Access to Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCRs)

Freedom of association and peaceful assembly are a basic human right, and are the cornerstones of any democratic system. Freedom of peaceful assembly and association must also be recognised as an enabling right that underpins inclusive development, in which decent work and social protection and the progressive realisation of social, economic and cultural rights are key.

Almost 70 years ago, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed a wide spectrum of human rights that every human being has – without discrimination. These include rights to education, to adequate housing and other economic, social and cultural rights. In fact, economic, social and cultural rights are a broad category of human rights guaranteed in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and other legally binding international and regional human rights treaties. Nearly every country in the world is party to a legally binding treaty that guarantees these rights:

  • The right to education, including ensuring that primary education is free and compulsory, that education is sufficiently available, accessible, acceptable and adapted to the individual.
  • Cultural rights of minorities and Indigenous Peoples.
  • The right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, including the right to healthy living conditions and available, accessible, acceptable and quality health services.
  • The right to adequate housing, including security of tenure, protection from forced eviction and access to affordable, habitable, well located and culturally adequate housing.
  • The right to food, including the right to freedom from hunger and access at all times to adequate nutritious food or the means to obtain it.
  • The right to water – the right to sufficient water and sanitation that is available, accessible (both physically and economically) and safe.

For some the right to land is included in ESCRs. Access to land is important for development and poverty reduction and also often necessary to access to numerous economic, social and cultural rights and can serve as a gateway for many civil and political rights such as the freedom of peaceful assembly and association. However, there is no specific right to land in international human rights law. And yet, rights are established in international legal frameworks that relate to land access. This includes rights for particular groups as the ILO convention 196 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries), but also include numerous rights are affected by the access to land.

Women’s rights are also included in ESCRs. Where discrimination against women and girls is deeply rooted, the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights is also affected. Women, especially those living in vulnerable situations, are particularly confronted by discrimination of several kinds, including access to employment, healthcare, reproductive and sexual rights, housing, clean water and adequate food, among others. Inequality with respect to the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights is a central fact of women’s lives in every region of the world. Ongoing inequality in the sphere of economic, social and cultural rights contributes to the continuing subordination of women and makes them especially vulnerable to violence, exploitation and other forms of abuse.

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