South Africa-Seminar on State’s obligations in relation to implementation and reporting under the ICESCR and OP-ICESCR

South African members of the NGO Coalition, Community Law Centre (CLC) and Socio Economic Rights Institute (SERI) together with their partners People Health's Movements South Africa, Black Sash, GCAP,  Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute (SPII) and the National Welfare Social Services & Development Forum, have carried out a Seminar on the ICESCR and its OP as part of the National Campaign for the Ratification of these treaties by South Africa. Read brief report here.

Prof. Sandra Liebenberg made the following comprehensive presentation on the topic:

State’s Obligations in relation to Implementation and reporting under the ICESCR and OP-ICESCR

ICESCR Ratification Campaign- 28 March 2014 Seminar


Sandra Liebenberg, HF Oppenheimer Professor of Human Rights Law, Co-Director, Socio-Economic Rights and Administrative Justice Project (SERAJ), University of Stellenbosch Law Faculty


Together with its sister-Covenant, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) represent the fundamental human rights commitments of the international community. They were adopted to give concrete legal force and effect to the human rights commitments in the United Nations Charter (1945) as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). The Economic and Social Rights Covenant – ratified by 161 States – is based on the values of recognising the inherent dignity, potential and equality each person. It seeks to give effect to these values in the context of people’s basic material needs.  There is a close synergy with the foundational values of the South African Constitution of human dignity, equality and freedom and the inclusion of economic, social and cultural rights as justiciable rights in the Bill of Rights. As former President Nelson Mandela said in supporting the inclusion of socio-economic rights in the Constitution:

“A simple vote, without food, shelter and health care is to use first generation rights as a smokescreen to obscure the deep underlying forces which dehumanise people. It is to create an appearance of equality and justice, which by implication socio-economic inequality is entrenched. We do not want freedom without bread, nor do we want bread without freedom. We must provide for all the fundamental rights and freedoms associated with a democratic society.”[1]

Accession to this treaty has taken an extraordinarily long time when one considers that it was signed over 20 years ago on the occasion of the historical first visit of former President Nelson Mandela to the United Nations General Assembly. Its sister Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was signed at the same time, but ratified in 1998. South Africa acceded to the two optional protocols to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights providing respectively for an individual communications procedure and the abolition of the death penalty in 2002. This delay is out of sync with South Africa’s own commitment to the interdependence of all human rights reflected by its integration of civil, political, economic, social, cultural and environmental rights in its holistic, internally renowned Bill of Rights. However, the accession process to the Covenant – as announced by Cabinet in its decision of 10 October 2012 – is now proceeding.

The question I will focus on is how this vitally important international human rights treaty can help in meeting South Africa major goals of reducing poverty and inequality.  I highlight three areas – expanding the scope of socio-economic rights; developing rights-based indicators for poverty reduction, and enhancing accountability for socio-economic rights violations.

Read complete presentation

[1] N.R Mandela ‘Address: On the occasion of the ANC’s Bill of Rights conference’ in A Bill of Rights for a Democratic South Africa: Papers and Report of a Conference Convened by the ANC Constitutional Committee, May 1991 (1991) 9 – 14 at 12.


Working Group(s):