paralleled and monitored the new Gambian-based African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights established under the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. With Jallow, Hunt co-authored one of the first publications on HIV/AIDS and human rights in Africa,[7] as well as research on African national human rights institutions,[8] and children's rights in the Gambia.[9]

Academic career[edit]

Between 1992–2000, Hunt was senior lecturer at the University of Waikato, New Zealand. The focus of his teaching and research was national and international public law, especially human rights. He began to specialise in economic, social and cultural rights and his study, Reclaiming Social Rights: International and Comparative Perspectives, was published in 1996. [10]This was one of the first books published on social rights. Reviewing it in the Human Rights Quarterly, Barbara Stark remarked upon the book’s ambition and concluded, “Hunt succeeds brilliantly” and that the study "dazzles".[11]

At the University of Waikato, Hunt looked at human rights in New Zealand and the South Pacific, including the relationship between culture and rights, as well as the rights of indigenous peoples, which led to scholarship such as Culture, Rights and Cultural Rights: Perspectives from the South Pacific, co-edited with Margaret Wilson. [12] Between 1996–97, he was a Visiting Fellow at the Harvard Law School Human Rights Program. In 2000, Hunt, Janet McLean, Bill Mansfield and Peter Cooper were commissioned by New Zealand's Attorney-General to prepare an independent report on the country's national human rights institutions.[13] Many of their recommendations have been implemented by legislative and other reforms.

In 2000, Hunt was appointed Professor of Law at the Human Rights Centre, University of Essex (UK), a position he still holds. At Essex, his teaching and research focus is national and international human rights, with a particular emphasis on economic, social and cultural rights, as well as human rights and development. He has served as Director of the Human Rights Centre and Chair of the Democratic Audit. Presently, he leads the health-rights work stream of the University's Human Rights, Big Data and Technology Project, funded by the UK's Economic and Social Research Council.

UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1999–2002)[edit]

In 1998, the New Zealand Government nominated Hunt to serve as an independent expert on the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Geneva, and he was duly elected by States. He served as the Committee's Rapporteur from 1999 to 2002. During this period, the Committee adopted several influential commentaries, known as General Comments, on economic, social and cultural rights, including on the right to adequate food,[14]right to education,[15] right to the highest attainable standard of health,[16]and right to water.[17]It also adopted some statements, including one on poverty and human rights, which broke new ground.[18] These General Comments and statements have contributed to the growth of literature, and national and international initiatives, on economic, social and cultural rights since the turn of the century.

In light of the Committee's statement on poverty, Mary Robinson, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, asked Hunt, Manfred Nowak and Siddiq Osmani to draft detailed and operational guidance on a human rights-based approach to poverty reduction. They responded by writing Human Rights and Poverty Reduction: A Conceptual Framework, [19] followed by Draft Guidelines: A Human Rights Approach to Poverty Reduction Strategies, [20] both of which were published by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). After a period of consultation, OHCHR revised the Draft Guidelines and they were published as Principles and Guidelines for a Human Rights Approach to Poverty Reduction Strategies.[21]

UN Special Rapporteur on the right to the highest attainable standard of health (2002–2008)[edit]

In 2002, Hunt stepped down from the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and was appointed the first UN Special Rapporteur on the right to the highest attainable standard of health ('right to health'). In this independent capacity, he reported, orally and in writing, to the UN General Assembly, UN Commission on Human Rights and UN Human Rights Council.[22] He submitted thematic reports on a wide range of right to health issues, such as sexual and reproductive health,[23] neglected diseases,[24] mental disability,[25] maternal mortality,[26] and the health-rights responsibilities of pharmaceutical companies.[27] He also visited, and wrote right to health reports on, countries, including India,[28] Peru,[29] Sweden,[30] and Uganda.[31] Hunt took the unorthodox step of undertaking visits to, and preparing right to health reports on, non-state actors,[32] such as the World Trade Organization,[33] World Bank and International Monetary Fund,[34] and GlaxoSmithKline.[35] Also, he prepared reports with other Rapporteurs on Guantanamo Bay,[36] as well as the Lebanon/Israel conflict of 2006.[37] Many people wrote to Hunt with alleged violations of their right to health and he took up some of these complaints and subsequently reported to the UN about them.[38]

His reports have elicited a wide response, for example, in 2005, Cynthia Rothschild discussed the report on sexual and reproductive health, "Hunt's 2004 report is certainly one of the UN system's most far-reaching documents to incorporate a focus on sexual orientation and gender identity and health".[39] Some commentators called the report “shocking” and Hunt was branded “unprofessional” in the UN Commission on Human Rights.[40]

On maternal death and morbidity, Sandeep Prasad wrote, it "was [Hunt] who first started bringing the human rights dimensions of the issue of maternal mortality to the attention of the [UN Human Rights] Council as a global health and human rights crisis."[41] Following a press conference in Delhi at the end of his visit to India, during which he focussed on maternal mortality in Rajasthan and Maharashtra, the Indian Express devoted an editorial to the issue, reflected on Hunt’s findings, and agreed with his conclusion that “the situation does not befit a country of India’s stature and level of development.”[42]

Following Hunt’s report on Peru, Ariel Frisancho Arroyo remarked upon “[t]he key role" played by Hunt in "supporting the health authorities' interest on how to increase the realization of health-rights".[43] Following his report on Sweden, scholars wrote, “Since Hunt’s report and the resulting [Right to Health Care Initiative], most county councils have issued more generous guiding principles for the health care of local undocumented patients."[44] In an editorial, ''The Lancet'' commended Hunt's thematic report on the health-rights responsibilities of pharmaceutical companies, as well as his twin report on GlaxoSmithKline.[45] Hunt devoted three UN thematic reports to the methodological problem of how to measure the progressive realisation of the right to health[46] and their influence is manifest in the key OHCHR publication Human Rights Indicators: A Guide to Measurement and Implementation.[47] He drew on several of his UN reports to co-author a major study on health systems and the right to health[48] which was described by The Lancet[49] as a “landmark” report.

Human rights and the World Health Organization[edit]

Hunt’s reports, such as his studies on Peru[50] and Uganda,[51] demonstrate constructive engagement with the World Health Organization (WHO). In 2008, during his last oral report to the UN Human Rights Council as Special Rapporteur, Hunt acknowledged this co-operation but also emphasised its limits: “Over the last six years, I have enjoyed excellent cooperation with a number of WHO members of staff on a range of policy and operational issues. For this, I am extremely grateful. However, to the best of my knowledge, neither the World Health Assembly, nor the WHO Executive Board, have ever considered one of my reports. Despite requests, I have never met a WHO Director General since my appointment in 2002.” [52]

However, between 2011–2013, Hunt was appointed as a part-time Senior Human Rights Advisor to the Assistant Director-General, WHO, Flavia Bustreo, and he directed a project which researched whether there was evidence of impact of a human rights approach to health. This interdisciplinary and multi-author research concluded that applying human rights to women’s and children’s health policies and other interventions “not only helps governments comply with their binding national and international obligations, but also contributes to improving the health of women and children.” [53] In 2015, Hunt co-edited a Special Issue of Harvard’s Health and Human Rights Journal which deepened analysis of this topic.[54]

In September 2010, Hunt co-organised an international roundtable in Geneva on maternal mortality, human rights and accountability, and the proceedings were subsequently published.[55] In this roundtable, and in a paper he presented at an international conference in Delhi during November 2010, Hunt began to analyse accountability as having three components: monitoring, review and remedy.[56] This analysis was novel because, in the context of global health, accountability was usually understood as monitoring and evaluation, without the components of either independent review or remedy.

In 2010–11, Hunt sat on a Working Group of the UN Commission on Information and Accountability on Women’s and Children’s Health (COIA). The Working Group refined Hunt’s conception of accountability in its submission to COIA.[57] In its final report, Keeping Promises, Measuring Results, COIA adopted this understanding of accountability.[58] This conception of accountability shaped COIA’s recommendations to the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, and led to the Secretary-General establishing the independent Expert Review Group on Information and Accountability for Women's and Children's Health (iERG). The iERG sat from 2011 to 2015 and was succeeded by the Independent Accountability Panel which largely shares COIA's understanding of accountability.[59] In 2015, Julian Schweitzer wrote on the British Medical Journal (BMJ) that the COIA's "definition of accountability – a cyclical process of monitoring, review, and action … – is now widely accepted in global health".[60] Hunt was the main architect of this conception of accountability in global health.

After WHO[edit]

Hunt has recently turned his attention to social rights in the UK. In 2014–15, he sat on the statutory human rights inquiry into emergency health care established by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.[61] He has joined the Board of the National Health Service (NHS) England initiative, Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights, Inclusion and Empowerment (SHRINE). He has been appointed a Patron of Just Fair, a London-based think-tank on economic and social rights. With Ruth Lister, Baroness Lister of Burtersett he has written for the think-tank, Compass, on social rights in the UK.[62] In 2017 the Centre for Welfare Reform published Hunt's Social Rights are Human Rights - but the UK System is Rigged.[63] In 2018, Hunt was appointed by Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, to her Advisory Group on Human Rights Leadership. The Advisory Group is due to report in December 2018. On 2 October 2018, the New Zealand Minister of Justice Andrew Little (New Zealand politician) announced Hunt's appointment as the Chief Human Rights Commissioner for New Zealand. [64] He will take up the role of Chief Human Rights Commissioner in January 2019. [65]


Hunt has provided expert testimony to the European Court of Human Rights, via the Centre for Reproductive Rights, and Inter-American Court of Human Rights.[66] In 1999–2000, he sat on the Advisory Panel of the UNDP Human Development Report, Human Rights and Human Development.[67] He was one of the drafters of, and signatories to, the Yokyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law in relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in 2006. In 2008, he co-founded the International Initiative on Maternal Mortality and Human Rights. Between 2009–2011, he sat on UNFPA’s External Advisory Panel. Hunt sits on the Editorial Boards of the Health and Human Rights Journal and International Journal on Human Rights and Drug Policy.

In 2008 Hunt was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Nordic School of Public Health.[68]

In 2014, he gave a TEDx talk, Equality – the Road Less Travelled. [69] In this he argues that the realisation of social rights, such as those in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), has a major contribution to make towards the enjoyment of substantive equality for all.

Main Publications[edit]

Reclaiming Social Rights: International and Comparative Perspectives (Dartmouth, 1996)

with Margaret Wilson (eds.) Culture, Rights and Cultural Rights: Perspectives from the South Pacific (Huia, 2000)

with Willem van Genugten and Susan Mathews (eds.), World Bank, IMF and Human Rights: Including The Tilburg Guiding Principles on World Bank, IMF and human rights (Nijmegen, 2003)

with Tony Gray (eds.), Maternal Mortality, Human Rights and Accountability (Routledge, 2013)

with Flavia Bustreo et al., Women's and Children's Health: Evidence of Impact of Human Rights (World Health Organization, 2013)

Social Rights are Human Rights - but the UK System is Rigged (Centre for Welfare Reform, 2017) .[70]


