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By: Raja Faisal Zahoor/ Shahjhan Mustafa

All humans irrespective of their race, color and creed have fundamental rights that they enjoy rights innate to human beings. These rights explicate individual-power structure relationships. The practice of human rights permits a human to figure his life in liberty, equality and respect. Human rights implicate civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights, as well as collective rights of people.

Long before human rights were written down in international documents and national constitutions, people revealed their commitment to principles of propriety, justice, and caring through cultural practices and oral traditions, revolved around family, tribe, religion, class, community, or state.

The United Nations created a Commission on Human Rights in 1946. Forcefully led by Eleanor Roosevelt, the Commission drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). It includes fundamental rights to life, liberty, and security as well as a broad range of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. On December 10, 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted unanimously by 48 members of the United Nations, with eight countries abstaining.

Today, the promotion of human rights is guided by what is referred to as the International Bill of Rights. It includes the UDHR and two treaties; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. These treaties elaborate on rights identified in the UDHR and, when adopted by individual states, have the force of law. Economic, social, and cultural rights are specified in Articles 16 and 22-29 of the UDHR.

Almost all of the world’s nations have indicated a commitment to achieving full economic, social, and cultural rights by agreeing to the United Nations international covenant on these rights. Human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent, and inalienable. Therefore, the enhancement of all rights; civil, political, economic, social, and cultural must be our goal.

The instrumental importance of human rights to socio economic development flows across four selected pathways: economic inequality, human development, institutions and governance, and conflict and political instability. It reflects on the potential linkages between the implementation of human rights and economic growth.

If human rights related aspects of social development can enable macro-economic growth, then private business would collectively benefit from these gains along with society as a whole. Lower economic inequality and improved human development provide companies with a larger, healthier and better-educated workforce. More effective institutions and governance result in more transparent and predictable operating environments for companies, with less corruption, stronger property rights, and lower costs of doing business.

The recent decade has seen growing attention on the role of companies in relation to human rights and the impact by companies on human rights, rather than the importance of human rights to companies. However, as this responsibility is not a legal requirement, many have debated whether or not companies have a “business case” for respecting human rights.

On balance, current incentives for companies to respect human rights appear weak and uneven. The relationship between business and human rights is subject to a classical free-rider problem. While companies collectively have an interest in human rights as a public good that benefits business, individual companies lack incentives to safeguard and support this public good through responsible business practices. Drawing attention to the importance of human rights for economic development may help mobilize greater support in the business and financial communities as well as in government for human rights and responsible business.

Legal overview:

In adopting the framework of human rights, the Copenhagen Declaration, in conformity with United Nations orthodoxy, places equal importance on all human rights. But realistically, it is economic and social rights that are essential to the Copenhagen agenda. Civil and political rights are undoubtedly important in organizing demands for greater equity and in themselves for facilitating an open and accountable society. But the evidence that these rights also lead to economic and social development is not conclusive. So economic and social rights that directly provide housing, food, education and clothing are crucial. Unfortunately, economic and social rights are so far the Cinderella of rights; they are attacked, conceptually, for lacking the qualifications to be called rights, as the beneficiaries and providers are not easily identified, and even when identified the legal process cannot enforce rights. They are also attacked politically, as increasing state power, and interfering with the autonomy, and assets, of individuals. Thus in so far as economic and social rights are central to the achievement of the Copenhagen agenda, considerable research and lobbying will be necessary to transform these rights into clear and enforceable targets and standards. This will require some intellectual ingenuity and political will, but that it can be done is clear from countries, such as Sri Lanka, that have been able to provide many of these rights despite a relatively poor economy.

The United Nations Charter committed its members to promote higher standards of living, full employment, and conditions of economic and social progress and development and solutions of international economic, social, health and related problems, and international cultural and educational co-operation (art. 55)

Article 22 dictates that everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality. It is often claimed that economic, social and cultural rights are different from other rights in that they are not justifiable and cannot be enforced in courts. State obligations under the ICESCR or national constitutions are not enforceable rights of the people.

However, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has declared that at least some rights in the Covenant were intended for and are capable of immediate and direct application. The difficulties of making social and economic rights enforceable are not persuasive (for a succinct analysis, see Craven, 1995:7–16), nor is it productive to think of rights only in terms of judicial enforcement. It is more valuable to focus on the obligations of states; as has been pointed out; a state’s obligation in relation to all categories of rights may be seen as involving different types of obligations that can be fulfilled variously by positive action, by refraining from acting, or by creating an environment in which rights can be achieved. The fact is that the non-enforceability of economic and social rights springs from the low regard in which these rights are held by dominant national and international groups. However, in recent years increasing attention has been paid to economic and social rights as a result of a series of world conferences such as those on women, children and social development. The 1973 Human Rights Conference endorsed the right to development.

A number of recent national constitutions have incorporated social and economic rights. National courts had already begun to develop jurisprudence facilitating litigation on these rights. Important impetus to their realization was given with the establishment of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1986, which has done valuable work to clarify and elaborate the provisions of the Covenant, and is developing a system of 36 reporting and supervision (Craven, 1995). A number of NGOs have been formed to promote these rights National jurisprudence on economic and social rights will, in conjunction with the General Comments of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, help to establish or refine details of these rights, which in both the Covenant and national laws tend to be rather general. The World Summit for Social Development adopted a human rights framework as part of its strategy to eradicate poverty. The observance of human rights facilitates peaceful co-existence and consequently social and political stability. In order to make human rights the framework for social and economic policies, it is necessary to build a genuine international consensus on their value and importance which is hard to do. The more concrete the issues such as child labour, environment, terms of international trade, intellectual property rights where rights really matter, the more differences seem to divide West and the rest. Human rights will not be secured so long as poverty is not seen as a concern of the rights regime. But this in turn will not happen until the concept of rights is used to mobilize society to demand greater equity


It was once commonly assumed that economic development and human rights were mutually exclusive, that material success and equality of respect for everybody simply could not work together. Now, times are changing, and the new orthodoxy is fast becoming the exact opposite, that you can succeed materially only when you respect the human rights of your people. But is this always the case? Different cultures have different perspectives on ‘human rights’, which is itself a term of contention. Can developing societies afford to commit themselves to the ethical demands of the West? If the developed nations were able to disregard human rights on the way to prosperity, why shouldn’t other countries be able to do the same today?

Raja Faisal Zahoor is a practicing lawyer in the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir at Srinagar. He can be mailed at [email protected].

Shahjhan Mustafa is a writer and peacenik. He can be mailed at [email protected]

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