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New international working group on ESCR monitoring

Monitoring compliance with economic and social rights standards presents particular challenges that are unique to this category of rights. In the past, the difficulties of operationalizing multifaceted principles such as 'progressive realization', 'minimum core obligations' and the deployment of 'maximum available resources' have often presented obstacles to effective advocacy. While significant progress has been made in overcoming these hurdles in recent years, a great deal remains to be done. To this end a new working group has been formed within the International Network on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR-Net) to promote innovative tools and techniques for ESC rights monitoring and foster mutual learning about their use.


A young girl plays with a bicycle tyre in a Nairobi slum.
Photo courtesy of the Gates Foundation
The group, which is being convened by CESR and the ESCR-Net Secretariat in coordination with several other members of the network (listed below), aims to provide a forum in which practitioners can more systematically exchange their experiences of using various methods to assess states’ action (or inaction) from the perspective of their ESC rights obligations . It is our hope that this new undertaking will in turn facilitate better oversight of social and economic policies, such as public budgets and tax regimes, to ensure they meet the requirements of human rights principles and obligations.

Most importantly, the working group brings together a disparate and geographically diverse group of actors which have been tackling these challenges independently up until now. Earlier activities, ranging from grassroots-level budget scrutiny to international treaty body monitoring activities, have had limited opportunity to benefit from mutual learning.

Underpinning the new collaboration is a consensus on the need to address the alarming gap between national and international commitments regarding ESC rights and the shockingly poor state of implementation. Although there has been much progress with regard to clarifying states’ obligations to respect, protect and fulfil these rights, the backsliding on rights in the name of fiscal austerity; the gap between states’ human rights commitments and their social and economic policies at the national and international level; and the challenges facing the UN´s new ESC rights complaints mechanism when it enters into force all highlight the critical need for more effective monitoring.

The proposal to establish the working group emerged from the CESR seminar New Horizons in Economic and Social Rights Monitoring, which was staged in Madrid earlier this year in collaboration with Metrics for Human Rights and Development. The event, which brought together over 40 leading human rights activists and academics from around the world, provided a forum where the most pressing challenges in the field of economic and social rights monitoring, and innovative responses to them from within and beyond the human rights movement, were identified.

The experiences and insights shared at the meeting will be made available in a report to be published in January.

In the meantime, an online discussion group has also been set up to support the working group; if you are interested in finding out more about how to get involved, please contact Allison Corkery at acorkery@cesr.org.

The core group of organizations and individuals currently guiding the working group are:
  • Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Thailand;
  • La Asociación Civil por la Igualdad y la Justicia (ACIJ), Argentina;
  • Centre for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Hakijamii), Kenya;
  • Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) at Rutgers University, the United States;
  • Centro de Análisis e Investigación (FUNDAR), México;
  • Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS), Argentina;
  • Instituto de Estudos Socioeconômicos (INESC), Brazil;
  • Aoife Nolan, Professor at Nottingham University School of Law, United Kingdom; and
  • Duncan Wilson, Head of Strategy and Legal at the Scottish Human Rights Commission.