On July 5, 2017, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) selected Soledad García Muñoz to be the first Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights (ESCER). [IACHR Press Release: Muñoz (in Spanish)] The mandate of the newly established Rapporteurship is to promote, protect, and defend economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights in the Americas by addressing issues such as poverty; pollution; and access to health care, education, potable water, and nutrition. [IACHR Press Release: Finalists] García Muñoz, of Argentina, was selected from a list of four finalists during the IACHR’s 163rd Extraordinary Period of Sessions. [IACHR Press Release: Finalists; IACHR Press Release: Muñoz] García Muñoz is a lawyer who has worked globally to protect human rights, including with various United Nations agencies, the Organization of American States (OAS), the International Organization for Migration, and the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights, among others. [IACHR Press Release: Muñoz] She served as President of Amnesty International’s Section on Argentina and has substantial experience litigating before universal and regional human rights mechanisms. [IACHR Press Release: Muñoz] As Special Rapporteur, García Muñoz plans to work in coordination with other IACHR divisions to open a dialogue. [IACHR Press Release: Muñoz] She will take office on August 15, 2017 and serve a three-year term, which is renewable once. [IACHR Press Release: Muñoz]
The Selection Process
The IACHR announced in February 2017 that it was opening the application process for this position. Over the next month, the Commission received 92 applications, from which five finalists were chosen, though one of the finalists subsequently withdrew his application. [IACHR Press Release: Finalists] Pursuant to the IACHR’s Rules of Procedure, the credentials of the remaining four finalists were published on the Commission’s website and a public comment period was opened from May 23 to June 15, 2017, during which time the IACHR received 475 comments from OAS Member States and civil society. [IACHR Press Release: Muñoz] The four finalists were interviewed in Lima, Peru during the Commission’s 163rd Extraordinary Period of Sessions. [IACHR Press Release: Muñoz]
The IACHR decided to create this Special Rapporteurship in 2014 to “strengthen and expand” the Commission’s work in defending the named rights. However, its establishment was put on hold as the Commission struggled to find sufficient funding amid its recent and ongoing financial crisis. [IACHR Press Release: Competition] With the launch of a special fund in April 2014 to raise revenue specifically for this purpose, the funding was eventually secured. [IACHR Press Release: Competition]
New Mandate on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights
In the words of IACHR Executive Secretary Paulo Abrão, the Rapporteurship represents an opportunity for the Commission to “develop new [I]nter-American standards, update the Commission’s thematic agenda, and fundamentally expand its social reach.” [IACHR Press Release: Competition] The Special Rapporteur is tasked with monitoring and preparing reports regarding the human rights situations in OAS Member States, providing advice to Member States on the implementation of ESCER, processing individual complaints, representing the IACHR in cases on ESCER before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), raising awareness about the IACHR’s relevant work, making recommendations to the Commission regarding urgent situations that may require precautionary measures or provisional measures before the IACtHR, advising OAS organs on ESCER, and other tasks on the maintenance of the Rapporteurship and that arise through delegation from the IACHR. See IACHR, Competition for Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights.
Global Protection of Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights
In the Americas, the IACHR created a Unit on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 2012 to conduct consultations with States in order to determine each region’s thematic priorities and inform the Commission’s strategies in this area. The last consultation was due to be held in March of this year in Jamaica. [IACHR Press Release: Competition] The primary legal instrument relevant to the protection of these rights in the Americas is the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Protocol of San Salvador).
The IACHR’s Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights will join a host of other mechanisms and legal instruments currently in place around the world specifically dedicated to the protection of these rights. In the African system, the Working Group on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was established in 2004 to create guidelines for State reporting, research relevant issues, and report on its progress to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The primary instrument, which is nonbinding, specifically addressing these rights in Africa is the Pretoria Declaration on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Africa.
In the European system, the European Committee of Social Rights oversees the protection of certain economic and social rights with respect to States parties to the European Social Charter. It operates by reviewing State reports, processing individual complaints, and adopting annual conclusions regarding State compliance. Many economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights are also protected by the European Convention on Human Rights.
The United Nations system boasts numerous special mechanisms intended to protect these rights, including the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the UN Economic and Social Council; the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights; the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context; the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment; the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation; the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; the Special Rapporteur on the right to education; and the Special Rapporteur on the right to food. The primary treaty specifically addressing economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights in the United Nations system is the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights encompass those freedoms and privileges necessary to allow individuals and communities to live with dignity. See IJRC, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. They include the rights to food, water, health, housing, education, social security, and property, among others. See id. States are obligated to respect, protect, and fulfill these rights, meaning they must refrain from violating them as well as take positive actions to ensure their protection. See id.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has nine rapporteurships, including the newest one on ESCER. The other rapporteurships cover the issue areas of indigenous peoples; women; migrants; freedom of expression; children; human rights defenders; persons deprived of liberty; afro-descendants and racial discrimination; and lesbian, gay, trans, bisexual, and intersex persons. The IACHR’s rapporteurships may be assigned to Commissioners or to another individual selected by the IACHR. Rapporteurs are typically assigned during the first IACHR session of the calendar year but may also be assigned when necessary. All rapporteurs serve for a three-year term that is renewable one time. See IACHR, Rapporteurship/Unit.
For more information about the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights; Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights; the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights; the European Committee of Social Rights; or the UN Special Procedures, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.