ESCR-Net's response to The Economist Article

March 22nd, 2007.


Amnesty International has chosen the best way to effectively campaign for civil and political rights.  By broadening its mandate, Amnesty has not followed ”an intellectual fashion” but recognized that violations of basic economic and social rights are often the root cause of gross violations of civil and political rights.     

Your criticism is based on misconceptions and fails to recognize the legal and political evolution of human rights since World War II.   

You ask: “Are not access to jobs, housing, health care and food basic rights too?” The answer is yes, according to the wide consensus of the international community, at least since 1948, when economic and social rights together with civil and political rights were globally recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) has been ratified by close to 80% of the countries of the world, and all regional human rights system, as well as several national constitutions, recognize economic and social rights.  

Furthermore, we would ask: what is more universal than the human need to eat or to drink clean water?     The distinction between civil and political rights and economic and social rights is fallacious; it ignores the complexity of human life and the fact that both categories of rights are integral to a life of dignity and freedom. National and international courts have increasingly dealt with claims regarding social and economic rights, clarifying the content and scope of state obligations.

When a government does not guarantee access to primary health care or deprives children of access to education, the victims, perpetrator and remedy are “pretty clear.” 

Finally, history has thoroughly demonstrated that the recognition of civil and political rights is not sufficient to guarantee basic economic rights.  In the United States, 37 million people are living below the poverty line.  

Julieta Rossi
International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights