Sustainable Development and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Completed in December 2022

For at least the past 20 years, the United Nations (UN) has underlined the need to adopt a human rights-based approach to development. In the 1993 Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action the World Conference on human rights (HR) agreed that ‘democracy, development and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms are interdependent and mutually reinforcing.’ In 1997, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan asked for HR to be mainstreamed within the activities of all UN specialised agencies, programmes and funds.

Promoting the Complementarity between Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Development

This project aimed to raise awareness about the complementarity of HR and development by analyzing the relationship between economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR) and global development goals, namely the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted in 2000 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted in 2015.

Between 2008 and 2015, in the context of the MDGs, the project focused on the promotion of the right to food to fight extreme poverty and hunger (MDG 1), and on the contribution of UN Special Procedures to the human rights and development dialogue.

Research on ESCR and the SDGs

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2015 is ‘grounded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (and) international human rights treaties’ and envisages a world of ‘universal respect for human rights and human dignity, the rule of law, justice, equality and non-discrimination’. The SDGs, which aim to eradicate poverty, and to guarantee equal access to social security, food, health care, education, housing, water and sanitation incorporate most of the core elements of ESCR as these are articulated in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The 2030 Agenda also places a strong emphasis on ensuring that its implementation, follow up and review processes are participatory, rights-based and effective, with a call for the active participation of the ‘United Nations System’.

Since 2016, our work aimed to support this approach. We focus on the role that UN HR mechanisms can play in monitoring the SDGs that seek to realize ESCR, notably through the organization of expert seminars and workshops, various publications, participation in High-Level Political Forum meetings and a training course on the subject.

Partners

We worked in partnership with the Swiss Government, the International Solidarity Service of the State of Geneva, UN agencies, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN human rights experts – in particular, treaty body members and Special Procedures on ESCR – and civil society organizations, including the Center for Economic and Social Rights, and the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.

 

 

NEWS

Participants in the training course on ESCR and the SDGs in Geneva News

Practitioners Develop Tools to Integrate Human Rights and the SDGs in their Work

21 September 2020

Due to the COVID-19 crisis, the training course took place both in Geneva and online – with four participants in Geneva and nine online.

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View of the UN Human Rights Council News

A Practical Manual on the Role of UN Human Rights Mechanisms in Monitoring the SDGs that Seek to Realize Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

30 June 2020

Our new Practical Manual precisely outlines the role of UN human rights mechanisms – UN treaty bodies, the UN Human Rights Council and its Special Procedures – in monitoring the SDGs that seek to realize ESCR.

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Photo of Christophe Golay News

Meet our Researchers: Christophe Golay

28 January 2020

Dr Christophe Golay is Senior Research Fellow and Strategic Adviser on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR) at the Geneva Academy. He is involved in several research projects on the right to food, the rights of peasants, as well as ESCR and the SDGs

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OUTPUT

The Right to Food and the Fight Against Hunger (MDG 1)

Between 2008 and 2012 we published a series of books and journal articles to promote the right to food as a tool to fight hunger and malnutrition (MDG 1). With the same objective, we drafted three studies published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

In Human Rights and Desertification, we explored the complementarity of international human rights law and the UNCCD to help States reaching MDG 1, through better protecting the right to food of people whose livelihood is threatened by desertification.

In The Fight for the Right to Food: Lessons Learned, we documented and analyzed the experiences of the UN's first Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, looking at key practical challenges to the realization of MDG 1, through experiences in eleven countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America.

 In The Right to Food and Access to Justice (also available in French, Spanish and Portuguese), we summarized the findings of our book Droit à l’alimentation et accès à la justice and analyzed where victims of violations of the right to food can access effective remedies, and how access to justice can support the fight against hunger at national, regional and international levels.

In The Food Crisis and Food Security: Towards a New World Food Order? we analyzed the impact of the 2008 food crisis on MDG 1, and how the crisis might have led to a new world food order, in which the right to food would be one of the three pillars to fight hunger, together with food assistance and food security.

In The Right to Food and Global Strategic Frameworks, we provided guidance on how the right to food could best be integrated into the two main global frameworks designed to fight hunger and malnutrition – the Comprehensive Framework for Action developed by the UN High Level Task Force on Global Food Security, and the Global Strategic Framework for Food Security and Nutrition developed by the World Food Summit on Food Security.

