Strategic Litigation

Our Vision

The Strategic Litigation Working Group works to ensure accountability for violations of economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR) by strengthening the access to competent adjudication and effective remedies to ESCR.

Aims Of Work

ESCR-Net's work on Strategic Litigation of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR) seeks to provide a space for organizations, individual advocates, and academics to share resources and information, discuss key issues, and explore possibilities for collective efforts to support the effective litigation and enforcement of economic, social, and cultural rights.  The main objectives of the Strategic Litigation Working Group are the following:

  • Creating space for the emergence of joint strategies and projects related to strategic litigation of ESCR
  • Strategically supporting cases before the Committee on ESCR under the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (OP-ICESCR)
  • Developing resources and capacity to more effectively demand the legal enforcement of ESCR decisions within domestic, regional and international systems.
  • Making key ESCR cases, including supporting documentation, readily available and searchable for litigators and advocates.

How We Work

The Working Group on Strategic Litigation understands that strategic litigation at the domestic, regional and international levels is an effective tool to ensure accountability for violations of ESCR. Collaboration and mutual support are critical in this rapidly emerging field of human rights practice. Developments in one jurisdiction or region have impacts in many others, and rights claimants face similar obstacles in diverse settings. In order to respond to the priorities of local activists and lawyers, ESCR-Net provides a forum for exchange, learning and relationship-building. The Working Group has organized peer learning workshops in Latin America and Africa, developed a case law database in two languages, published books on strategic litigation and enforcement with participation of actors from different regions, and conducted studies of trends in diverse jurisdictions to facilitate more effective litigation and enforcement strategies. ESCR-Net also maintains an active listserv of those involved in legal advocacy and adjudication of ESCR, providing regular updates on developments and emerging jurisprudence and providing members an opportunity to seek assistance or guidance from a range of knowledgeable experts and practitioners. 

What We Have Achieved Together

  • Strong decisions on ESCR. The Working Group on Strategic Litigation has built on the expertise of its members and partners to produce joint amici curiae, based on international and comparative law, in cases such as the Garissa case,  which yielded a positive decision issued by the Kenyan High Court, applying the ESCR provisions of the new Constitution and recognizing the impact of forced evictions on the right to health care services, information, fair administrative decisions, food and  clean and safe water.
  • New transnational partnerships and projects for the promotion of ESCR. Workshops were organized in Bogota (Colombia) to identify new strategies for enforcement (2010), in Mexico City (Mexico) to create space for national joint action on strategic litigation (2011), in Johannesburg (South Africa) to discuss concrete ESCR cases in fourteen African countries and promote peer learning, and in Argentina, Bosnia Herzegovina, China, Mongolia, Montenegro, Slovakia, Spain, Uruguay in order to discuss the opportunities raised by the new OP-ICESCR. New projects emerged from these workshops, such as an ongoing study on enforcement trends in Nepal and South Africa, commentaries on the enforcement of key ESCR decisions issued by courts around the world, and support for the implementation of the ACHPR ruling on the Endorois case in Kenya and the Sawhoyamaxa case in Paraguay.
  • Bilingual access to key ESCR cases. The Working Group has developed a caselaw database of over 100 ESCR decision, which receives over 500 unique visitors every month, who examine roughly 2,500 pages. Case summaries include updates regarding enforcement; analysis of each case’s significance–often written by lawyers working on the case; and original case documents and secondary sources.
  • New and effective legal mechanisms of protection. Having partnered with the NGO Coalition for the OPICESCR in a campaign that led to the adoption of the Optional Protocol in 2008, the Group is current working with NGOs and lawyers in countries that have ratified the OP-ICESCR, in order to identify and support cases able to set strong precedents before the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
  • Ongoing informal collaboration and support.  Through the listserve, meetings and other networking, members of the Working Group have both received and provided invaluable assistance and support in strategic cases in a wide range of jurisdictions.  Many informal partnerships and support networks have been created, encouraging creative approaches to ESCR litigation and better use of jurisprudence and experiences from a range of jurisdictions. 

Who Is Involved

To effectively guide and facilitate different areas of collective work, the Working Group on Strategic Litigation has developed two steering committees to support its strategic litigation and caselaw database, as well as a group of legal experts to support wider requests for legal support.  The coordinator of the Working Group is Daniela Ikawa, ESCR-Net Secretariat. (

Steering Committee Members:

  • Amnesty International (Iain Byrne), U.K.
  • CELS (Gabriela Kletzel), Argentina
  • Center for Human Rights and Development (Urantsooj Gombosuren), Mongolia
  • DeJusticia (César Rodríguez Garavito), Colombia
  • Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (Hossam Bahgat), Egypt
  • International Commission of Jurists (Sandra Ratjen), Switzerland
  • Human Rights Law Network (Colin Gonsalves), India
  • Malcolm Langford, University of Oslo, Norway
  • The Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Bret Thiele), U.S.
  • The Social Rights Advocacy Center (Bruce Porter), Canada
  • The Socio-Economic Rights Institute (Jackie Dugard), South Africa

For a list of all the Working Group members, please click here.

We are grateful to the historic leadership role of Odindo Opiata (Hakijamii) within the Strategic Litigation Working Group and Steering Committee.

Find Out More

Activities and Actions

  • CESCR and other UN Committees
  • Support to Strategic Litigation
  • Implementation
  • Regional Systems
  • Caselaw Database