The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) is an important treaty – what does it protect? You are likely to have heard of socioeconomic status which refers to a number of factors that include our level of education, occupation, and income. These are human rights which are protected under the ICESCR
Be sure to check out our previous article about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) if you haven’t already! In that article, you might have noticed that many human rights from the UDHR are also listed in the ICESCR. Socioeconomic rights have such a profound impact on lives that it was necessary to form the ICESCR treaty to hold countries accountable for the standard of living they provide.
A central part of the ICESCR is a concept known as progressive realisation – what this means is that countries are expected to take concrete action to achieve the ideals set in the ICESCR over time. are known as positive rights which are human rights that are acted upon by duty-bearers (such as the government and institutions). This is in contrast to negative rights which are your rights that ought to be protected and upheld by the authorities.
The following are human rights under the ICESCR:
- Right to work
- Everyone has the right to have the opportunity to work that they have freely chosen.
- Right to enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work
- This includes fair wages and having equal pay for equal work.
- Right to form and join trade unions
- Right to social security
- Social security refers to assistance or aid that is provided by the state. This is important to protect those who are unable to work.
- Right to protection for the family and children
- This also provides mothers after childbirth with maternity leave.
- Child labour should be prohibited.
- Marriage must be entered with full consent of the intending spouses
- Right to an adequate standard of living
- Everyone has the right to adequate food, clothing, and housing.
- Right to enjoyment of the highest attainable standard for physical and mental health
- States have to provide affordable and accessible healthcare as well as facilities that affect a person’s wellbeing such as water, sanitation, housing, and food.
- Right to education
- Education should be accessible by everyone. Primary education is compulsory and states should take steps towards providing free education.
- Parents should be able to freely choose schools for their children.
- Right to take part in cultural life
There are some issues when it comes to holding states accountable for the lack of socio-economic rights, the main one being justiciability. Justiciability is the ability of a court to rule on something – in this case, courts in many countries are unable to legally enforce certain socio-economic rights to the standards set in the ICESCR. Issues such as denying equal wages to refugees, exploitative job contracts, and homelessness are often legal, although it may not be just. This is why a state’s political will to protect socio-economic rights is extremely important in its realisation. Old laws need to be amended and new laws drafted in order to provide socio-economic rights to all.