  1. ^ Paul Hunt, Justice? The Military Court System in the Israeli-Occupied Territories, al-Haq/Gaza Centre for Rights and Law, 1987.
  2. ^ Sydney Bailey (ed.), Human rights and responsibilities in Britain and Ireland, Macmillan, 1988.
  3. ^ Paul Hunt (ed.), A Christian perspective on human rights and responsibilities: with special reference to Northern Ireland, Christian Action, 1988.
  4. ^ For example, Thynne, Wilson and Gunnel v UK, 13 EHRR 666
  5. ^ Brice Dickson and Paul Hunt, "Northern Ireland's emergency laws and international human rights", NQHR, 1993, 173,
  6. ^ A Bill of Rights: why the European Convention on Human Rights should be incorporated into UK law, Briefing No.13, Liberty, 1989.
  7. ^ Paul Hunt and Hassan Jallow, AIDS and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, ACDHRS, 1991
  8. ^ Richard Carver and Paul Hunt, National human rights institutions in Africa, ACDHRS, 1991,
  9. ^ Paul Hunt, "Children's rights in West Africa: the case of the Gambia’s Almudos”, HRQ, 1993, 499
  10. ^ Paul Hunt, Reclaiming social rights: international and comparative perspectives, Dartmouth, 1996.
  11. ^ Barbara Stark, Book review of Reclaiming social rights: international and comparative perspectives, HRQ, 1999, 547, at 548.
  12. ^ Paul Hunt and Margaret Wilson (eds.), Culture, rights and cultural rights: perspectives from the South Pacific, Huia, 2000.
  13. ^ Peter Cooper, Paul Hunt, Bill Mansfield and Janet McLean, Re-Evaluation of the Human Rights Protections in New Zealand, Report for the Associate Minister of Justice and Attorney-General, Ministry of Justice, Wellington, 2000.
  14. ^ E/C.12/1999/5, 12 May 1999.
  15. ^ E/C.12/1999/10, 8 December 1999.
  16. ^ E/C.12/2000/4, 11 August 2000.
  17. ^ E/C.12.2002/11, 20 January 2003.
  18. ^ E/C.12/2001/10, 10 May 2001.
  19. ^ Human rights and poverty reduction: a conceptual framework, OHCHR, 2004.
  20. ^ Draft guidelines: a human rights approach to poverty reduction strategies, OHCHR, 2002.
  21. ^ Principles and guidelines for a human rights approach to poverty reduction strategies, OHCHR, HR/PUB/06/12.
  22. ^ UN reports available at and For introductions to, and critiques of, Hunt’s work as UN Special Rapporteur, see Paul Hunt and Sheldon Leader, “Developing and applying the right to the highest attainable standard of health: the role of the UN Special Rapporteur (2002–2008), in John Harrington and Maria Stuttaford (eds.), Global health and human rights: legal and philosophical perspectives, Routledge, 2010, 28; Paul Hunt, “Interpreting the international right to health in a human rights-based approach to health,” Health and Human Rights, 18/2, December 2016, 109; Michael Freeman, “The right to health”, in Rhiannon Morgan and Bryan Turner, Interpreting human rights: social science perspectives, Routledge, 2009, 44; and John Tobin, The right to health in international law, OUP, 2012.
  23. ^ E/CN.4/2004/49, 16 February 2004.
  24. ^ E/CN.4/2004/49, 16 February 2004.
  25. ^ E/CN.4/2005/51, 11 February 2005.
  26. ^ A/61/338, 13 September 2006.
  27. ^ A/63/263, 11 August 2008.
  28. ^ A/HRC/14/20/Add.2, 15 April 2010.
  29. ^ E/CN.4/2005/51/Add.3, 4 February 2005.
  30. ^ A/HRC/4/28/Add.2, 28 February 2007.
  31. ^ E/CN.4/2006/48/Add.2, 19 January 2006.
  32. ^ Paul Hunt, "The challenge of non-state actors: the experience of the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to the highest attainable standard of health (2002–2008)”, in Aoife Nolan, Rosa Freedman and Therese Murphy (eds.), The United Nations Special Procedures System, Brill Nijhoff, 2017.
  33. ^ E/CN.4/2004/49/Add.1, 1 March 2004.
  34. ^ A/HRC/7/11/Add.2, 5 March 2008.
  35. ^ A/HRC/11/12/Add.2, 5 May 2009.
  36. ^ E/CN.4/2006/120, 27 February 2006.
  37. ^ A/HRC/2/7, 2 October 2006.
  38. ^ For example, A/HRC/4/28/Add.1, 23 February 2007.
  39. ^ Cynthia Rothschild, Written out: how sexuality is used to attack women’s organizing, IGLHRC and CWGL, 2005, 117.
  40. ^ Ibif., 118.
  41. ^ Sandeep Prasad, "Enhancing international accountability for maternal mortality and morbidity: the work of civil society at the United Nations Human Rights Council”, in Paul Hunt and Tony Gray (eds.), Maternal mortality, human rights and accountability, Routledge, 2013, 85 at 96. In her Foreword to the same book, Navanethem Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, took the same view: “The work of Paul Hunt … was significant in bringing attention to the human rights implications of maternal mortality and morbidity and placing the issue on the human rights agenda”, xv.
