Economic, Social and Cultural Rights


OVERVIEW

Economic, social, and cultural rights are the freedoms, privileges and entitlements that individuals and communities require to live a life of dignity. These human rights include the rights to food, housing, health, education, cultural identity, and more. Although some economic, social, and cultural rights cannot be immediately implemented, States that have ratified the relevant treaties nonetheless have the obligation to guarantee these rights.

Specifically, States have an obligation to respect, protect, and fulfill economic, social and cultural rights. The obligation to respect means States cannot interfere with enjoyment of the right. The obligation to protect requires the State to reasonably prevent other actors from interfering with enjoyment of the right. The obligation to fulfill mandates that the State actively take steps to create the conditions necessary for individuals’ full enjoyment of the right. See, e.g., OHCHR, Fact Sheet No. 33, Frequently Asked Questions on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, p. 11.

For a more in-depth discussion of each of the rights addressed in this guide, see the specific thematic research guides available on children’s rights, education, and other topics.

Legal Protections

The extent to which individuals can claim legal protection of their economic, social, and cultural rights (ESCR) depends on which treaties have been ratified by their governments, given that the protections for ESCR vary significantly among the universal and regional human rights instruments. However, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) is the most comprehensive international treaty addressing this area of human rights law, and is also the most widely-applicable. As of August 2014, 162 of the 193 United Nations (UN) Member States have ratified the ICESCR, implementation of which is monitored by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR).

The following instruments specifically address economic, social and cultural rights:

This guide primarily refers to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) to identify and explain each of the freedoms and privileges considered to be economic, social or cultural human rights. It should be noted, however, that other international and regional human rights instruments’ provisions regarding economic, social and cultural rights may be slightly – or very – different from the ICESCR’s protections.

Progressive Realization

International human rights law recognizes that the “full realization of all economic, social and cultural rights will generally not be able to be achieved in a short period of time.” CESCR, General Comment No. 3, The Nature of States Parties Obligations, UN Doc. E/1991/23(SUPP), 1 January 1991, para. 9. Therefore, States are responsible for “progressive realization” of these rights and must “move as expeditiously and effectively as possible towards that goal.” Id.

States parties to the ICESCR have the obligation “to take steps, individually and through international assistance and co-operation,” to the “maximum of available resources, with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of the rights recognized.” ICESCR, art. 2. Other treaties addressing economic, social and cultural rights contain similar phrasing. See, e.g., Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (“Protocol of San Salvador”), art. 1.

States must initiate such steps within a reasonably short time. See General Comment No. 3, The Nature of States Parties Obligations, para. 2. In the understanding of the CESCR, these steps should be “deliberate, concrete, and targeted as clearly as possible” toward meeting the obligations. See id. States should use legislative measures to progressively realize the rights; however, doing so will not automatically fulfill the obligations under the ICESCR if other “appropriate” measures are still available. See id. at paras. 3, 4. Some appropriate measures may include judicial, administrative, financial, educational, and social. See id. at paras. 5, 7.

Immediate Implementation

While many ESC rights are subject to progressive realization, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) has identified certain rights and obligations that the State should immediately implement, including:

  • undertaking to ensure the equal right of men and women in their enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights (art. 3);
  • providing all workers with fair wages and equal remuneration for work of equal value without any distinction, particularly guaranteeing that women’s conditions of work are not inferior to men’s work conditions (art. 7(a)(1));
  • ensuring the right to form and join trade unions, and to go on strike (art. 8);
  • protecting children from economic and social exploitation, including enacting legislation that provides a minimum age for employment and punishes dangerous working conditions for children (art. 10(3));
  • providing free and compulsory primary education (art. 13(2)(a));
  • allowing parents and legal guardians to choose their children’s schools, and respecting the liberty of individuals and bodies to establish educational institutions (arts. 13(3), 13(4)); and,
  • respecting the freedom indispensable for scientific research and creative activity (art. 15(3)).

See CESCR, General Comment No. 3, The Nature of States Parties Obligations, para. 5.

Justiciability

In order for a right to be “justiciable,” meaning capable of being evaluated or enforced under the law, States must incorporate the content of the right into domestic law and the law must provide individuals with an effective remedy for addressing alleged violations. See generally, Walter Kälin & Jörg Künzli, The Law of International Human Rights Protection 117–18 (2009). The effective remedy does not have to be judicial, and in certain circumstances an administrative remedy may be appropriate. See CESCR, General Comment No. 9, The Domestic Application of the Covenant, UN Doc. E/C.12/1998/24, 3 December 1998, para. 9.

Economic, social and cultural rights are often mistakenly considered non-justiciable. See id. at para. 10. Some argue that courts should not determine how resources are allocated, and that political authorities are better equipped to address such matters. See id. The CESCR has rejected this argument, stating that courts are already involved with decision-making that involves resource allocation. See id. Domestic and international case law demonstrates that economic, social and cultural rights are justiciable. See generally, Shivani Verma, Justiciability of Economic Social and Cultural Rights Relevant Case Law, The International Council on Human Rights Policy Review Meeting: Rights and Responsibilities of Human Rights Organisations (15 March 2005).

The CESCR has identified two aspects of the implementation of ESCR that are always justiciable:

  • Minimum Core Obligations: States must meet the minimum core obligation of the right. For example, States must ensure the general availability of essential food, primary health care, basic shelter, and basic education. Otherwise, the State will be considered to be failing to meet its obligations under the ICESCR unless it demonstrates it has taken every effort to use all its resources to satisfy the minimum obligations. See CESCR, General Comment No. 3, The Nature of States Parties Obligations, para. 10.

The State’s total available resources are taken into account when evaluating its minimum core obligation. See id. For example, if one State operates 100 primary schools but has very few resources, that State might be meeting its minimum core obligation. Conversely, if another State has ample resources and 100 schools, it might not be meeting its minimum core obligation if it is not using its “maximum available resources” to secure basic education. The “minimum core” is considered the baseline of the obligation to progressively realize rights. See, e.g., Sisay Alemahu Yeshanew, The Justiciability of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in the African Regional Human Rights System: Theory, Practice and Prospect 280 (2013).

