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Seminar: New Horizons in Economic and Social Rights Monitoring

March 15th, 2012

Introduction Agenda Presenters Papers and Presentations The OPERA Framework

A newly-published report detailing all the presentations made at this event and providing commentary
on the main issues that emerged from discussions can be accessed here.

Assessing how a state’s economic and social policies comply with its human rights obligations has involved operationalizing complex and multifaceted principles such as ‘progressive realization’, ‘maximum available resources’, ‘minimum core obligations’ and ‘non-discrimination’.  There is now a growing body of innovative monitoring tools and techniques, both qualitative and quantitative, which have been developed to meet this challenge, including the use of human rights indicators, indices and benchmarks, budget analysis and human rights impact assessment methodologies.  

Rights-based policy monitoring requires a comprehensive, multidimensional approach to assessing ESCR fulfillment, integrating quantitative and qualitative methods. Despite much progress, many of the tools and techniques for monitoring have been developed in a fragmented way and in isolation from one another.  It is with these critical issues in mind that CESR and Metrics for Human Rights in Development organized an international meeting in Madrid. The two-day event, entitled New Horizons in Economic and Social Rights Monitoring, took place on the 22 and 23 of March in the heart of the Spanish capital, Madrid. The meeting responded to the need to monitor ESC rights compliance through innovative, multifaceted and comprehensive approaches, always with the end goal to promote social justice through more effective human rights accountability

Hosted by the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR), the meeting  served as the third annual meeting of the International Network on Quantitative Methods for Human Rights and Development – Metrics for Human Rights. The seminar drew on the lessons learned from a wide array of key experts and activists thus breaking down the disciplinary silos that often hamper human rights advocates from fully gaining knowledge from one another to enhance the field of ESCR monitoring. The monitoring methods, techniques and frameworks presented at the seminar can serve as powerful tools for human rights advocacy work. As such, the seminar drew on experiences that have successfully demonstrated how monitoring can be used to bring about effective policy change, enhance enforcement and accountability, and most crucially, improve the livelihoods of people on the ground. 

The meeting took stock of progress made and current challenges in the field of ESC rights monitoring, and brought together human rights and development practitioners who have been grappling with the methodological challenges of monitoring the positive obligation to fulfill economic and social rights.


Eibe Riedel, Member of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), explains the work of Committee and what it needs from civil society.
The meeting also represented an opportunity for shared reflection on how these approaches can be more effectively combined and applied in practice, whether in public policy monitoring, strategic litigation, or through other mechanisms of accountability, such as the work of the treaty bodies or the MDG-tracking processes. It opened up a space for greater cross-fertilization and exchange of experiences across sectoral, disciplinary and geographical boundaries. The need for more effective rights-based monitoring of economic and social policy is all the more urgent at a time of deepening economic recession, fiscal austerity and failing development commitments.

The event brought together over 40 leading human rights advocates and academics from diverse backgrounds. Among the issues addressed were current challenges in economic and social rights monitoring, methodological advances and pending tasks in building evidence for litigation, and the use of quantitative indicators to monitor fulfillment. Rights-based budget analysis was also explored, along with innovative approaches to assessing progressive realization. CESR’s OPERA framework, which serves as an overarching framework within which multiple measurement methodologies can be integrated, was introduced too, before future challenges and opportunities for ESCR monitoring were unpacked. Finally, the participants took part in a dialogue to explore how the various threads developed over the course of the two days could be woven together. 

It is CESR and Metrics for Human Rights’ hope that this meeting will facilitate greater understanding, cross-fertilization and innovation among economic and social rights advocates from various disciplines. It should further the development of quantitative and qualitative monitoring methods and frameworks and, ultimately, contribute to policy change, better enforcement, increased accountability and improvement in the lives of ordinary people.


The Center for Economic and Social Rights works to promote recognition and enforcement of these rights through research and advocacy at the global and national levels. A particular focus of its work is the development of methodologies for monitoring public policies from an economic and social rights perspective.

The International Network on Quantitative Methods for Human Rights and Development aims to create synergies amongst scholars and practitioners for the use of human rights assessment methods as monitoring, advocacy and research tools for policy change. It serves as a space for sharing ideas and work, a forum for debating methodological issues and a place for identifying operational synergies and research opportunities.