To Choose Peace is to Choose Health

Donna Perry, Christian Guillermet Fernández, and David Fernández Puyana

The Declaration on the Right to Peace was adopted by the UN Human Rights Council on 1 July 2016. Ambassador Christian Guillermet of Costa Rica had led the three years of work in developing this Declaration, with support from the Fundación Paz sin Fronteras and other civil society organizations. The Declaration unequivocally recalls the three main pillars of the UN: “Everyone has the right to enjoy peace such that security is maintained, all human rights are promoted and protected and development is fully realized.”1

In the presentation of the resolution, the representative of Cuba emphasized that the adoption of this Declaration is framed in the context of the bilateral ceasefire and cessation of hostilities signed in Havana, between the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP) on 23 June 2016.  This important ceasefire serves as a concrete reminder that peace is possible.  

The need for peace is urgent. Recent months have seen spiraling violence across the globe related to ongoing collective conflicts as well as terrorism attacks and mass killings of civilians. With each new victim of violence the conscience of humanity is called upon to work for peace. For this reason, the Declaration calls attention to the victims of armed conflict and reaffirms the Preamble of the UN Charter to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.   

We have previously written about the important linkages between peace and health, arguing that peace is necessary in order to realize the right to health.2 The international community has declared through multiple human rights instruments its commitment to the right to health as well as the conditions that support health such as life, education, work, and human dignity. Collective violence violates the right to health both through direct harm as well as destroying the underlying structural conditions needed to achieve health.  

In their discussion on the right to health, Harrington and Stuttaford note the critical dimension of the right is “its capacity to open up formerly closed areas of thought and discourse.”3 This critical dimension makes clear that ill health is not merely a matter of tragic fate but the cumulative product of a range of social conditions that can be discerned, deliberated, and transformed. Similarly, the establishment of the right to enjoy the three UN pillars of peace, human rights, and development opens up discourse to the underlying conditions that lead to violence. For example, the Declaration recalls that development, peace and security, and human rights are interlinked and mutually reinforcing.4 The interrelated dimensions of peace, health and social development are also articulated in the Sustainable Development Goals.

The right to life directly encompasses the right to health. Both notions are interlinked, complementary, and mutually reinforcing. In light of this linkage, the Declaration states in the last preambular paragraph that “… present generations should ensure that both they and future generations learn to live together in peace with the highest aspiration of sparing future generations the scourge of war”.5

Now that this resolution has been passed, the Human Rights Council has recommended its adoption by the UN General Assembly. This is an important time for global citizens, particularly health professionals, to call upon their own governments to endorse this Declaration within the General Assembly. While formalizing the Declaration in international law is critical, this is an incomplete step. We must now work on its implementation. In accordance with the Declaration, UNESCO, the University for Peace, international organizations, and civil society have an indispensable role to play within the international community to implement it.

Achieving peace requires action from all sectors of society. Indeed we look to the Declaration on the Culture of Peace, which calls for a global transformation from a prevailing culture of war to a culture of peace.6 Health professionals have a responsibility to help lead this transformation. We have proposed that health-peace advocacy efforts can apply the framework of States’ responsibilities for realizing the right to health: to respect, protect and fulfill. Policy actions that respect both the right to health and the right to enjoy peace, human rights, and development must reflect that war interferes with health and must be prevented. Actions that protect these rights include working for international disarmament. And actions that fulfill both the rights to health and to peace include policies supporting nonviolence education, intergroup dialogue and social justice.7

Our vision for a healthy global society must include strategies to address violence and the societal conditions that produce violence. It is critical that the health professions prepare students with the knowledge and skills to build a truly healthy global community through education on violence and the interrelated social determinants of health. They should advocate for funding for public health research to advance peace and to create a space for social change actions within professional practice.

Human dignity is a core value underlying both health and peace. It is shared across all health professions and is also the foundational value of human rights. We must demonstrate our commitment to these values by choosing actions that advance peace both within and across societies. To choose peace is to choose health.

Donna J. Perry, PhD, RN, is an Associate Professor at the University of Massachusetts, Worcester Graduate School of Nursing and Vice Chair of the Board of the Center for Nonviolent Solutions in Worcester, MA. 

Christian Guillermet Fernández, BA, was the Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the Right to Peace (2013-2015), Costa Rica

David Fernández Puyana, PhD, LLM and BA was the legal assistant of the Chairperson-Rapporteur (2013-2015), Spain

  1. UN Human Rights Council Res. 32/L. Document A/HRC/32/L.18. June 24, 2016. Available at
  2. D.J. Perry, C. Guillermet Fernández, & D. Fernández Puyana, “The right to life in peace: An essential condition for realizing the right to health,” Health and Human Rights Journal 17(1) (2015, June), pp. 148-58. Available at
  3. J. Harrington & M. Stuttaford, “Introduction”. In J Harrington & M Stuttaford, eds. Global health and human rights: Legal and philosophical perspectives. (London: Routledge, 2010), pp. 1-11.
  4. UN Human Rights Council (see note 1)
  5. UN Human Rights Council (see note 1)
  6. D. Adams, Early history of the culture of peace: A personal memoir (August 2003). Available at; UNESCO Constitution (November 16, 1945). Available at
  7. Perry, Guillermet Fernández, & Fernández Puyana (see note 2)