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Debating Economic and Social Rights: Are legal protections useful to activists fighting poverty?

Almost 70 years ago, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights gave equal recognition to economic and social rights, alongside civil and political rights. Yet there is continued controversy as to whether the human rights to food, housing, education, or health deserve such recognition or are properly the subject of legal protection and adjudication. Why?

Is it simply a reflection of a political bias that distrusts the welfare state model that is supposedly implicit in programs to fulfil these rights? Or are there genuine differences between, for example, a right to food and a right to free speech that suggest only the latter can be protected effectively through law and the courts? In any case, should struggles for social justice rely on the courts? How does the reframing of these struggles in the language of human rights help?

Eviction rights in Spain: no room of one’s own

Thousands of people are being evicted in Spain due to austerity measures, and women are disproportionately affected by structural inequality.Español


Human rights are not losing traction in the global South

In the debate on whether human rights have stalled, analysts are ignoring huge strides in socioeconomic improvements in the global South. Español


Putting universality into the Universal Periodic Review

The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review is systematically marginalizing economic and social rights. Español


Phantom rights: the systemic marginalization of economic and social rights

Neither the UN nor civil society is doing much about the deep resistance of many states to proper recognition of economic and social rights. Español


The UK government cannot reconcile austerity measures with human rights

UK governments have claimed austerity measures are necessary while ignoring the disproportionate adverse effects on marginalized groups.


The International Labour Organization: workers rights champion or 90-pound weakling?

The ILO oversees the global protection of workers’ rights. It should consider instigating and/or supporting litigation in courts to serve that purpose.


Using budget analysis to confront governments: what practitioners need to know

Millions of dollars that could address socio-economic disparities are lost through illicit financial flows, but budget analysis could help.


In Madagascar, reforming nationality law advances social and economic rights

A simple change to the nationality law—which currently promotes statelessness—could improve the livelihoods of thousands in Madagascar.


Historic step towards access to justice for ESCR violations at UN

Amid 400,000 foreclosures, the UN Committee on ESCR finds Spain in violation of the right to housing in its first case. Español


There is no women’s empowerment without rights

As “women’s economic empowerment” becomes a popular development term, we must examine whether such programs are actually ensuring women’s rights. EspañolFrançais


Beyond liberal rights: lessons from a possible future in Detroit

Thirty thousand Detroit households have been denied access to water and sanitation, raising systemic questions about the liberal rights tradition. EspañolFrançaisالعربية


Improving family income does not ensure women’s economic empowerment

Increasing family income does not necessarily increase women’s empowerment. A multi-sector multi-pronged approach is necessary. Español


Seguro Popular: Mexico’s progress in protecting the right to health

Mexico is roundly criticized for its failure to protect civil and political rights. But the “Seguro Popular” healthcare program is making significant progress. Español


For sanitation, human rights are key to keeping governments accountable

While human rights alone cannot solve sanitation problems, they play a critical role in keeping governments accountable. 


Closing the doors of justice? The South African Constitutional Court’s approach to direct access

What we can learn about the connection between gender equality and socioeconomic rights from coffee farming communities in Colombia? Español


To empower women, prioritize their social and economic rights

What we can learn about the connection between gender equality and socioeconomic rights from coffee farming communities in Colombia? Español


The international treaty on economic and social rights has positive impacts

When countries ratify the international treaty on economic and social rights, good things ensue, even for the world’s poorest nations.  Español


For sanitation, a "rights-based approach" may be the wrong strategy

When it comes to sanitation, rights are not enough.


Cracking down on tax abuse will help promote economic and social rights

Advocates for economic, social and cultural rights should focus on tax abuse.  EspañolFrançaisالعربية


In Latin America, authoritarian “leftists” create new Berlin Walls

While we celebrate the fall of the Berlin wall, authoritarian governments across Latin America are erecting new barriers that are just as damaging. Are citizens voting their rights away by supporting these leaders? Español


Where’s the evidence? Moving from ideology to data in economic and social rights

To advance the polarized openGlobalRights debate on economic and social rights, we need more empirical research, and less ideology. EspañolPortuguês


In India, the market helps promote economic and social rights

In India, market-based solutions help ensure economic and social rights, and the rest of the developing world could learn from its example. FrançaisEspañol


Legal mobilization: a critical first step to addressing economic and social rights

Legal mobilization for economic and social rights is a critical first step, not the end goal, as India's Right to Food campaign demonstrates.


Can legal interventions really tackle the root causes of poverty?

Legal interventions can ameliorate some of poverty’s most harmful consequences, but they cannot address poverty’s root causes. This can only be done through major policy changes.


Open budgets, open politics?

