CESCR: Work of human rights defenders essential to just and favourable conditions of work for all

09.03.2016

An authoritative new legal commentary recognises that restrictions and attacks against human rights defenders may amount to a violation of the economic, social and cultural rights for which they advocate. 

(Geneva) – The work of human rights defenders is essential to secure just and favourable conditions of work for all persons, according to an authoritative new legal commentary published by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The commentary establishes that, pursuant to article 7 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, States have a legal obligation to protect and promote the work of defenders as an aspect of their legal obligation to ensure just and favourable conditions of work for all. This obligation includes facilitating defenders’ access to information and respecting and enabling the exercise of their rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly and public participation.

‘This new General Comment is significant in that it implicitly recognises that attacks or harassment of workers' rights defenders, or restrictions on the exercise of their rights, may amount to a violation of article 7 of ICESCR itself,’ said Lucy McKernan of the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

‘This authoritative legal commentary makes clear that States have a positive obligation to promote and protect the work and the civil and political rights of ESC rights defenders as part of their broader obligation to fulfil economic, social and cultural rights,’ said Ben Leather of the International Service for Human Rights.

Both ISHR and the GI-ESCR provided inputs to inform the content of the expert commentary, which says at paragraph 49 that:

‘Human rights defenders should be able to contribute to the full realisation of Covenant rights for all, free from any form of harassment. States parties should respect, protect and promote the work of human rights defenders and other civil society actors towards the realisation of the right to just and favourable conditions of work, including by facilitating access to information and enabling the exercise of their rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly, and public participation.’

The adoption of the General Comment comes as the UN Human Rights Council is negotiating a resolution on the protection of human rights defenders working on economic, social and cultural rights.

‘Consistent with CESCR’s new General Comment, the Norwegian led-resolution being negotiated at the Human Rights Council should explicitly recognise that attacks on defenders can lead to violations or lack of fulfillment of the ESC rights for which they advocate,’ Mr Leather said.

According to Ms McKernan, consistently with the General Comment and in the year in which the ICCPR and the ICESCR both celebrate their 50th anniversary, the resolution should also reaffirm the indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights. ‘Recognition, protection and exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly, protest and public participation are essential to the promotion, protection and fulfilment of all ESC rights,’ she said.

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is a body of independent experts mandated to provide guidance and assess compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. A General Comment adopted by the Committee is recognised as an authoritative statement on the content, scope, application and implementation of rights under the Covenant.

The Committee adopted General Comment No 23 on the right to just and favourable conditions of work in March 2016.

Contacts:

Category:

Mechanism
  • Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR)
  • UN Human Rights Council