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Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Rights or Privileges?

28 Pages Posted: 26 Dec 2008  

Demola Okeowo

Peter A. Allard School of Law, UBC

Date Written: December 12, 2008


Since 3rd January, 1976 when the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights entered into force, gallons of juristic ink have been spilled globally by legal pundits in examining the nature and scope of what is now widely known as economic, social and cultural rights. While the adoption of the treaty has recorded yet another milestone in the protection of international human rights, opinions differ as to whether these ideals could be recognized as 'rights properly so called' under international law. The classification of socio-economic rights as non-justiciable 'positive' rights requiring the dedication of significant State resources for their realization, as opposed to 'negative' civil and political rights requiring only that the State refrain from encroaching on specified areas of the life of the individual, considerably oversimplified the legal challenges which the Covenant raises. Several reasons have been given by critics of economic, social and cultural rights with a view to establishing the fact that these sets of rights are not rights per se but mere privileges accorded by the State to individuals as per its available resources. Are economic, social and cultural rights really 'rights' or 'privileges'? Are states bound to respect these rights? Are they truly enforceable? What effort is being made at the international and regional levels to give effect to these rights? What is the justiciable status of these rights in national arena?

Keywords: ICESCR, Justiciability, Rights, Privileges, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Civil and Political Rights

Suggested Citation

Okeowo, Demola, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Rights or Privileges? (December 12, 2008). Available at SSRN: or

Ademola Oladimeji Okeowo (Contact Author)

Peter A. Allard School of Law, UBC

1822 East Mall
Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z1

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