What are Economic, Social & Cultural Rights?

What are Economic, Social &
Cultural Rights?
Dr Liam Thornton, UCD School of Law
& UCD Human Rights Network
[email protected]
1. Defining Economic, Social and Cultural (ESC)
2. Exploring ESC Rights & Duties
3. Sub-Constitutional Protection of ESC Rights in
Irish Law & Practice
4. Systems for Protecting & Adjudicating on ESC
1. Defining Economic, Social &
Cultural (ESC) Rights
Economic Rights
Social Rights
Cultural Rights
The Interdependent Nature of All
Civil & Political Rights potentially engaging ESC rights: Right to life,
Prohibition on inhuman and degrading treatment; right to private and
family life; etc.
Where do ESC Rights Come From?
• Obligations under International Law
– International Covenant on Economic, Social & Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
& other International human rights treaties (Children, Women)
• Obligations under European Law
– EU law i.e. EU Charter of Fundamental Rights
– Council of Europe Law (European Social Charter &
European Convention on Human Rights)
• Obligations under Irish Law
– Constitution
– Legislation
2. ESC Rights & Duties:
International Obligations
International Covenant on Economic, Social
& Cultural Rights (ICESCR): Duties to
Respect, Protect & Fulfil
• Duty to Respect
– No unreasonable limitations on exercising right to work;
– No arbitrary eviction of families from a home.
• Duty to Protect
– Protection from exploitative employment practices;
– Enabling redress if ESC rights violated
• Duty to Fulfil
– State raises awareness of & access to ESC rights
– State adopts policies to ensure realisation of ESC rights;
– In certain situations, State ensures provision of ESC rights
Legal Obligations under ICESCR
• Duty to ‘progressively realise’ ESC rights
– State must work as quickly and effectively as possible to meet ESC rights.
• To ‘maximum of available resources’ ESC rights
• Cannot rely on these provisions under other international treaties
on rights of children, persons with disabilities, rights of women etc.
• Exceptionally strong justifications needed to withdraw or diminish
pre-exisiting ESC rights.
• Equality & Non-Discrimination: States may be permitted to
distinguish the enjoyment of ESC rights for people if distinctions are
reasonable, legitimate and proportionate.
3. Sub-Constitutional ESC Rights
in Irish Law & Practice
1. This is not a systematic evaluation
of the adequacy or inadequacy of
the ESC rights protected under
Irish Law
2. Mainly focusing on ESC rights that
have legislative underpinning
Economic Rights
• Property rights protected
– Limitations i.e. subject to planning laws!
• Right to work & minimum conditions of
– But limitations i.e. it is a criminal offence for
asylum seekers to enter employment
Social Rights
• Those who have a right to reside in Ireland
and are habitually resident can enjoy social
security and social assistance payments:
carers allowance, child benefit, old age
pension, family income supplement etc.
• Other Social Rights: medical cards; housing,
including Traveller accommodation; landlord
and tenant protections etc.
Cultural Rights
• Support (monetarily or in kind) for museums,
cultural events etc.
• Religious protections
• Protection of languages, including constitutional
recognition of Irish language;
• Equality legislation & incitement to hatred
4. Systems and Processes for
Adjudicating ESC Rights
International & European
Adjudication Systems for ESC Rights
• Judicial
– European Court of Human Rights i.e. Airey v Ireland
(1979), legal assistance.
– Court of Justice of the European Union, M.E v Ireland
(2011), socio-economic rights of asylum seekers.
• Monitoring:
– UN Committee on Economic, Social & Cultural Rights
– European Committee on Social Rights (European
Social Charter (Revised))
Domestic Adjudicating Systems for
ESC Rights
• The Courts
– Adjudication on right to private and family life under ECHR Act
2003, Courts protected the socio-economic right to shelter in
two cases (O’Donnell (2007) & O’Donnell (2008))
• Decision Making & Appeals
• To what extent are decisions made on the basis of ESC
rights protection?
Social Security & Social Assistance Bodies
Employment Rights Bodies
Ombudsman: Ombudsman Office, Ombudsman for Children,
Irish Human Rights Commission

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