What are Economic Social and Cultural Rights?

Economic, social, and cultural rights include the human right to work, the right to an adequate standard of living, including food, clothing, and housing, the right to physical and mental health, the right to social security, the right to a healthy environment, and the right to education.
Human rights law includes all economic and social rights, as well as civil and political rights like the right to free speech and the right to a fair trial. These rights are deeply intertwined: for example, the right to speak freely means little without a basic education, the right to vote means little if you are suffering from starvation.
Similarly, the right to work means little if you are not allowed to meet and assemble in groups to discuss work conditions.
All the world’s great religious and moral traditions, philosophers, and revolutionaries recognize that human beings deserve to live in freedom, justice, dignity and economic security.
The International Bill of Rights grew out of these traditions and calls for all governments to make sure their citizens have human rights—civil, political, social, cultural and economic. Referring to economic, social and cultural issues as “rights” uses the legal framework developed under international law, and gives individuals legitimate claims against state and non-state actors for protection and guarantees.
Economic and social rights require governments and other powerful actors to ensure that people have access to basic needs and that people have a voice in decisions affecting their well-being.
Poverty and injustice are neither inevitable nor natural but arise from deliberate decisions and policies, and the human rights legal framework provides a way to hold public officials accountable for development policies and priorities.
States are bound to ensure minimum human rights regardless of their resource constraints. For ESC rights, minimum core requirements include available foodstuffs for the population, essential primary health care, basic shelter and housing, and the most basic forms of education.
Human rights treaties are signed by governments and are the duty of governments to enforce.
However, this does not mean that non-state actors are free to violate people’s human rights. There are three main ways to apply human rights standards to non-state actors.
  • First, governments have the primary responsibility to protect human rights, including from violations by non-state actors.
  • Second, individuals may enforce their basic rights through judicial action.
  • Finally, non-state actors are bound to respect human rights standards through the universal protection of human dignity.

Obstacles to Realization of ESCR

The main obstacle to realizing ESCR remains a lack of political will and commitment on the part of states, international institutions and NGOs whose responsibility it is to respect, protect and promote these rights for the benefit of all human beings.
The following list provides just a few examples of ESCR violations that are already being tried in courts around the world:
  • Forcible evictions.
  • Terminating an employee without cause.
  • Deliberate poisoning of a water supply.
  • Discrimination in access to medical care, work, housing, education etc.
  • Banning unions.
  • Depriving children of adequate food and water.
  • Failing to provide any primary level education.
  • Failing to provide basic health care facilities.
  • Educational institutions in such poor condition that. they are a risk to safety.
  • Housing in such poor condition that it is a risk to safety.

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