The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) recently launched an online portal for tools and information available for economic, social and cultural rights activists. While civil and political rights – like the rights to free speech and a fair trial – are often the center of international attention, the equally critical human rights related to economic, social, and cultural issues are often treated as less essential or more difficult for governments to implement and monitor. The new Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Portal (ESCR Portal) helps to demonstrate that these rights – which include access to adequate food and housing, education, health, and work – are as legitimate and important as civil and political rights, while also providing activists with helpful language, resources, and guidance for giving effect to these rights.
Among the resources featured on the ESCR Portal are:
- Toolkits on specific rights;
- World map reflecting country ratifications of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR);
- OHCHR’s bi-weekly bulletin on economic, social and cultural rights;
- Several FAQs elucidating key concepts; and
- Links to the other United Nations agencies working on the relevant rights.
Currently the ESCR Portal includes four toolkits, covering the Right to Food, Right to Adequate Housing, Right to Health, and the Rights to Water and Sanitation. As an example, the Right to Food toolkit catalogs recent UN reports relevant to the right to food; explains through bullet points the essential elements of the right to food; and identifies the international mechanisms responsible for monitoring and supporting contries’ realization of the right to food.
Another section of the ESCR Portal on “Key Concepts” is particularly helpful for activists seeking to gain better recognition of economic, social and cultural rights as critical human rights. The section addresses concerns that critics often raise, such as the extent of states obligations in terms of these rights. On this particular concern the OHCHR has summarized the complex concept of State responsibility into a few easily-digestible paragraphs that are grounded in language from the ICESCR and the General Comments from the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Similarly, questions about the enforceability of these rights and a section titled “Myths and misconceptions on economic, social and cultural rights” aims to address longstanding concerns and areas of confusion.
The ESCR Portal also features “Issues in focus” that include implementation and monitoring, legal protection, women and migrants. These topic links bring the reader directly to the relevant reports by OHCHR. Though most of the reports are a few years old, they still provide useful background information and identify specific steps for states and civil society, which activists can use as benchmarks when evaluating their country’s progress.
Overall, the ECSR Portal highlights the equal importance of economic, social and cultural rights and also provides easy access to many useful resources. However, despite the wealth of information provided, human rights advocates are well advised not to rely exclusively on the ESCR Portal for their research as some sections can fall short of expectations. This caveat particularly applies to the extensive resources on specific economic, social and cultural rights prepared by non-governmental organizations, such as Social Accountability International, which addresses workers’ rights through labor standards. Hopefully, the OHCHR will continue developing the ESCR Portal with additional country-specific information and a more extensive list of non-governmental organizations, ideally broken down into regional or country-specific groups, so that activists can more readily identify potential partners.