Skip to main content

Countdown to Human Rights Day

The time for human rights is now!

Learn more

Press releases Special Procedures

UN human rights experts call for international action on social justice

Action on social justice

17 February 2017

World Day of Social Justice – Monday 20 February 2017

GENEVA (17 February 2017) – Two United Nations human rights experts* are calling on governments around the world to honour World Day of Social Justice on 20 February by taking action now for a fairer society. They say ensuring human dignity for everyone needs appropriate social justice policies to be implemented not only domestically but also internationally. Their joint statement is as follows:

“All UN members have in effect committed themselves to advancing peace and human dignity, as set out in the UN Charter and its preamble. This commitment needs action now for a better, fairer future with greater social justice. This would ensure that States honour their pledge to establish conditions under which justice and respect can be maintained, and social progress and better standards of living promoted.

This requires policy space by States and more flexibility – not less – to better meet the economic and social challenges of the 21st century. International solidarity should ensure that all States benefit from globalization and that no one is left behind.

Every human being has the right to a standard of living that ensures adequate health and well-being for individuals and their families; this includes access to food, clothing, housing, health care and social services. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which sets out these rights, also makes clear that all people are entitled to a social and international order in which their rights and freedoms can be fully realized.

In the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, countries agreed to move individually and through international assistance and co-operation towards realizing these rights.  The general comments of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights lay down the roadmap.

We point to the many resolutions by the UN General Assembly on the issue of social justice and, in particular, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and its 17 goals which include commitments to eradicate poverty, provide clean, affordable energy, promote peaceful and inclusive societies, and implement nationally appropriate social protection systems for all, including social protection floors.

Not only the UN organization itself, but also the specialized agencies and members of the UN family, play an important role in achieving social justice. Indeed, social development is central to the aspirations of people throughout the world to live in peaceful, just and equitable societies that ensure the fair distribution of income, access to resources, equality of opportunities for all, and participation in the global market through competition on a level playing field.

The promotion of social justice has gone hand in hand with advances in human rights awareness, particularly with regard to the duties of States towards citizens. But much remains to be done to translate this awareness into reality.

Unfortunately, there is no such broad-based international awareness of the impact on human rights of the actions of foreign entities, whether states, international organizations like the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund or private sector actors, including transnational corporations. The actions of some of these ‘external actors’ may well have a severe negative impact on human rights in many countries, particularly in developing economies condemned by poverty.

While regional human rights courts can consider injustices that arise as a result of ill-advised national legislation, there is no similar monitoring or corrective procedure with universal jurisdiction to consider issues created by the actions of external actors.

These include the adverse human rights impact of regimes subject to international sanctions, the external imposition of austerity measures by international finance organizations, privatization of public services and impediments to sovereign debt restructuring.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development has already documented these problems in numerous reports, but international action to advance social justice has been lacking.

In order to achieve sustainable peace in the world, we must all work for social justice in international solidarity. As the motto of the International Labour Organization puts it: ‘If you want peace, cultivate social justice’.”

(*) The experts:  Mr. Alfred de Zayas, Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, and Mr. Idriss Jazairy, Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights.

The Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests, please contact Mr. Thibaut Guillet (+41 22 917 93 89 / [email protected]) or write to [email protected]

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, OHCHR Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / [email protected])

Tag and share - Twitter: @UNHumanRights and Facebook: unitednationshumanrights