News: News Archives
AAAS Edits Book on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
In 1996, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights had been in force for 20 years. Yet, the rights it was intended to ensure remained little-known and ill-defined.
"One of the reasons these rights have been given less attention than others like civil and political rights is their amorphous character," says Audrey Chapman of the AAAS Science and Human Rights Program (SHR). "A major unresolved issue is how to monitor these rights, how to understand the obligations of the states."
So, SHR staff decided to begin providing information that would help monitor compliance. They invited international experts to outline the scope, minimum standards, and examples of violations for each of the 10 rights listed in the covenant. Thus was born the recently published Core Obligations: Building a Framework for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, edited by Chapman and Sage Russell of SHR.
Core obligations, Chapman and Russell explain, are those intended to bridge the gap "between lofty goals and available resources." The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has defined core obligations as the most fundamental elements of each right, which nations should tackle first upon ratifying the covenant.
The economic, social and cultural rights covered in the book include, for example, those requiring access to the means to meet basic human needssuch as food, health, housing, education, work and social security. Also discussed in the book are rights calling for freedom from various forms of coercion and discrimination, such as rights related to marriage and family, child protection, cultural life, trade unions, benefits of scientific progress and intellectual property.
The authors see various human rights as interrelated: The right to food, for example, is defined as the right to feed oneself, which is therefore linked to the right to work and social security, and ultimately extends to sustainable use of resources and a healthy environment. Similarly, the right to education is viewed as an "empowerment" right, through which people realize and enjoy other rights. Conversely, weak intellectual property protections may reduce access to other rights, such as the benefits of science and cultural participation.
"Core Obligations" represents an important step toward monitoring compliance with the covenant. Yet, the editors recognize that identifying minimum core obligations is "the beginning of the process of realizing economic, social and cultural rights, not the end."
For information on how to order this book, please refer to information on the web site of the AAAS Science and Human Rights Program.
18 December 2002