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Education University of Groningen Summer Schools

Human Rights and Global Health Challenges - going digital

Non-Communicable Diseases, Mental Health and Climate Change - and a touch of Covid-19
drawing of people looking at a hospital file
“...the right to health is not simply a noble idea on a piece of paper. In the past 70 years, it has been a platform for major improvements in global health.”
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

Our 2020 Summer School on "Human Rights and Global Health Challenges" was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but paradoxically the COVID-19 crisis has also put global health law on the map. Recognizing the intense interest in global health (law) at this time, including the importance of human rights in response to global health challenges, we have decided to make part of our Summer School digital this year.

Specifically, GHLG will offer a week of online presentations and discussions on a range of contemporary global health and human rights challenges. As countries are curbing the COVID-19 pandemic, we will discuss further major challenges ahead in the form of the global non-communicable diseases (NCDs), protection of mental health, and air pollution and climate change.

The GHLG Digital Summer School 2020, will provide an introduction to international health law and its role in addressing these global health challenges. Of course, there will be attention for COVID-19 as well, including as it may interact with these concerns.

From 6 - 11 July you can join a daily live lecture and discussion hosted by a member of the Global Health Law Groningen Research Centre. The lectures will be given live at 16:00 (CEST) and are also recorded for later access. During the live discussion session, there will be time for you to ask questions and elaborate further on the topic of the day. We would love to hear your perspectives!

Registration is now closed.

Topic description

This course will address three main challenges currently being faced in global health law, non-communicable diseases, mental health and climate change.

Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs)

NCDs account for 70% of deaths globally and they are largely caused by four main behavioral risk factors, which include unhealthy diets and tobacco consumption. This course will show why this is a human rights issue and why governments are obligated to reduce NCD mortality under international human rights law. In an effort to meet their obligations and respond to the NCD crisis, governments have attempted to adopt measures such as taxes (e.g. sugar taxes and tobacco taxes), advertising restrictions (e.g. restrictions on marketing to children) and labeling requirements (e.g. Front-of-Pack Nutrition Labeling and Tobacco Plain Packaging). This course will identify the main legal challenges that have been faced when adopting these measures within the broader context of international law.

Mental Health

With one fourth of the world’s population being affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their life, the World Health Organization places mental disorders among one of the leading causes of ill-health and disability in the world. After offering a short overview of global mental health, the course will focus on identifying particular human rights challenges. Guidelines and programmes to strengthen mental healthcare will be discussed, as well as the human rights framework to promote, protect and respect human rights in mental healthcare.

Climate Change and Air Pollution

Climate change and air pollution caused by the emission of harmful pollutants are by now one of the pre-eminent risks to global health. According to the WHO atmospheric pollution is responsible for 7,7% of the global mortality rate and 90% of the global population does not breath clean air per WHO standards. Both the WHO and Lancet have presented climate change and air pollution as a twin threat to NCDs, to be tackled in conjunction. This course considers the key contributors to climate change and air pollution and discusses how legal responses under international environmental, health and human rights law are contributing to curbing these risks from a global health perspective.

Infectious disease control

In light of the current crisis, this short course will also pay some attention to the human rights dimensions of Covid-19.

Course schedule

This course will cover the following five lectures:

Monday, July 6 - Prof. Brigit Toebes:

Introduction to Global Health Law

This summer school is grounded in the international standards protecting health, in particular - but not limited to - human rights standards.

This first lecture will provide an introduction to:

  • International/global health law as an emerging field in international law
  • The role of the WHO in protecting health
  • The role of human rights in protecting health-related concerns
  • Some synergies and tensions in this field; briefly touching on Covid-19

Tuesday, July 7 - David Patterson, LLM

COVID-19 and human rights: Lessons from HIV, tuberculosis and Ebola

This lecture will address:

  • How the HIV pandemic was framed as a human rights issue – global and national results
  • The application of the international human rights framework to other infectious diseases: tuberculosis and Ebola
  • Lessons for human rights-based approaches to COVID-19

Wednesday, July 8 - Meaghan Beyer, LLM:

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and International Law

This lecture will address:

  • The role of international law in addressing NCDs, specifically international human rights, trade and investment law
  • The legal challenges posed by industry in adopting effective NCD regulations
  • Lessons learned from previous international dispute settlement

Thursday, July 9 - Natalie Schuck, LLM:

Mental health and human rights

Mental disorders affect every fourth person at some point in their life. They are a leading cause of ill-health and disability globally.

This lecture will address:

  • How can human rights law promote and protect mental health
  • What are the legal challenges?
  • Brief overview: COVID-19, mental health and human rights

Friday, July 10 - Marlies Hesselman, LLM:

Air pollution and climate change

Climate change and air pollution are by now one of the pre-eminent risks to global health.

According to the WHO 90% of the global population does not breath clean air.

This lecture will address:

  • How does air pollution and climate change affect health and NCDs?
  • What are legal responses in human rights law?
  • How can human rights law help curb these environmental health risks, including in court?

Saturday, 11 July - Prof Scott Burris:

COVID-19 Emergency Response: How Law Goes Wrong

The countries of the world are each responding to COVID-19 in their own ways, but certain broad themes are consistently emerging. This lecture reviews experience with two common elements of the response – case finding and stay-at-home policies – highlighting core challenges for public health law that were important before the pandemic and will still be bedeviling health and health equity when the pandemic is over:

  • Infrastructure: Law on the books has limited value of there are not agencies and people in place with the capacity to effectively implement them.
  • Inequality: “Neutral” laws do not affect all people equally, and far too often the negative effects are felt more strongly by those lower on the social ladder.
  • Politics: Effective pandemic response demands social cohesion and credible leadership; where those are absent, implementation and compliance with health law is imperiled.

Practical information


Monday 6 July – Saturday 11 July 2020

16:00 - 17:30 (CEST)

Level LLB/LLM/Medical Students/PhD/Postdoc/Practitioners

This online lecture series is offered free of cost.

Academic coordinators

Faculty of Law
Prof. Brigit Toebes
Meaghan Beyer, LLM
Natalie Schuck, LLM
Marlies Hesselman, LLM
David Patterson, LLM

Contact ncdandlaw - Gloria Weber, student assistant

Given the current circumstances, instead of a full-week Summer School, we are offering a series of six lectures. They will be hosted live at 16:00 (CEST) and are ended in a digital group discussion. Please note that if you sign up for this programme, we expect you to actively participate in all six lectures.

The participants will be given access to an online learning environment after registration, and can then join the sessions. In case you miss a session, or are in a different time zone, you can still view the recordings during the same week.


This course targets a multidisciplinary audience. It is attractive to students with backgrounds in medicine, law, policy, environment and health sciences with a keen interest in health and human rights. It is also of interest for early career researchers in these areas, practitioners and civil society representatives working in the field of (global) health governance who aim to enhance their knowledge on how to use law as a normative framework and regulatory tool.

This summer course is intended for those that are interested in discovering how international and domestic legal frameworks can be applied to address current global health challenges. (Bachelor, Master, Early Career Researchers, Civil Society Representatives and Practitioners).

Language requirements
It is expected that the participants have a sufficient command of the English language to actively participate in the discussions and to present their own work in English.
Group picture
Learning outcomes

After this course you will:

  1. Have a basic understanding of how international law promotes and protects health-related concerns.
  2. Be able to state how the international human rights framework can be applied to infectious diseases.
  3. Be able to outline the impact of international human rights, trade and investment law on NCD regulations.
  4. Have an understanding of mental health as a human rights challenge. You will gain insight into the areas of mental health and the applicable international human rights law.
students discussing in classroom

Registration is now closed.

Upon sending your personal information through the registration link, you will receive all relevant information on how to join the live lectures and online community.


Prof. Brigit Toebes
Meaghan Beyer, LLM
Natalie Schuck, LLM
Marlies Hesselman, LLM
David Patterson, LLM, MSc

Aletta Jacobs School of Public Health
Aletta Jacobs School of Public Health
Global Health Law Groningen
Global Health Law Groningen

Global Health Law Groningen is a unique centre in the Netherlands working in a multidisciplinary setting, which focuses on various health dimensions from the perspective of public international law. With a wide range of highly qualified members and fellows, GHLG works in many different fields regarding international health law. Many factors contribute to and affect the wellbeing of individuals, which is why the members of GHLG combine their individual expertise in order to tackle serious challenges relating to health. More information about the centre can be found here. For more informaton about the Faculty of Law and the Department of Transboundary Legal Studies please check their websites.

Last modified:30 June 2020 11.34 p.m.