  42. ^ “The janani betrayal: maternal care should prick us far more”, Indian Times, 7 December 2007.
  43. ^ Ariel Frisancho Arroyo, "Looking for more inclusive and sustainable health policies: the role of participation”, in Patricia Cholewka and Mitra Motlagh (eds.), Health capital and sustainable socioeconomic development, CRC Press, 2008, 323 at 338.
  44. ^ Dan Biswas, Brigit Toebes, Anders Hjern and others, "Access to health care for undocumented migrants from a human rights perspective: a comparative study of Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands”, Health and Human Rights Journal, 14/2, August 2013.
  45. ^ The Lancet (2009). "Right-to-health responsibilities of pharmaceutical companies". The Lancet. 373 (9680): 1998. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(09)61090-4. PMID 19524762.
  46. ^ Discussed in Paul Hunt and Gillian MacNaughton, "A Human Rights-Based Approach to Health Indicators" in Mashood Baderin and Robert McCorquodale, (eds.), Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Action, OUP, 2007, 303.
  47. ^ Human rights indicators: a guide to measurement and implementation, OHCHR, 2012, HR/PUB/12/5.
  48. ^ Backman, Gunilla; Hunt, Paul; Khosla, Rajat; Jaramillo-Strouss, Camila; Fikre, Belachew Mekuria; Rumble, Caroline; Pevalin, David; Páez, David Acurio; Pineda, Mónica Armijos; Frisancho, Ariel; Tarco, Duniska; Motlagh, Mitra; Farcasanu, Dana; Vladescu, Cristian (2008). "Health systems and the right to health: An assessment of 194 countries". The Lancet. 372 (9655): 2047–2085. CiteSeerX doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(08)61781-X. PMID 19097280.
  49. ^ The Lancet (2008). "The right to health: From rhetoric to reality". The Lancet. 372 (9655): 2001. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(08)61814-0. PMID 19097274.
  50. ^ E/CN.4/2005/51/Add.3, 4 February 2005.
  51. ^ E/CN.4/2006/48/Add.2, 19 January 2006.
  52. ^ UN Human Rights Council, Oral remarks of the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to the highest attainable standard of health, 11 March 2008
  53. ^ Flavia Bustreo, Paul Hunt, Sofia Gruskin and others, Women’s and children’s health: evidence of impact of human rights, WHO, 2013, 12.
  54. ^ Paul Hunt, Ali Yamin and Flavia Bustreo (guest eds.), Evidence of the impact of human rights-based approaches to health, Health and Human Rights Journal, 17/2, December 2015.
  55. ^ Paul Hunt and Tony Gray (eds.), Maternal mortality, human rights and accountability, Routledge, 2013.
  56. ^ Paul Hunt, “A three-step accountability process for the UN Secretary-General’s Global Strategy on Women’s and Children’s Health”, presented at, From pledges to action, A partners’ forum on women’s and children’s health, organised by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, and The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, New Delhi, India, 12–14 November 2010, Plenary IV: Holding Ourselves Accountable.
  57. ^ Working Group on Accountability for Results, Final Report, Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health, WHO, 2011.
  58. ^ Keeping promises, measuring results, Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health, WHO, 2011.
  59. ^ See, Every Woman Every Child, The Global Strategy for Women's Children's and Adolescents' Health (2016–2030) Survive Thrive Transform, UN, 2015. and Independent Accountability Panel, Old Challenges, New Hopes: Accountability for the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health, UN, 2016.
  60. ^ Schweitzer, Julian; Expert Consultative Group for Every Women Every Child on Accountability (2015). "Accountability in the 2015 Global Strategy for Women's, Children's and Adolescents' Health". BMJ. 351: h4248. doi:10.1136/bmj.h4248. PMID 26371221.
  61. ^ Human rights inquiry: emergency health care, Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, 2015.
  62. ^ Ruth Lister and Paul Hunt, To combat right-wing populism, we need to reclaim human rights, 12 December 2016.
  63. ^
  64. ^
  65. ^
  66. ^ Tysiac v Poland, ECHR 2007-I, 20 March 2007; Artavia Murillo et al ("In Vitro Fertlization") v. Costa Rica, Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Judgment 28 November 2012; and TGGL and Family v. Ecuador, Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Judgment 1 September 2015.
  67. ^
  68. ^ "Professor Paul Hunt". The School of Law. University of Essex. Retrieved 1 October 2014.
  69. ^ "TEDx 'Equality – the Road Less Travelled'".
  70. ^