State centred discourse on international law and human rights often diminishes the obligations of global health institutions in international law to advance health related human rights and as sites for the progressive development and implementation of health rights. The constitution of the World Health Organization (WHO) provides an expansive role for human rights protection and promotion in realizing public health, but WHO has faced hurdles in effectively carrying out this role. Current scholarship continues to underscore the normative challenges facing WHO concerning its limited use of international law including human rights to promote health. This article goes a step further and explores the evolving international legal and institutional basis for WHO’s future direction in strengthening the governance of human rights. It revisits WHO’s evolving and expanding human rights mandate, challenges and prospects within WHO law, the broader United Nations law, policy and practice as well as general international law. Despite the limitations, WHO has evolving institutional mechanisms rooted in international law that comprise a pivotal site for human rights normative and operational work at the global, regional and domestic levels. The article examines these mechanisms and suggests concrete ways and options in which WHO can advance health rights.