Budget transparency has the potential to make governments more accountable, but research shows that it occurs most often where it is least needed. Español


Activists and law in Haiti: multi-level human rights campaigns to find justice

A partnership between a Haitian human rights organization and its US partners has become the driving force behind a campaign to obtain justice for Haitian cholera victims. Has this grassroots movement mobilized the international community enough to make real and lasting changes? Français


Workers’ rights really are human rights

Workers’ rights are human rights, and we have a moral and legal obligation to protect them. No one should be allowed to exploit workers simply to run a more profitable or efficient business.


Poverty and human rights: can courts, lawyers and activists make a difference?

We have long known that poverty is rooted in power, yet traditional power-blind approaches to poverty remain predominant.  Can a human rights lens and the traditional tools of the movement—rights, courts, lawyers and activists—address underlying issues of power and make a real difference on poverty? Français


Winners and losers: how budgeting for human rights can help the poor

Recent research reveals the impact that international covenants could have on government taxation and expenditures. Based on civil society organization (CSO) campaigns around the world, human rights law—coupled with budget analysis—can be a powerful tool to hold governments to account for how their policies affect the poor.  Bahasa Indonesia, Español, Français简体中文


Without means, there are no real rights

Socialism—even social democracy—is in retreat as capitalism reigns triumphant. But if we care about political freedom, we have to care about economic freedom too: without means, civil and political rights are empty. Français, Español


Beyond the courts – protecting economic and social rights

The overlapping and interdependent nature of human rights suggests efforts to protect only some rights in law are misguided. The reason for legalizing economic and social rights is not only to make them justiciable in court; it is to create the political and societal impetus to make rights a reality. Français, Español العربية


Yes, economic and social rights really are human rights

The argument that socio-economic rights are not “real” human rights is far too simplistic. While the phrase “progressive realization” gives many governments an excuse to treat these rights as second class, both the Indian and South African courts have expressly recognized their importance. It’s time for a closer look. Español


Legalizing economic and social rights can help the poor: reflections from South Africa

Socio-economic rights contribute to economic and social transformation by correcting unreasonable state policy, and combating social exclusion. At its best, economic and social rights activism challenges power, mobilises poor communities and delivers significant concrete benefits to the poorest of the poor.  Español


Legalizing economic and social rights won’t help the poor

Making social and economic rights part of a country’s constitution does not help the poor, and may even hurt. An evidence-based response to Saiz’s and Yamin’s plea for the indivisibility of human rightsEspañol


Does social justice work against human rights?

Social and economic rights are laudable goals, but qualifying them as “rights” may actually do more harm than good. Español


Rights reconceived: India’s new approach

Instead of viewing India’s role in global human rights from a foreign policy perspective, it is also important to examine whether India offers any lessons on human rights for other states by providing an alternative to the dominant discourse on rights.


Human rights and social justice: the in(di)visible link

The distinction that Aryeh Neier draws between human rights and social justice is premised on a limited notion of what constitutes “power”, argue Ignacio Saiz and Alicia Ely Yamin.


Human rights are also about social justice

Drawing on the central practices and aims of a traditional human rights organization as described by Aryeh Neier in his account of Human Rights Watch, let me respond, the author says, by imagining its suitability and relevance to a social justice agenda.


Misunderstanding our mission

The founder of Human Rights Watch tells Stephen Hopgood and James Ron that this organisation is globalizing itself; though it has a long way to go, over time it will prove effective. But human rights and social justice are not the same thing.


All articles and responses in date order:

Evicted rights in Spain: no room of one’s own

Thousands of people are being evicted in Spain due to austerity measures, and women are disproportionately affected by structural inequality. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on economic and social rights. Español

Human rights are not losing traction in the global South

In the debate on whether human rights have stalled, analysts are ignoring huge strides in socioeconomic improvements in the global South. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on economic and social rights. Español

Putting universality into the Universal Periodic Review

The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review is systematically marginalizing economic and social rights. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on economic and social rights. Español

The UK government cannot reconcile austerity measures with human rights

UK governments have claimed austerity measures are necessary while ignoring the disproportionate adverse effects on marginalized groups. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on economic and social rights.

The International Labour Organization: workers rights champion or 90-pound weakling?

The ILO oversees the global protection of workers’ rights. It should consider instigating and/or supporting litigation in courts to serve that purpose. A contribution to oGRs’ debate on economic and social rights.

Using budget analysis to confront governments: what practitioners need to know

Millions of dollars that could address socio-economic disparities are lost through illicit financial flows, but budget analysis could help. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on economic and social rights.

In Madagascar, reforming nationality law advances social and economic rights

A simple change to the nationality law—which currently promotes statelessness—could improve the livelihoods of thousands in Madagascar. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on economic and social rights.

Historic step towards access to justice for ESCR violations at UN

Amid 400,000 foreclosures, the UN Committee on ESCR finds Spain in violation of the right to housing in its first case. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on economic and social rightsEspañol