Nature of the Obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

By Magdalena Sepulveda

During recent decades, levels of global wealth have grown at an impressive rate but at the same time inequalities in wealth distribution and the gap between the rich and the poor have also increased significantly. While some people take the enjoyment of comforts made available by technological advances for granted and consume goods and services at a rate unimaginable even just a few decades ago, for the majority of humanity such developments are unattainable and many persons die of hunger or curable diseases, do not have shelter, access to education or basic sanitation facilities. Undoubtedly this raises moral questions, but it is also a juridical problem. This study attempts to show that at least the 145 States Parties to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights [ICESCR] bear significant obligations with regard to the fulfilment of these rights. The present work analyses the work of the main supervisory mechanism of the ICESCR, the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and aims to clarify the normative content of the Covenant, particularly with regard to the obligations imposed by Part II of the Covenant. The book sets the stage for analysis of Part II of the Covenant by first seeking to clarify some of the doctrinal confusion in the field, such as the distinction between civil and political rights on the one hand and economic, social and cultural rights on the other. It also examines the usefulness of typologies of State duties under human rights instruments. The study then proceeds to analyse the content and scope of the obligations under Part II of the Covenant. Part II of the Covenant is composed of four articles which contain a general obligation clause; a non-discrimination provision; a limitation on the enjoyment of the rights by non-nationals; nondiscrimination on the basis of sex; a general limitation clause; and interpretation rules. Understanding of the scope and content of the provisions of Part II is key for interpretation of the Covenant as a whole as they have a dynamic relationship with all substantive rights contained in the Covenant and impose obligations with which States Parties must comply in regard to each of the substantive rights. The study is intended to contribute to the promotion of the normative content of the Covenant, particularly of the provisions of Part II. It is premised on the understanding that a clearer normative content of the Covenant would facilitate its implementation at the national level as well as its supervision under the State-reporting procedure and, possibly, pursuant to a future Optional Protocol establishing a complaints procedure.


477 pages

Publication Date: 4/10/2003
Format: Paper
ISBN: 9789050952606