Giving Meaning to Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights

Giving Meaning to Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights

Giving Meaning to Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights

Giving Meaning to Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights

Synopsis

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, arguably the founding document of the human rights movement, fully embraces economic, social, and cultural rights, as well as civil and political rights, within its text. However, for most of the fifty years since the Declaration was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations, the focus of the international community has been on civil and political rights. This focus has slowly shifted over the past two decades. Recent international human rights treaties--such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women--grant equal importance to protecting and advancing nonpolitical rights.

In this collection of essays, Isfahan Merali, Valerie Oosterveld, and a team of human rights scholars and activists call for the reintegration of economic, social, and cultural rights into the human rights agenda. The essays are divided into three sections. First the contributors examine traditional conceptualizations of human rights that made their categorization possible and suggest a more holistic rights framework that would dissolve such boundaries. In the second section they discuss how an integrated approach actually produces a more meaningful analysis of individual economic, social, and cultural rights. Finally, the contributors consider how these rights can be monitored and enforced, identifying ways international human rights agencies, NGOs, and states can promote them in the twenty-first century.

Excerpt

A shift in the conceptualization of international human rights has begun: the international community appears to be more open today to advancing a holistic rights framework than it has ever been in the past. While the Universal Declaration of Human Rights(UDHR), adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948, encompasses economic, social, and cultural rights as well as civil and political rights within its text, the subsequently drafted 1966 International Covenants divided rights into two distinct categories—civil and political rights, and economic, social, and cultural rights—with distinct levels of justiciability and requirements for realization. However, more recent international human rights treaties, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, have rejected a division or hierarchy of rights, giving equal importance to economic, social, and cultural rights, and civil and political rights. Regional treaties, such as the European Social Charter and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and treaty bodies, such as the Committee on the Rights of the Child, have been at the forefront of integrating economic, social, and cultural rights within their realm of protection. Nongovernmental organizations(NGOs) working in the field of protecting and advancing economic, social, and cultural rights are also being taken more seriously, and being provided with more support, within the treaty monitoring system and by regional organizations or domestic governments. Moreover, some of the human rights treaty bodies have begun to look at rights in an integrated manner, defining and expanding the content and scope of certain rights in order to deal with them in a logical context. For example, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women’s General Recommendation on women and health links women’s rights to nondiscrimination and health care, thereby linking a social right to a cross-cutting human right.

Despite these positive developments, a lack of political will to devote needed resources and implement infrastructural change in order to protect and advance economic, social and cultural rights remains apparent today. Within the international system, and at domestic levels, the eloquent statement made by the UN General Assembly in 1948, that economic, social, cultural, civil, and political rights are indivisible and interrelated, has not yet translated into reality. There is therefore still a need to look beyond the bare words of the UDHR and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights to give true meaning to these rights. Words on paper alone do little justice to the aspirations inherent in these documents; the . . .

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