Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law


Sheetal B. Shah

First Page



This Note argues that the recognition of the social right to health offers a step forward in empowering individuals to gain control over their social environments in the developing world. Part II discusses the potential of social human rights to alleviate suffering in the developing world. Social human rights recognize that the state must provide individuals with the basic social conditions necessary to live with human dignity. Part III explores the legal obligations of social rights and their current status in human rights jurisprudence. It also discusses the most pressing challenges facing implementation of social rights at the national level. Part IV explores the contours of the social human right to health and its ability to empower individuals. Even though the right to health presents some of the most difficult conceptual and practical problems associated with social human rights, providing for the conditions necessary for good health is essential in allowing individuals to live with human dignity.

The final section addresses India's experiment with litigating social rights, such as the right to health, and its potential use for the developing world. The Indian judiciary has developed a legal mechanism that can help make social empowerment a reality for Indian citizens. Through public interest litigation, India has been able to provide the majority of Indian citizens, who are poor or socially disadvantaged, with the ability to gain control over and improve their social environments. The judiciary has provided individuals with the procedural ability to guarantee social rights and entitlements in court, and has also provided substantive recognition to the right to health as a legally recognizable entitlement. The Indian "experiment" demonstrates that with creativity and commitment, social rights can be made justiciable and used to alleviate human suffering in the developing world.