  • Retrogressive Measures: States may not take deliberately retrogressive measures, which are actions that hinder the realization of an economic, social or cultural right. Since States are obligated to progressively realize ESCR, they must fully justify any government action that impedes or reduces enjoyment of these rights. See CESCR, General Comment No. 3, The Nature of States Parties Obligations, para. 9.

For example, if a State implements a policy or practice that further limits access to water, the burden is on the State to prove that the measures were only justified based on “the most careful consideration of all alternatives” and taking into account all economic, social and cultural rights in deciding how to use its maximum available resources. See, e.g., CESCR, General Comment No. 15, The Right to Water, UN Doc. E/C.12/2002/11, 20 January 2003, para. 19.

The reasonableness standard is another way to measure State compliance with ESCR obligations. This standard is sometimes used instead of or in conjunction with the core minimum obligation standard. See Yeshanew, supra at 291. When using the reasonableness model, adjudicatory bodies determine if States are taking steps toward fulfilling their obligations, and if so, whether these measures are reasonable. Id. If the measures are found to be unreasonable, the State is required to revise them. Id.

The Inter-American system has established standards that guide States in strengthening the judicial protection of economic, social and cultural rights, focusing on: the State’s obligation to remove economic obstacles to ensure access to the courts, due process of law in administrative and judicial proceedings, and effective judicial protection of individual and collective rights. See IACHR, Report No. OEA/Ser.L/V/II.129, Access to Justice as a Guarantee of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: A Review of the Standards Adopted by the Inter-American System of Human Rights, 7 September 2007, paras. 3–4.

Adequate access to information is essential for individuals to effectively participate in the development and implementation of public policies concerning ESCR. In this regard, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has stated that governments must make such information available, especially when citizens have no other way of accessing it. See IACHR, Report No. OEA/Ser.L/V/II/132, Guidelines for Preparation of Progress Indicators in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 19 July 2008, paras. 79–80.

Equality and Non-Discrimination

States Parties to the ICESCR must guarantee non-discrimination in the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights. See ICESCR, art. 2; CESCR, General Comment No. 20, Non-discrimination in Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, UN Doc. E/C.12/GC/20, 2 July 2009, para. 7. The American Convention on Human Rights, Protocol of San Salvador, African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the European Convention on Human Rights, among others, contain similar provisions. See American Convention on Human Rights, art. 1; Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights “Protocol of San Salvador”, art. 3; African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, art. 2; European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, art. 14.

Discrimination is prohibited on the basis of “race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” ICESCR, art. 2(2). The non-discrimination clause is not exhaustive, and has also been interpreted to forbid discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. See, e.g., CESCR, General Comment No. 20, para. 32. States are further required to “ensure the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all economic, social and cultural rights” identified in the ICESCR. ICESCR, art. 3. This obligates States to ensure that their laws do not discriminate on prohibited grounds, and also to “immediately take the measures necessary to prevent, reduce and eliminate the conditions and attitudes that either engender or perpetuate” discrimination against vulnerable groups. See, e.g., IACHR, The Work, Education and Resources of Women: The Road to Equality in Guaranteeing Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (2011), p. 23. Necessary actions may include special temporary measures to “suppress conditions that perpetuate discrimination.” Id.

REALIZING ECONOMIC, SOCIAL, AND CULTURAL RIGHTS

The summary below reviews each of the rights enumerated in the ICESCR. Case examples from regional international human rights bodies are included to help illustrate the scope of economic, social and cultural rights, in which case the protection of the right derives from a regional human rights instrument instead of the ICESCR.

The ICESCR’s general limitation clause provides that States may place limitations on the rights to the extent allowed by law “only in so far as this may be compatible with the nature of these rights and solely for the purpose of promoting the general welfare in a democratic society.” ICESCR, art. 4. For example, the CESCR explains, if a State were to forbid a doctor from treating a person believed to be opposed to the government on the basis of national security, the State would then have the burden of justifying that its action was: performed in the interest of a legitimate aim; in accordance with domestic law and international human rights standards; compatible with the nature of ESCR; and that it was strictly necessary to promote the general welfare in a democratic society. See id.

This limitation clause is intended to protect individuals’ rights rather than to allow States to place limitations upon those rights. See CESCR, General Comment No. 14, The Right to the Highest Attainable Standard of Health, UN Doc. E/C.12/2000/4, 11 August 2000, para. 28. For example, States may place limitations on a right so that when one person enjoys the right it does not intrude upon others’ enjoyment of their rights.

The Right to Self-Determination and the Right to Development (Article 1)

Article 1 of the ICESCR states that “[a]ll peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” This provision is identical to Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights also contains similar provisions. See African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, arts. 20, 22.

The right of self-determination has two components: external and internal. “External self-determination” can be thought of as international self-determination, because it refers to peoples’ right to determine their political status and their “place in the international community” based upon the principle of equal rights and freedom from colonialism, “alien subjugation, domination, and exploitation.” See, e.g., CERD, General Recommendation No. 21: Right to Self-Determination, UN Doc. A/51/18, 23 August 1996, para. 4. “Internal self-determination” can be thought of as self-determination within the domestic sphere, because it refers to the right to freely pursue economic, social and cultural development free from outside interference. See id. Consequently, the right to development is integral to the right of internal self-determination.

