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The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 16 December 1966 and entered into force on 3 January 1976, after 35 States parties had ratified it.

This Covenant and the CCPR build on the rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Together, the Universal Declaration and these two Covenants form the International Bill of Human Rights.

How does it protect people?

The ICESCR aims to ensure the protection of economic, social and cultural rights including:

  • Freedom from discrimination
  • Right to equality between men and women
  • Right to work
  • Freedom to choose and accept work
  • Right to just and favourable conditions at work
  • Right to form trade unions
  • Right to strike
  • Right to social security
  • Right of mothers to special protection before and after birth
  • Freedom of children from social and economic exploitation
  • Right to an adequate standard of living
  • Freedom from hunger
  • Right to health
  • Right to education
  • Freedom of parents to choose schooling for their children
  • Right to take part in cultural life
  • Right to enjoy benefits of science
  • Right of authors to moral and material interests from works
  • Freedom to undertake scientific research and creative activity
Background to the Optional Protocol

In addition to the reporting procedure, the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (OP-ICESCR), which entered into force on 5th May 2013, allows the Committee to:

  • receive and consider communications from individuals claiming that their rights under the Covenant have been violated;
  • undertake inquiries on grave or systematic violations of any of the economic, social and cultural rights set forth in the Covenant;
  • consider inter-state complaints.

When people cannot access justice in the courts of their country for violations of economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR), they can bring a complaint to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR). However, their country must first become a party to the OP-ICESCR treaty through ratification or accession.

Steps in preparing the Covenant and Optional Protocol

Discussion days were held in 1996 and 1995.

A draft optional protocol to the Covenant E/C.12/1995/SR.50

Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights