COMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has started developing a General Comment on Sustainable Development and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.


Learn more about the General Comment on Sustainable Development and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

The human rights treaty bodies publish their authoritative interpretation of the provisions of their respective human rights treaties, in the form of “general comments” or “general recommendations”. The aim of general comments is to help State parties better implement the rights enshrined in the treaties. Accordingly, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights publishes its authoritative interpretation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The General Comments of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights cover a wide range of subjects, ranging from the right of everyone to take part in cultural life, to business activities and economic, social and cultural rights, and from the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications, to the right to just and favourable conditions of work. All general comments adopted by the Committee can be found here.

Developed in the 1970s, the concept of sustainable development is not explicitly mentioned in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which was adopted in 1966. The significance of sustainable development for the international agenda was stamped by the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, which also reaffirmed the right to development. It has been reinforced by subsequent conferences and is at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development and the Sustainable Development Goals.

In line with its mandate, including in the context of the examination of States parties’ reports, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has advised States on how to discharge the Covenant obligations while pursuing sustainable development.

At one of its sessions, the Committee decided to work on a General Comment to consolidate these observations and views. The elaboration of the General Comment is led by a drafting group composed of five members of the Committee.

The Committee’s drafting group has identified the following ten key themes to explore in its new General Comment, which are of overarching central concern and relevance in considering sustainable development and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights:

  1. Natural resources: Responsible governance and institutions, resource availability, equity in access and limitations in the use
  2. Environmental degradation and biodiversity loss
  3. Climate change, sustainable development, and economic, social and cultural rights
  4. Gender equality
  5. Leave no-one behind: Disadvantaged and marginalised groups and intersectionality
  6. Indigenous Peoples, Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas
  7. Private actors and sustainable development
  8. International co-operation, extra-territorial obligations and transboundary impacts
  9. Remedies and accountability
  10. The interrelationship between sustainable development and key concepts in the Covenant


Preparations for the development of the General Comment on Sustainable Development and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

The drafting of the General Comment is still in its preparatory phase. Informal consultations were held with representatives from civil society organizations and academia in 2019 and 2020, which helped the Committee members put forward some key questions for its future General Comment.

Accordingly, the Committee’s drafting group has prepared an Issues Paper on Sustainable Development and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to serve as a discussion guide and background paper for the preparation of a new General Comment.

In 2021 and 2022, five regional consultations will take place, in order to collect insights from academia, civil society, think tanks, practitioners and experts, focusing on local, national and regional actors and grassroots organizations. The regional consultations serve to facilitate contributions to the work of the drafting group and to discuss fundamental questions concerning sustainable development and economic, social and cultural rights.

So far, a regional consultation focusing on Africa took place on 3 September 2021, another one focusing on the Americas on 7 September 2021, and a third one focusing on Europe on 8 February 2022. The Committee members listened to participants from academia, civil society, think tanks, practitioners and experts, who shared their experiences and insights. The Committee members appreciate the role undertaken by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Dejusticia, and the German Institute for Human Rights in organizing and supporting these regional consultations.

To ensure efficient and candid exchanges, the regional consultations are held under the Chatham House Rule. More information is available below under “Regional Consultations".

Two more regional consultations are scheduled to take place in 2022, one for the Asia-Pacific region and one for the Middle East-North Africa region. If you wish to participate in these regional consultations, you can find more information on how to contact the organizers under “Regional Consultations” below.

In April 2022, the Committee members are planning to meet with children from around the globe to listen to their views and opinions on sustainable development and economic, social and cultural rights. This will be the first time that the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights engages with children in such a setting. The Committee members appreciate the role undertaken by Child Rights Connect, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, German Institute for Human Rights and the Human Rights Law Centre at the University of Nottingham in organizing and supporting the Children’s Global Consultation on Sustainable Development and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Following these consultations, the Committee is planning to hold a Day of General Discussion at a later stage. More information will be available in due course. You can learn more about the Committee’s general discussion days by clicking here.

The Committee will then prepare a zero draft of the General Comment. It will publish the zero draft on its website and issue a call for written contributions. By way of public consultation, the Committee will invite interested stakeholders, including States, national human rights institutions, civil society organizations, academics, international and regional organizations and experts, to make a written contribution to the draft of the General Comment. More information will follow in due course.



How can you take part in this process?

In 2021 and 2022, five online regional consultations are planned to take place in order to collect insights from academia, civil society, think tanks, practitioners and experts, focusing on local, national and regional actors and grassroots organizations. The regional consultations serve to facilitate contributions to the work of the drafting group and to discuss fundamental questions concerning sustainable development and economic, social and cultural rights. The Committee members appreciate the role undertaken by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Dejusticia, and German Institute for Human Rights in organizing and supporting these regional consultations.

Planned regional consultations:
- Africa, 3 September 2021
- Americas, 7 September 2021
- Europe, 8 February 2022
- Asia and the Pacific, 28 April 2022
- Middle East and North Africa, 19 May 2022

To ensure efficient and candid exchanges, the regional consultations are held under the Chatham House Rule. If you wish to know more about or participate in future regional consultations, you can contact the organizers mentioned above, or send an email to ohchr-cescr-sd@un.org for further information.

On the 5th and 6th of April 2022, the Committee members are meeting for the first time with children from all around the world to gather their views and input on sustainable development and economic, social and cultural rights. This online consultation will help Committee members develop a new guidance document, called a General Comment, for governments and other organizations and groups. The goal of the General Comment is to make clearer how sustainable development connects with and affects the rights set out in the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.

Children’s opinions are very important for the Committee because children are amongst the rights-holders under the Covenant and their economic, social and cultural rights are impacted by the actions of States. During the meeting, the following three themes will be discussed:
- Equality and non-discrimination
- The impact of climate change and environmental harm on realizing economic, social and cultural rights
- Sustainable Development and Natural Resources

Of course, children can share their views about other questions and topics they see relevant. The main languages for the consultation will be English, Spanish and French, but those speaking other languages can ask an adult to assist.

After the consultation, children will receive updates on how their input has been taken into account in the drafting of the General Comment. They will also find out about new opportunities to engage in the General Comment process and will be invited to participate in an event called a Day of General Discussion.

Want to find out more? Click here for more information about the event. The Children’s Global Consultation on Sustainable Development and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is organized and supported by Child Rights Connect, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, German Institute for Human Rights and the Human Rights Law Centre at the University of Nottingham.

Following these consultations, the Committee is planning to hold a Day of General Discussion at a later stage. More information will be available in due course. You can learn more about the Committee’s general discussion days by clicking here.

Following the consultations and the Day of General Discussion, the Committee will prepare a zero draft of the General Comment. It will publish the zero draft on its website, and issue a call for written contributions. By way of public consultation, the Committee will invite interested stakeholders, including States, national human rights institutions, civil society organizations, academics, international and regional organizations and experts, to make a written contribution to the draft of the General Comment. More information will follow in due course.


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