The United Nations has discussed the interconnectedness of self-determination and development, stating that the “human right to development also implies the full realization of the right of peoples to self-determination,” which includes “the exercise of their inalienable right to full sovereignty over all their natural wealth and resources.” UN General Assembly, Resolution 41/128, Declaration on the Right to Development, A/RES/41/128, 4 December 1986, para. 1. The ICESCR protects peoples’ right to “freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources without prejudice to any obligations arising out of international economic cooperation,” and provides that in “no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence.” ICESCR, art. 1(2); HRC, General Comment No. 12, Article 1 (The Right to Self-Determination of Peoples), UN Doc. HRI/GEN/1/Rev.9 (Vol. I), 27 May 2008, para. 4. The ICCPR and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights also contain similar provisions, which relate to both self-determination and development. See International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, art. 1; African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, art. 21.

On this issue, the African Commission found that the State violated an indigenous group’s right to development and right to freely dispose of natural resources when the government evicted the Endorois peoples from their land to create a tourist game reserve, failing to include and compensate the Endorois throughout the development process. See ACommHPR, Centre for Minority Rights Development (Kenya) and Minority Rights Group (on behalf of Endorois Welfare Council) v. Kenya, Communications No. 26/03, 46th Ordinary Session, November 2009, paras. 268–269, 298. The State violated the right to development because it did not meet its obligations to create favorable conditions for development, to ensure that indigenous communities are consulted when their rights are affected, and to “provide adequate compensation” for their land and resources. See id. at paras. 281, 298. The Commission held that States have a duty to obtain “free, prior, and informed consent” from communities when undertaking development projects that will have impacts on indigenous territories, and the right to development is violated if the project results in decreasing the community’s well-being. See id. at paras. 291, 295. Implicating the right to self-determination, the Commission found a violation of the Endorois’ right to freely dispose of their wealth and natural resources, because the State never adequately compensated the Endorois for the dispossession of their land. See id. at para. 268.

In this vein, the United Nations has identified eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for States to work toward in realizing the right to development, including: eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality and empowering women; reducing child mortality; improving maternal health; combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and creating a global partnership for development.

Economic Rights

Economic rights protected by the ICESCR include the rights to work, to receive a fair wage, safe working conditions, and to form and join trade unions.

The Right to Work (Article 6)

Article 6 of the ICESCR protects the right to work, which is the opportunity to gain a living by work that one freely chooses or accepts. ICESCR, art. 6. The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Protocol of San Salvador, American Declaration, and the European Social Charter, among others, contain similar provisions. See African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, art. 15; Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights “Protocol of San Salvador”, art. 6; American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, art. XIV; European Social Charter, art. 1.

To fully realize the right to work, States are encouraged to develop technical and vocational guidance and training programs, along with policies that facilitate access to employment. See id.; CESCR, General Comment No. 18, Article 6 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, UN Doc. E/C.12/GC/18, 6 February 2006, paras. 27–28. The European Social Charter also provides for the right to vocational guidance and training. See European Social Charter, arts. 9, 10.The right to work does not require the State to employ individuals, but rather protects individuals’ right to choose their work, and guarantees that they will not be unfairly deprived of employment. See CESCR, General Comment No. 18, para. 6.

Along those lines, States have the core obligation to ensure the right of access to employment, by avoiding measures that discriminate against marginalized groups and by implementing national plans of action to effectuate the right to work for the disadvantaged. See id. at para. 31. On the issue of ensuring the right of access to employment, the African Commission found a violation of the right to work when State officials arrested foreigners on the ground that foreigners were not permitted to engage in mining, even though the foreigners had official documents allowing them to work and live in Angola. See ACommHPR, Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa v. Angola, Communication No. 292/04, 43rd Ordinary Session, 22 May 2008, para. 75. The Commission held that the individuals’ right to work was violated when they lost their jobs due to the State’s arbitrary arrest and deportation. Id. at para. 76.

The right to work implicitly forbids forced labor. See CESCR, General Comment No. 18, para. 6. Forced labor is involuntary “work or service which is extracted from any person under the menace of any penalty.” ILO Convention No. 29 Concerning Forced or Compulsory Labor, art. 2(1). States are required to “abolish, forbid and counter” all forms of forced labor. See CESCR, General Comment No. 18, para. 9. The ICCPR, European Convention on Human Rights, and the American Convention on Human Rights, among others, also contain provisions prohibiting forced labor. See the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, art. 8; European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, art. 4; American Convention on Human Rights, art. 6.

The Right to a Fair Wage and Safe Working Conditions (Article 7)

The ICESCR protects the right to just and favorable work conditions, including the right of all workers to receive “fair wages and equal remuneration for work of equal value.” ICESCR, art. 7. The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Protocol of San Salvador, American Declaration, and the European Social Charter, among others, contain similar provisions. See African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, art. 15; Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights “Protocol of San Salvador”, art. 7; American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, arts. XIV, XV; European Social Charter, arts. 2–4.

The ICESCR’s emphasis on equality prohibits States from discriminating against women, and requires States to “ensure equal opportunities and treatment between men and women in relation to their right to work.” See CESCR, General Comment No. 18, para. 13. The ICESCR guarantees the right to safe and healthy working conditions, equal opportunity for promotion, and provides for “rest, leisure and reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay, as well as remuneration for public holidays.” ICESCR, art. 7.

The work itself must be “decent,” meaning that it respects workers’ physical and mental integrity, and respects their human rights in terms of work safety and remuneration. See CESCR, General Comment No. 18, para. 7. The remuneration should be enough so that individuals are able to earn “a decent living for themselves and their families.” ICESCR, art. 7.

In an advisory opinion interpreting the rights of undocumented migrants under inter alia the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man and the American Convention on Human Rights, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has advised that States are “obliged to respect and ensure the labor human rights of all workers, irrespective of their status as nationals or aliens,” and “should not allow private employers to violate the rights of workers, or the contractual relationship to violate minimum international standards.” I/A Court H.R., Juridical Condition and Rights of Undocumented Migrants, Advisory Opinion OC-18/03, 17 September 2003, para. 148. The Court added that “work should be a means of realization and an opportunity for the worker to develop his aptitudes, capacities and potential, and to realize his ambitions, in order to develop fully as a human being.” Id. at para. 158.

The Right to Form and Join Trade Unions (Article 8)

International human rights law protects the right to form and join trade unions, and protects the unions’ right to function freely without restrictions other than organization rules, regulations “prescribed by law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public order,” and limitations necessary to protect others’ rights. See ICESCR, art. 8(1). The European Convention on Human Rights, Protocol of San Salvador, American Declaration, Revised European Social Charter, and the ICCPR, among others, contain provisions protecting trade union rights. See European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, art. 11; Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights “Protocol of San Salvador”, art. 8; American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man,art. XXII; Revised European Social Charter, art. 6; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, art. 22.

The decision to join a trade union should be the workers’ independent choice, exercised free from influences that constrain their freedom to make a decision. See, e.g., ESCR, Confederation of Swedish Enterprise v. Sweden, Complaint No. 12.2002, Merits, 15 May 2003, § 29.

The ICESCR protects workers’ right to go on strike, as long as the strike conforms to the legitimate requirements of the relevant State’s laws. ICESCR, art. 8(1)(d). As with other economic, social and cultural rights, any limitation a State places on the right to strike must comply with the general limitations clause of Article 4. Additionally, States have a duty to immediately implement the right to go on strike. See CESCR, General Comment No. 3, The Nature of States Parties Obligations, UN Doc. E/1991/23(SUPP), 1 January 1991, para. 5.

On this issue, for example, the European Court of Human Rights has held that the State’s ban preventing public employees from participating in a national strike to support collective bargaining was a violation of the freedom of assembly and association. See ECtHR, Enerji Yapi-Yol Sen v. Turkey, no. 68959/01, Judgment of 21 April 2009 (French and Turkish only). The Court discussed how a complete ban on public employees’ right to strike was too broad, but noted that the right to strike was not absolute and may be subject to certain restrictions. See id.

Similarly, the Revised European Social Charter provides that States may regulate the right to strike, provided that any restrictions are “necessary in a democratic society for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others or for the protection of public interest, national security, public health, or morals.” See Revised European Social Charter, arts. 6, G. Where the government placed limitations on strike pickets, the European Committee of Social Rights found a violation of Article 6 (right to bargain collectively) of the European Social Charter. ECSR, European Trade Union Confederation, et al. v. Belgium, Complaint No. 59/2009, Merits, 13 September 2011.

Social Rights

Social rights protected by the ICESCR include the rights to social security, protection of the family, an adequate standard of living (including freedom from hunger, access to clean water, adequate housing, and protection of property), and mental and physical health.

The Right to Social Security (Article 9)

Article 9 of the ICESCR protects “the right of everyone to social security, including social insurance.” ICESCR, art. 9. The European Social Charter, American Declaration, and the San Salvador Protocol also contain similar provisions. See European Social Charter, art. 12; American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, art. XVI; Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights “Protocol of San Salvador”, art. 9.

According to the CESCR, the right to social security includes the right to access and maintain benefits without discrimination to help secure protection from lack of work-related income, unaffordable access to healthcare, and insufficient family support (in the case of children and adult dependents). See CESCR, General Comment No. 19, The Right to Social Security (art. 9), UN Doc. E/C.12/GC/19, 4 February 2008, para. 2.

States have an obligation to develop a national strategy for the full implementation of the right to social security. Id. at para. 41. There is a strong presumption that retrogressive measures taken in relation to the right to social security are prohibited. Id. at para. 42. For example, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights found that Peru violated the right to property and to judicial protection under the American Convention when the State’s bank regulator arbitrarily reduced individuals’ social security pensions. See I/A Court H.R., Case of the “Five Pensioners” v. Perú. Merits, Reparations and Costs. Judgment of February 28, 2003. Series C No. 98, para. 187.

The Rights of the Family (Article 10)

International human rights law requires States to accord “the widest possible protection and assistance” to the family, especially when the family is “responsible for the care and education of dependent children.” ICESCR, art. 10. For example, mothers should receive special protection for a reasonable time before and after childbirth, including maternity leave with pay or with adequate social security benefits. See ICESCR, art. 8(2).

The ICCPR, European Convention on Human Rights, European Social Charter, American Declaration, American Convention on Human Rights, Protocol of San Salvador, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, among others, include similar provisions protecting the rights of the family. See International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, arts. 17, 23; European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, arts. 8, 12; European Social Charter, art. 16; American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, arts. V, VI; American Convention on Human Rights, arts. 11, 17; Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights “Protocol of San Salvador”, art. 15; African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, art. 18.

In Amnesty International v. Zambia, the African Commission found that the State violated its duty to protect and assist the family when the State deported political activists, because their deportation resulted in forcibly breaking up their family units. ACommHPR, Amnesty International v. Zambia, Communication No. 212/98, 25th Ordinary Session, 5 May 1999, para. 59.

States should take “special measures of protection and assistance” to prevent the economic and social exploitation of children. ICESCR, art. 10. To prevent the employment of children in dangerous or harmful work conditions, States should set age limits on employment, in addition to prohibiting and punishing child labor. See ICESCR, art. 8(3). On the issue of special measures taken to protect children, in Rochac et al., the Inter-American Commission found a violation of the right to family when the State’s Armed Forces separated five children from their families by forcibly disappearing them. See IACHR, Report No. 75/12, Case 12.577, Rochac et al. (El Salvador), 7 November 2012, paras. 205–208. The Commission stated that if a child is separated from his or her family, “the State should seek to preserve that link by intervening temporarily and directing its efforts toward the return of the child to their family” as long as that is in the best interests of the child. Id. at para. 204.

One example of social exploitation is forced marriage. The ICESCR prohibits forced marriages, stating that marriage “must be entered into with the free consent of the intending spouses.” ICESCR, art. 8(1). The UN Human Rights Council has adopted a Resolution on Child, Early, and Forced Marriage, discussing how this practice adversely affects the right to education, right to health, and the right to development. See UN Human Rights Council, Resolution 24/L.34, Strengthening Efforts to Prevent and Eliminate Child, Early and Forced Marriage: Challenges, Achievements, Best Practices and Implementation Gaps, A/HRC/24/L.34, 23 September 2013.

The Right to an Adequate Standard of Living (Article 11)

The right to an adequate standard of living entails the rights to adequate food, clothing, housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. States are required to “take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this right.” ICESCR, art. 11. To realize an “adequate” standard of living, States are required to take actions that guarantee individuals’ access to the minimum conditions necessary for a life of dignity, rather than conditions that merely ensure survival. See, e.g., Walter Kälin & Jörg Künzli, The Law of International Human Rights Protection 303 (2009).

The following rights must be guaranteed for an individual or community to have an adequate standard of living:

  • The Right to Food (Article 11(2))

International human rights law recognizes the fundamental right to be free from hunger. ICESCR, art. 11(2). The American Declaration and the Protocol of San Salvador, among others, include provisions recognizing the right to food. See American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, art. XI; Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights “Protocol of San Salvador”, art. 12.

The right to food will be realized when “every man, woman and child, alone or in community with others, have physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement.” CESCR, General Comment No. 12, The Right to Adequate Food, UN Doc. E/C.12/1999/5, 12 May 1999, para. 6. The core content of the right requires food to be available in a quantity and quality that is sufficient to satisfy dietary needs, safe and culturally appropriate, and accessible without interfering with other human rights. See id. at para. 8.

Violations of the right to food occurs when States directly interfere with enjoyment of the right and when States insufficiently regulate other actors that interfere with enjoyment of the right. See, e.g., id. at para. 19. For example, the African Commission held that the Nigerian government violated its three minimum core obligations of the right to food, which are that States should not destroy or contaminate food sources, should not allow private parties to do so, and should not prevent people from feeding themselves. See ACommHPR, Social and Economic Rights Action Center (SERAC) and Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) v. Nigeria, Communication No. 155/96, 30th Ordinary Session, 27 October 2001, para. 65.

States should develop a “national strategy to ensure food and nutrition security for all,” including objectives, policies, and benchmarks for progress. See CESCR, General Comment No. 12, The Right to Adequate Food, para. 21. States are obligated to “improve the methods of production, conservation and distribution of food by making full use of technical and scientific knowledge,” in order to produce food sustainably and disseminate the knowledge of nutrition principles. ICESCR, art. 11(2)(a).

  • The Right to Water (Articles 11 & 12)

Although the right to water is not explicitly provided for in the ICESCR, it has been interpreted to arise through the rights to an adequate standard of living and to health. See, e.g.,CESCR, General Comment No. 15, The Right to Water, para. 3. The right to water entitles individuals to safe, affordable, clean, and physically accessible water for personal and domestic uses. See id. at para. 2. States should prioritize the allocation of water for personal and domestic uses, for the prevention of starvation and disease, and to ensuring that water is available to meet the core obligations of other ESCR, including the right to food or the right to health. See id. at para. 6. States have a related duty to ensure that everyone has access to adequate sanitation, which is crucial to protecting the quality of the water supply. See id. at para. 29.

The CESCR notes that during armed conflicts and emergency situations, States have the duty to protect drinking water sources and to ensure that civilians, internees, and prisoners have access to adequate water. See id. at para. 22. For example, in the context of the armed conflict in Darfur, the African Commission found that the State violated the right to health under the African Charter when its armed forces, inter alia, poisoned water wells and denied access to water sources. See ACommHPR, Sudan Human Rights Organisation & Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) v. Sudan, Communications Nos. 179/03-296/2005, 45th Ordinary Session, 27 May 2009, para. 212.

The nexus between business and human rights often impacts the right to water. States have a duty to refrain from interfering with individuals’ use of water, and a duty to reasonably prevent other actors, including corporations, from “denying equal access to adequate water; and polluting and inequitably extracting from water resources.” See CESCR, General Comment No. 15, The Right to Water, para. 23. States have an obligation to prevent private companies from “compromising equal, affordable, and physical access to sufficient, safe, and acceptable water” by establishing an effective regulatory system. Id. at para. 24.

  • The Right to Housing (Article 11)

Individuals have the right to housing, which goes beyond the right to have a roof over one’s head, and includes the right to live in peace and dignity, with security from outside threats. See ICESCR, art. 11; CESCR, General Comment No. 4, The Right to Adequate Housing, UN Doc. E/1992/23, 1 January 1992, para. 7. The American Declaration and the Revised European Social Charter also recognize the right to housing. See American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, art. XI; Revised European Social Charter, art. 31.

The following factors are taken into account when determining if housing is considered “adequate”: protection from forced eviction and harassment; access to facilities essential for health, security, comfort, and nutrition; affordability to the extent that other basic needs are not compromised; habitability; accessibility; in a location allowing access to social services; and individuals’ ability to express their cultural identity. See id. at para. 8.

For example, the European Committee on Social Rights found a violation of the right to housing in European Roma Rights Centre v. Portugal, when the Roma were living in a settlement that frequently had no access to water, electricity or sanitation. See Complaint No. 61.2010, Merits, 30 June 2011, § 38–40. The Committee noted that the Roma’s housing was discriminatorily segregated from the rest of society and that the State failed to respect their cultural diversity when resettling them, because it did not consider their family size, and the resettlement structure prevented family gatherings. See id. at § 48–49.

Forced evictions are prohibited under the right to housing. See CESCR, General Comment No. 7, The Right to Adequate Housing: Forced Evictions, UN. Doc E/1998/22 , Annex IV, 1 January 1998, para. 5. Forced evictions are the permanent or temporary removal of individuals or communities against their will from their homes or land without access to appropriate protection. See, e.g., id. at para. 4. States should establish legal guidelines for evictions that specify when they may be carried out and that provide evicted parties with remedies if needed. See, e.g., ECSR, European Roma Rights Centre v. Italy, Complaint No. 27.2005, Merits, 7 December 2005, § 41. Evictions that are in accordance with law are permitted, but States must ensure that evictions are “justified and are carried out in conditions that respect the dignity of the persons concerned, and that alternative accommodation is available.” E.g., id.

  • The Right to Property (Article 11)

International human rights law protects the right to property. Although the right is not enumerated in the ICESCR, it is implicitly protected as part of the right to housing, the right to food, and the right to an adequate standard of living. See, e.g.,CESCR, General Comment No. 4, The Right to Adequate Housing, para. 8.For example, to effectuate the right to food, States are encouraged to guarantee “the right to inheritance and the ownership of land and other property.” See CESCR, General Comment No. 12: The Right to Adequate Food, UN Doc. E/C.12/1999/5, 12 May 1999, para. 26.

Regional human rights treaties have explicitly guaranteed the right to property. See, e.g., African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Duties, art. 14; Protocol No. 1 to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, art. 1; American Convention on Human Rights, art. 21. On this issue, the Inter-American Court found that the State had violated the right to property when it forced indigenous communities to leave their ancestral land. See I/A Court H.R., Case of the Sawhoyamaxa Indigenous Community v. Paraguay. Merits, Reparations and Costs. Judgment of March 29, 2006. Series C No. 146, para. 144. The Inter-American Court stated that indigenous communities may have a communal “notion of ownership and possession of land [that] does not necessarily conform to the classic concept of property, but deserves equal protection.” See id. at para. 120.

The Right to Health (Article 12)

Article 12 of the ICESCR protects “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.” ICESCR, art. 12(1). The European Social Charter, Protocol of San Salvador, American Declaration, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, among others, contain similar provisions. See European Social Charter, art. 11; Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights “Protocol of San Salvador”, art. 10; American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, art. XI; African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, art. 16.

The ICESCR identifies the following four steps States should take to fully realize this right: provide for the reduction of the stillbirth-rate and infant mortality and for the healthy development of children; improve all aspects of environmental and industrial hygiene; prevent, treat, and control disease; and create conditions that would provide all with medical attention in the event of sickness. ICESCR, art. 12(2).

The right to health implicitly involves the Right to a Healthy Environment. States are obligated to eliminate or reduce the harmful effects of environmental pollution by taking appropriate regulatory or monitoring measures so that its citizens may fully enjoy their right to health. See, e.g., ECtHR, Lopez Ostra v. Spain, no. 16798/90, Judgment of 9 December 1994, para. 51. The right to a healthy environment is not enumerated in the ICESCR, although regional treaties provide for it. See, e.g., African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, arts. 16, 24; Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights “Protocol of San Salvador”, art. 11.

Cultural Rights

Cultural rights protected by the ICESCR include the rights to education, to take part in cultural life, to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress, and copyright and trademark protections.

The Right to Education (Articles 13 & 14)

The right to education is protected in the ICESCR as well as in multiple regional agreements. See, e.g., African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, art. 17; Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights “Protocol of San Salvador”, art. 13; American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, art. XII; Revised European Social Charter, art. 17.

The ICESCR requires States to make primary education compulsory, free, and available to all. ICESCR, art. 13(2)(a). This is the core content of the right, it must be immediately implemented, and it is justiciable. See CESCR, General Comment No. 3, The Nature of States Parties Obligations,para. 5. If a significant number of individuals within a State are deprived of primary education, that State is failing to discharge its obligation under the Covenant. See id. at para. 10. To refute this failure, the State must demonstrate it is unable to immediately implement free primary education despite using all available resources. See id.

States that have not implemented free primary education have two years to adopt a detailed action plan that provides for its progressive implementation within a reasonable period. See ICESCR, art. 14. All sections of civil society should participate in formulating the plan, which should include a periodic review process to ensure accountability. See CESCR, General Comment No. 11, Plans of Action for Primary Education, UN Doc. E/C.12/1999/4, 10 May 1999, para. 8. If states do not have the resources to adopt a detailed plan, “the international community has a clear obligation to assist.” Id. at para. 9. To request assistance, States should reach out to international agencies including the International Labor Organization, UN Development Program, UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UN Children’s Fund, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank. See id. at para. 11.

The obligation of non-discrimination must be applied immediately and fully. See id. at para. 10. For example, the Inter-American Court held that the State violated the American Convention when the Dominican Republic refused to issue a birth certificate to a child of Haitian descent who was born in the Dominican Republic, which prevented the child from attending day school because she did not have an identity document. See I/A Court H.R., The Case of the Girls Yean and Bosico v. Dominican Republic. Preliminary Objections, Merits, Reparations and Costs. Judgment of September 8, 2005. Series C No. 130, para. 3. The Inter-American Court held that the State violated the rights of the child and the right to equal protection, adding that the State should comply with its “obligation to guarantee access to free primary education for all children, irrespective of their origin or parentage, which arises from the special protection that must be provided to children.” Id. at para. 244. With regard to discrimination, the Court noted that “the State must pay special attention to the needs and the rights of the alleged victims owing to their condition as girl children, who belong to a vulnerable group.” Id. at para. 134.

The ICESCR requires States to develop and continuously improve a school system containing all academic levels, including fundamental education for those who have not completed primary education. See ICESCR, art. 13(2). States must respect the ability of parents and legal guardians to choose their children’s schools, provided that the schools conform to the State’s minimum educational standards. Id. at art. 13(3). Secondary education must be made “generally available and accessible to all,” and higher education shall be accessible to all on the basis of capacity. Id. at art. 13(2). States should progressively introduce free secondary education and higher education. Id. The African Commission held that the State violated the right to education when it failed to provide basic services that resulted in universities and secondary schools closing for two years. ACommHPR, Free Legal Assistance Group and Others v. Zaire, Communication Nos. 25/89-47/90-56/91-100/93, 18th Ordinary Session, 4 April 1996, paras. 4, 48. In that case, the complainants alleged that the State’s failure was due, in part, to its mismanagement of public funds. See id. at para. 4.

The Right to Take Part in Cultural Life (Article 15(1)(a))

Individuals have a right to freely determine their cultural identity. See ICESCR, art. 15. States are prohibited from interfering with the “exercise of cultural practices and with access to cultural goods,” and must ensure “preconditions for participation, facilitation and promotion of cultural life” and access to cultural goods. See CESCR, General Comment No. 21, Right of Everyone to Take Part in Cultural Life, UN Doc. E/C.12/GC/21, 21 December 2009, para. 6. The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Protocol of San Salvador, American Declaration, Revised European Social Charter, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, among others, contain similar protections. See African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, art. 17; Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights “Protocol of San Salvador”, art. 14; American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, art. XIII; Revised European Social Charter, art.30; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, art. 27.

The State may limit the right to take part in cultural life to prevent individuals from infringing upon other human rights. See id. at para. 19. However, the limitations must pursue a legitimate aim, be compatible with the nature of the right to take part in cultural life, and be strictly necessary to promote the general welfare. Id.

States have the duty to immediately implement the following core obligations: take necessary steps to guarantee non-discrimination and gender equality in the enjoyment of the right to take part in cultural life; respect individuals’ ability to identify with different communities and to engage in their own cultural practices; eliminate obstacles that restrict access to culture; and allow minority and indigenous groups to participate in the implementation of laws that affect them. Id. at para. 55.

The right to take part in cultural life protects cultural diversity. States are required to take steps to avoid the adverse consequences that globalization has on the right to take part in cultural life. Id. at para. 42. On this issue, the Inter-American Court found that the State violated the American Convention when the State granted a permit to a private oil company to engage in oil exploration on the territory of the Kichwa Indigenous People of Sarayaku, without consulting the indigenous community. See I/A Court H.R., Case of the Kichwa Indigenous People of Sarayaku v. Ecuador. Merits and Reparations. Judgment of June 27, 2012. Series C No. 245, para. 2. The oil exploration prevented the Sarayaku from accessing resources on their land and limited their right to cultural expression. See id. The Court found violations of the right to communal property and the right to consultation, considering “the serious impacts suffered by the [indigenous] People owing to their profound social and spiritual relationship with their territory” and the “suffering caused to the People and to their cultural identity.” Id. at paras. 322–323.

States should “adopt measures to protect and promote the diversity of cultural expressions, and enable all cultures to express themselves and make themselves known.” CESCR, General Comment No. 21, Right of Everyone to Take Part in Cultural Life, para. 43. The African Commission found that the State denied “the very essence of the Endorois right to culture” when it relocated the indigenous community and restricted its access to vital resources for its livestock, which threatened the community’s “pastoral way of life.” See ACommHPR, Centre for Minority Rights Development (Kenya) and Minority Rights Group (on behalf of Endorois Welfare Council) v. Kenya, Communications No. 276/03, 46th Ordinary Session, November 2009, para. 251.

The Right to Enjoy the Benefits of Scientific Progress (Article 15(1)(b))

The ICESCR protects the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress, which also protects individuals from the negative effects of scientific progress. See ICESCR, art. 15(1)(b); UNESCO, The Right to Enjoy the Benefits of Scientific Progress and its Applications (2009), p. 5. The American Declaration and American Convention on Human Rights also contain similar provisions. See American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, art. XIII; American Convention on Human Rights, art. 14. The right to access the benefits of scientific progress must be non-discriminatory, and protects access to: scientific knowledge, opportunities to contribute to scientific endeavors, participation in decision-making regarding the right to information, and the conservation, development and diffusion of science and technology. See UN Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur in the Field of Cultural Rights, Farida Shaheed on the Right to Enjoy the Benefits of Scientific Progress and its Applications, A/HRC/20/26, 14 May 2012, para. 25.

The Inter-American Court discussed how the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress is related to reproductive freedom, because individuals seeking to create a family through in vitro fertilization would need access to medical technology. See I/A Court H.R., Case of Artavia Murillo et al. (“In Vitro Fertilization”) v. Costa Rica. Preliminary Objections, Merits, Reparations and Costs. Judgment of 28 November 2012. Series C No. 257, para. 150. The Court prohibited disproportionate and unnecessary restrictions on the right of access to the medical technology, stating that the right to have access to scientific progress “gives rise to the right to have access to the best health care services in assisted reproductive technologies.” See id.

The Right to Benefit from the Protection of Moral and Material Interests Resulting from Scientific, Literary and Artistic Productions (Article 15(1)(c))

Individuals have the right to “benefit from the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he [or she] is the author.” ICESCR, art. 15(1)(c). The Protocol of San Salvador and the American Declaration also contain similar provisions. See Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights “Protocol of San Salvador”, art. 14; American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, art. XIII. The State is required to reasonably prevent other actors from infringing upon authors’ ownership rights to their work and the material interests associated with their work. This cultural right involves economic and social rights as well, because it implicates the right to engage in work which one freely chooses and the right to an adequate standard of living. See, e.g., CESCR, General Comment No. 17, The Right of Everyone to Benefit from the Protection of the Moral and Material Interests Resulting from any Scientific, Literary or Artistic Production of which He or She is the Author, UN Doc. E/C.12/GC/17, 12 January 2006, para. 4. It is intended to encourage creators to contribute to the arts, sciences, and to society’s progress. See id.

The CESCR cautions against equating the right to benefit from the protection of moral and material interests resulting from scientific, literary and artistic productions with intellectual property rights, although they do share some similarities. Human rights are inalienable, universal and fundamental, whereas intellectual property rights are generally temporary and may be transferred or sold. See id. at paras. 1–4.