ESCR and the MDGs

In 2012, we organized two expert meetings on ESCR and the MDGs with the participation of several UN Special Procedures. The MDGs were described as a missed opportunity to integrate HR into development programming. The debate also focused on the need to better include HR within the post-2015 framework.

We also submitted a contribution to the Post-2015 High Level Panel of Eminent Persons created by the UN Secretary General, asking the Panel to include greater attention to ESCR, access to justice and legal empowerment of the poor in shaping the post‐2015 agenda.

We then published an academic journal article on the contribution of UN Special Procedures to the HR and development dialogue during the MDG period (also available in Spanish and Portuguese).

ESCR and the SDGs

The practical manual #ESCR AND #SDGs, the 100-page long publication No One Will Be Left Behind and the 6-page long Research Brief on ESCR and SDGs look at the role of UN human rights mechanisms in monitoring the SDGs that seek to realize ESCR. They describe the convergence between the SDGs and ESCR, and highlight that they should be seen as mutually reinforcing: ESCR can offer a legal basis and guidance in the implementation of SDGs, and the SDGs can increase support for the realization of ESCR.

These publications also underline that the weakness of the 2030 Agenda lies in its accountability framework, based on voluntary national reviews and peer-reviewed soft guidance. In that context, UN human rights mechanisms can give the SDGs a strong legal basis and provide a means of accountability via independent mechanisms.

Via their unique expertise in monitoring the realization of ESCR in UN Member States, in promoting equality and non-discrimination and in pushing for the adoption of laws, policies and programmes that target the most vulnerable, UN human rights mechanisms can also ensure that no one will be left behind in the realization of the SDGs.

These publications do not only highlight the need to fully integrate human rights in the implementation and monitoring of SDGs, but also provide a set of very concrete recommendations to states, UN human rights mechanisms, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the High Level Political Forum to do so.

Publications

Cover of the publication

Building Back Better with the Rights to Health, Food and Social Security

December 2022

Christophe Golay, Steven L. B. Jensen and Amanda Lyons

The Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights

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Cover page of the manual

Briefing No°16: #ESCR AND #SDGs: Practical Manual on the Role of UN Human Rights Mechanisms in Monitoring the SDGs that Seek to Realize Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

July 2020

Christophe Golay

The Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights

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Cover page of the Research Brief

Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Sustainable Development Goals

May 2018

Christophe Golay

The Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights

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Cover of the Briefing

Briefing No°11: No One will be Left Behind - The Role of UN Human Rights Mechanisms in Monitoring the SDGs that Seek to Realize ESCR

January 2018

Christophe Golay

The Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights

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Cover of the In-Brief No2: The Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Econimic, Social and Cultural Rights

The Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Econimic, Social and Cultural Rights

July 2013

Irene Biglino, Christophe Golay

Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights

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Past Events

Entreprises et Corruption: Comment Redistribuer les Profits Mal Acquis?

29 November 2022, 19:00-21:00

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MORE ON THIS THEMATIC AREA

Forest from below News

New Publication Explores National Uptake of the Human Right to a Clean, Healthy and Sustainable Environment

25 March 2024

Our new Research Brief The Human Right to a Clean, Healthy and Sustainable Environment explores the national recognition of this human right.

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Dr Golay at the European Parliament News

Dr Golay Addresses the European Parliament on Peasants’ Right to Seeds

8 December 2023

At a conference at the European Parliament, our Senior Research Fellow Dr Christophe Golay discussed the compatibility of the draft law proposed by the European Commission with the international legal framework protecting the right to food and the rights of peasants.

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Wheat field Project

The Right to Seeds in Europe

Started in January 2018

The project will notably identify the main opportunities and obstacles to protect the right to seeds in Europe. It will also discuss how to promote changes in European laws, policies and trade agreements to ensure that they do not infringe, but facilitate the realization of peasants’ right to seeds.

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Crops view from the sky Project

The Right to Food in Europe

Started in December 2022

This research will provide legal expertise to a variety of stakeholders on the implementation of the right to food, and on the right to food as a legal basis for just transformation toward sustainable food systems in Europe. It will also identify lessons learned from the 2023 recognition of the right to food in the Constitution of the Canton of Geneva.  

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Cover page of the research brief Publication

Le Droit aux Semences en Afrique

published on June 2023

Christophe Golay, Karine Peschard

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