International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

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International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

The International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), which after some twenty years of debates was adopted in the United Nation's (UN) General Assembly, opened for signature on December 16, 1966, and entered into force on January 3, 1976. The CESCR binds 148 state parties. The United States signed the CESCR on October 5, 1977, but it has not yet ratified the covenant and seems unlikely to do so for the foreseeable future. The U.S. government has consistently been more reluctant to recognize economic and social rights, such as the right to health, education, and minimal standards of food, clothing, and shelter, than it has the civil and political rights recognized in the UN's International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, a distinction that was often pointed out by the Soviet Union before its collapse.

The rights set out in the CESCR are monitored by the eighteen-member Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which was established in its current form in 1985 by the UN Economic and Social Council and first convened in 1987. A draft optional protocol to CESCR, calling for the right of individual or group complaints concerning noncompliance with the Covenant, was adopted by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1996, but it has not yet been adopted by the UN Commission on Human Rights, a necessary precondition for submission for ratification.

The CESCR begins by acknowledging the rights of all peoples to selfdetermination through which they may "freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development" (Article 1). The positive rights recognized in the CESCR are the right to work (Article 6); the right to the "enjoyment of just and favorable conditions of work," including fair wages and equal remuneration for work of equal value (Article 7); the right to form trade unions and labor federations and the right to strike (Article 8); the right to social security, including social insurance (Article 9); the protection and assistance of families, mothers, and children (Article 10); the right to an adequate standard of living, including food (to be free from hunger), clothing, and shelter (Article 11); the right to the


"enjoyment of the highest attainable standards of physical and mental health" (Article 12); the right to education (Article 13); and the right to take part in cultural life, to enjoy the benefits of science, and to reap the benefits of intellectual property (Article 15).

State parties that are bound by the CESCR have the duty of reviewing their implementation of these rights and reporting periodically to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The eighteen members of the Committee are elected by the UN Economic and Social Council for four-year terms. The Committee seeks to determine whether the rights set out in the CESCR are being supported by states' parties and ways that the implementation of those rights might be improved.

At its fiftieth session in 1996, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights developed a comprehensive program for more effective implementation of economic, social, and cultural rights and forwarded it to the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights for review by all the relevant UN institutions within the human rights domain. Still, for most of the states' parties, the rights contained in the CESCR remain fond aspirations rather than recognized realities.

See also: Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

bibliography

Brownlie, Ian, ed. Basic Documents in International Law. 5th ed. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 2002.

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. <http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/a_cescr.htm>.

Steiner, Henry J. and Philip Alston. International Human Rights in Context: Law, Politics, Morals. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 2000.

Donald W. Jackson

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International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights