Apart from the various instruments within the African Human Rights System another important human rights law is in the International Bill of Human Rights, which includes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights . Economic and social rights are also included in numerous other human rights legal instruments. Among the most important are:
• Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
• Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
• Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD)
• Vienna World Conference on Human Rights Declaration and Plan of Action
• Conventions of the International Labour Organization
• The Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, yet to come into force.
You Can Help Us Secure Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
States are bound to ensure minimum human rights regardless of their resource constraints. No excuse. For ESC rights, minimum core requirements include available foodstuffs for the population, essential primary health care, basic shelter and housing, and the most basic forms of education. The Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights elaborated on state obligations under General Comment 3: The Nature of States Parties Obligations.
How do states fulfil their minimum requirements? Every government in the world has certain responsibilities regarding its citizens. The human rights legal framework spells out those responsibilities with the following three obligations:
(1) Respect – the obligation to respect requires governments to refrain from interfering directly or indirectly with the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights;
(2) Protect – the obligation to protect requires governments to prevent third parties, such as corporations, from interfering in any way with the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights;
(3) Fulfil – the obligation to fulfil requires governments to adopt the necessary measures to achieve the full realization of economic, social and cultural rights.
At the regional and international level, the most effective enforcement mechanism for all international human rights is political pressure. For our purpose, the most relevant institution to protect such rights is the African Commission.
The African Commission, which was created by Article 30-45 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, monitors the implementation of the rights set out in the Charter. All 54 African States are parties to the Charter. The African Commission is tasked with promoting and protecting human rights by interpreting the African Charter and considering individual complaints. Established in 1986 and located in Banjul, The Gambia, the commission hears cases from the 54 Member States of the African Union.
At the international level, states that have ratified the ICESCR are required to submit regular reports every five years to the Committee on Economic and Social Rights that detail their human rights standards. When these reports are reviewed, it provides an excellent opportunity for civil society and the international community at large to put pressure on a country to adhere to its legal obligations. To learn more about how to work with the Committee, please refer CESR’s Activist’s Manual on the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, prepared by Jeff King for CESR and the Sri Lankan-based Law and Society Trust.
What about non-state actors?
They are equally bound to observe and protect human rights. Human rights treaties are signed by governments, and are the duty of governments to enforce. However, this does not mean that non-state actors are free to violate people’s human rights.
There are three main ways to apply human rights standards to non-state actors.
• First, governments have the primary responsibility to protect human rights, including from violations by non-state actors.
• Second, individuals may enforce their basic rights through judicial action.
• Finally, non-state actors are bound to respect human rights standards through the universal protection of human dignity.
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