This right to benefit from the protection of moral and material interests is interdependent upon the Right to Freedom Indispensable for Scientific Research and Creative Activity, which ensures “that the scientific enterprise remains free of political and other interference, while guaranteeing the highest standards of ethical safeguards by scientific professions.” See ICESCR, art. 15(3); see, e.g., UN Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur in the Field of Cultural Rights, Farida Shaheed on the Right to Enjoy the Benefits of Scientific Progress and its Applications, para. 39. The Protocol of San Salvador contains a similar provision. See Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights “Protocol of San Salvador”, art. 14.

On the issue of intellectual freedom, in Sorguç v. Turkey the European Court of Human Rights found a violation of the freedom of expression under the European Convention on Human Rights when the State court ordered a university lecturer to pay damages for distributing a document, at a scientific conference, that criticized the procedures for promoting assistant lecturers. See ECtHR, Sorguç v. Turkey, no. 17089/03, ECHR 2009, Judgment of 23 June 2009, para. 40. The Court noted that the right to academic freedom protects “academics’ freedom to express freely their opinion about the institution or system in which they work and freedom to distribute knowledge and truth without restriction.” Id. at para. 35.

MONITORING & ENFORCEMENT

On the international level, several mechanisms specifically monitor and protect economic, social and cultural rights. These include various United Nations and regional bodies. In addition, other human rights bodies with more general mandates often consider issues and complaints related to economic, social, or cultural rights.

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) oversees States parties’ implementation of the ICESCR. The CESCR issues General Comments, which are authoritative interpretations of the ICESCR. Additionally, every five years State Parties to the Covenant are required to submit to the CESCR a report explaining how they have been implementing the Covenant’s provisions. The CESCR evaluates these reports, and considers any NGO input regarding the State’s implementation (these NGO submissions are called “shadow reports”). The CESCR issues non-binding Concluding Observations, which are assessments of how effectively States are complying with their obligations under the ICESCR and recommendations for improving compliance.

On May 5, 2013, the Optional Protocol to the ICESCR entered into force, which created an individual complaint mechanism and an inter-State complaint mechanism, and enabled the CESCR to conduct inquiries into grave or systematic violations. The relevant State must have ratified the Optional Protocol in order for these measures to be available. Individuals must meet specific requirements in order to submit a complaint, including exhausting domestic remedies. Exhausting domestic remedies means using all available national procedures to seek a remedy before bringing the claim to an international body. If domestic remedies are unavailable, ineffective, or unreasonably delayed, then the individual is not required to exhaust domestic remedies. Once the CESCR receives a communication, it is also able to issue “interim measures” to request that the State take action to avoid irreparable harm to the victim. The CESCR examines individual and inter-State complaints (“communications”) and then issues its decision (“views”) regarding the alleged violation. For additional information on the CESCR and its complaints procedure, see the Online Resource Hub page on the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Various United Nations “special procedures” monitor and promote ESCR. The Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council are independent experts that report and advise on human rights, either as an Independent Expert, Special Rapporteur, or as part of a Working Group. Their mandates are either thematic, authorizing them to investigate a category of human rights, or country-specific, authorizing investigation into a country’s treatment of human rights. The mandates outline their responsibilities, which frequently include: conducting thematic studies, country visits, sending communications to States regarding alleged human rights abuses; organizing expert consultations; raising public awareness; engaging in advocacy; and providing advice for technical cooperation. Special procedures annually report their findings to the UN Human Rights Council, and many mandates also require reporting to the UN General Assembly. While the Human Rights Council appoints special procedures, they are not UN members and are expected to conduct their investigations independently and impartially. For additional information, see the Online Resource Hub page on the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council.

The following Special Procedures monitor and promote economic, social and cultural rights:

The International Labour Organization (ILO), a specialized United Nations agency, has a supervisory system to ensure that Member States are complying with its standards related to labor and employment rights. It also manages a complaint procedure that allows parties to file complaints against States for failure to comply with ratified ILO standards. These complaints may be filed by another Member State to the same ILO Convention under which the violation is alleged, a delegate to the International Labor Conference (of Member States), or the ILO Governing Body. Once the complaint is received, a Commission of Inquiry may be formed, which consists of three independent members who investigate the complaint and recommend measures for the Member State to take to address the problem. If that Member State refuses to implement the Commission’s recommendations, then the Governing Body may ask the International Labor Conference to take measures to secure the Member State’s compliance with the recommendations. See ILO Constitution, art. 33. For additional information, see the Online Resource Hub page on the International Labor Organization.

The regional human rights commissions and courts also play a role in protecting economic, social, and cultural rights. One such body is specifically focused on ESCR; this body is the European Committee of Social Rights, which reviews States’ implementation of the European Social Charter and decides collective complaints made against States that have accepted the complaints procedure. This procedure allows employers, trade unions, and international NGOs that have participatory status with the Council of Europe to submit complaints to the Committee. See Additional Protocol to the European Social Charter Providing for a System of Collective Complaints, art. 1. For additional information on the Committee, see the Online Resource Hub page on the European Committee of Social Rights.

Other regional human rights bodies that may address ESCR violations include the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the European Court of Human Rights, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Each evaluates individual complaints alleging violations of the regional human rights treaties, which include provisions protecting ESCR. Frequently, the regional treaties’ provisions protecting ESCR are not identical to the rights enumerated in the ICESCR, and States’ obligations may differ depending on the regional instrument(s) they have ratified.

Two regional human rights systems have also established special mechanisms that focus on ESCR. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has a Unit on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which undertakes country visits to OAS Member States, prepares studies and publications, and provides the Commission with advice during its processing of individual petitions, cases, and requests for precautionary measures. This Unit is expected to become a Special Rapporteurship once the necessary funding is in place.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights also has special mechanisms that address ESCR, including the Working Group on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Working Group on Extractive Industries, Environment and Human Rights Violations, and the Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities in Africa.

See the Courts and Monitoring Bodies page for additional information.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Useful online resources on economic, social and cultural rights include the following: