The Committee on ESC rights

Thursday 17 September 2009 by International Programme Coordination


Unlike what had been done for the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, no expert committee was created to monitor the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The Committee on ESC rights got its authority and competence from the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) which created it in 1985.

The Committee met in 1987 in Geneva for the first time, and now holds a three-week session twice a year – generally in May and November.


The Committee is composed of 18 independent experts who get elected for four years by the ECOSOC in compliance with the geographic representativeness principle. Their mandate can be renewed. The Committee elects its chairperson and vice-persons.

The working methods of the Committee are presented on its web pages, on the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights:


The Committee’s main mission is to verify that States Parties implement the Covenant within the framework of a “constructive dialogue”.

States, within two years after the entry into force of the Covenant in their country, present their first report to the Committee, and then periodic reports every five years. In these governmental reports, states debrief in details and under the Committee’s instructions on the status of ESC rights implementation and difficulties encountered.

The States Parties to the Covenant undertake in conformity with articles 16 and 17 to submit reports on the (legislative, judicial, political and other) measures which they have adopted to achieve the observance of ESC rights. Reports may indicate factors and difficulties affecting the degree of fulfilment of the obligations. States must report initially within two years of accepting the Covenant and thereafter every five years.

Why is there such an obligation to submit reports?

The Committee has emphasised that reporting obligations under the Covenant fulfil seven key objectives. In its General Comment No. 1 (1989) (1), the Committee stated these objectives as follows:

  • To ensure that a State Party undertakes a comprehensive review of national legislation, administrative rules and procedures, and practices in order to assure the fullest conformity possible with the Covenant;
  • To ensure that the State Party regularly evaluates the actual situation of each of the enumerated rights in order to assess the extent to which the various rights are being enjoyed by all individuals within the country;
  • To provide a basis for the government’s elaboration of clearly stated and carefully targeted policies for implementing the Covenant;
  • To facilitate public scrutiny of government policies regarding the implementation of the Covenant, and to encourage the involvement of the various sectors of society in the formulation, implementation and review of relevant policies;
  • To provide a basis on which both the State Party and the Committee can effectively evaluate progress towards the realisation of the obligations contained in the Covenant;
  • To enable the State Party to develop a better understanding of problems and shortcomings impeding the realisation of ESC rights;

To facilitate the exchange of information among State Parties and to help develop a fuller appreciation of both common problems and possible solutions in the realisation of each of the rights contained in the Covenant.

(1) Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Reporting by States parties: CESCR General comment 1. (General Comments), 24 February, 1989, E/1989/22

Violations of the ICESCR by States Parties

The Limburg Principles (2) on the Implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights list the following circumstances amounting to violations of the Covenant by a State Party:

  • The State Party fails to take a step the Covenant requires it to take;
  • The State Party fails to remove promptly obstacles which it is obligated to remove to permit the immediate fulfilment of a right;
  • The State Party fails to implement without delay a right which the Covenant requires it to provide immediately;
  • The State Party wilfully fails to meet a generally accepted international minimum standard of achievement which is within its powers to meet;
  • The State Party applies a limitation recognized in the Covenant in a manner not in accordance with the Covenant;
  • The State Party deliberately retards or halts the progressive realisation of a right, unless it is acting within a limitation permitted by the Covenant or it does so because of a lack of available resources;
  • The State Party fails to submit reports as required under the Covenant.

(2) A group of distinguished experts in international law met in Maastricht from 2 to 6 June 1986 to consider the nature and scope of the obligations of States parties to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The Limburg Principles reflect their conclusions. The text is accessible in the following document: United Nations, Economic and Social Council, Substantive issues arising in the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Day of General Discussion Organized in Cooperation with the World Intellectual Property Organization, 2 october 2000, E/C.12/2000/13

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