The year 1998 marks the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and coincides with the Five Year Implementation Review of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, adopted at the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights. A flurry of UN and NGO activities have accompanied this year of commemoration and review, notably focusing on calls to give greater priority to the protection and promotion of economic, social and cultural rights.

These sets of rights, which include the rights to an adequate standard of living, food, health, education, housing and work, are widely perceived not to have been given the same status and priority as civil and political rights, such as the rights to free expression and fair trial. However, economic and social rights are now presented by a growing number of actors, including governments, UN bodies and NGOs, as crucial and indispensable complements to the protection and promotion of civil and political rights. These calls are reinforced by a growing perception that economic and social rights are increasingly being eroded by the momentous disruptions brought about by economic globalization.

Mainstreaming of Human Rights

Although a few UN agencies such as the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) have taken a human rights approach to their policy work for a number of years, the 1997 reform plans of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to mainstream human rights across all areas of the organization's work, including social and economic affairs and development, has played a catalytic role. These initiatives are filtering through the UN system in numerous ways, including developing a common approach for enhancing the human rights dimension in development operations in the process of elaborating the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) to apply to UN country-level activities.

The newly-consolidated Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), headed by Mary Robinson, plays a central role in this mainstreaming effort. Ms. Robinson has repeatedly stressed her intention to place more emphasis on economic, social and cultural rights in order to restore the balance between all categories of rights. OHCHR is establishing partnerships with a number of other UN bodies that have integrated, or intend to develop, a human rights approach to their economic and social work. For instance, it has recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which this year published a policy document on Integrating Human Rights with Sustainable Human Development. The Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has announced that his organization will examine, in cooperation with the OHCHR, the economic implications of human rights instruments in UNCTAD's work. Likewise, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is actively cooperating with the OHCHR on issues related to the implementation of the right to food. Ms. Robinson has established regular dialogue with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank and sits on all four executive committees of the UN Secretary-General, who defined human rights in his reform programme as a "cross-cutting issue."

In their respective sessions this year, the Commission on Human Rights and its subcommission have also given more emphasis to economic and social rights. They have set up a number of new mechanisms and follow-up processes that would allow more systematic policy analysis of the relationship between human rights and development-related issues, such as extreme poverty, education, income distribution and globalization.


For most actors in the field of social and economic development, the use of human rights instruments in policy and programme formulation, implementation and monitoring is relatively novel terrain.

A Conceptual Challenge

At a workshop on Globalization, Income Distribution and Human Rights, organized by NGLS and the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) in Geneva on 26 March (see below), Jacques Baudot of the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, "We have not yet managed the passage between social development and human rights. It is a conceptual challenge, as well as a political and organizational one." At the meeting, it was noted that the most immediate benefit of a human rights approach is to help overcome discriminatory policies and practices on gender, ethnic or religious grounds. But it was also stressed that a major value of integrating development policy into a human rights framework is its potential to shift priorities in the political economy of resource allocation and distribution.

"The rights-based approach to development describes situations not simply in terms of human needs, or of developmental requirements, but in terms of society's obligation to respond to the inalienable rights of individuals. It empowers people to demand justice as a right, not as charity, and gives communities a moral basis from which to claim international assistance where needed."

                                     - Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations.
                                           Annual Report on the Work of the Organization 1998

Within such a framework, the conditions needed to achieve a decent standard of living are to be treated as basic human rights, rather than the uncertain results of charitable actions or policies aimed exclusively at economic efficiency. In this regard, Mr. Baudot argued that the efficiency criteria of economic policies should aim to foster social cohesion and well-being, instead of considering the social consequences of these policies as side effects that can be remedied separately. Human rights instruments, he said, offer a bridge between ethical standards and the legal obligations of states and other organs of society.

International Human Rights Instruments

The body of international human rights instruments most commonly referred to in relation to economic and social questions include:

* the International Bill of Human Rights which comprises the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and its two Optional Protocols;

* the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD);

* the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW);

* the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC); and

* conventions of the International Labour Organization (ILO), particularly its "core labour standards" on child and forced labour, discrimination and rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining, which the 86th ILO conference in June complemented with adoption of the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (see Go Between 70).

These covenants and conventions have been widely signed and ratified by states across the world and overseen by their respective UN treaty monitoring bodies such as the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which state Parties must report periodically.

The Right to Development

In 1986 the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Right to Development which, albeit not enjoying legally-binding status, is often regarded as a holistic vision integrating civil and political as well as economic, social and cultural rights, and striking a balance between national and international human rights responsibilities of states. While the right to development has been a continuing source of disagreement among member states throughout the years, consensus language was reached in the 1993 Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, which states that the right to development is "a universal and inalienable right and an integral part of fundamental human rights."

At this year's 44th session of the Commission on Human Rights, held in Geneva on 16 March-24 April, an intergovernmental group of experts on the right to development, established by the commission in 1996, submitted its final report (E/CN.4/1998/29). The report outlines "suggestions for a global strategy for the promotion and implementation of the right to development," including a follow-up mechanism at the international level. However, as the debates among experts of this group and among governments at the commission suggest, there is still considerable diversity of opinion and sometimes conflicting views on the right to development and its implementation. The most recurring sources of contention concern what constitutes the "balance" between national and international responsibilities of states, and whether the right to development is exclusively defined as a right of individuals, or whether it extends to include the collective rights of groups and nations represented by states.

Some NGOs consider the Declaration on the Right to Development a useful extension of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights because it places the protection and promotion of human rights in the context of a globalizing economy and places greater emphasis on the international economic system. Others find its holistic approach to human rights attractive in theory, but say the inter-governmental discourse associated with the right to development is too paralyzed in "political posturing" to realistically expect its broad principles to be translated into practical policy changes. Others note that there is less divergence among governments than in the past, and it is worth combining the broad principles contained in the right to development with the more specific content of rights and responsibilities spelled out in the International Bill of Human Rights, associated instruments and world conference agreements.

Major Issues

In any event, recent debates related to the right to development have highlighted a number of issues and challenges that are likely to grow in importance, as the process of integrating human rights and development concerns in the work of the UN system builds momentum. These translate in repeated calls to:

* Raise the political priority of protecting and promoting economic, social and cultural rights on a par with civil and political rights.

* Facilitate the active engagement of national and international actors, whose institutional remit has traditionally focused on economic and social development, with those who have built up expertise in human rights law and jurisprudence.

* Make economic and social rights "operational" through, inter alia, mainstreaming human rights in the work of the various United Nations organs and assisting governments in setting "benchmarks" for the implementation of economic and social rights.

* Reassert the primary responsibility of states in protecting and promoting human rights in the context of globalization, that is, in a manner that fully addresses what some have termed the "internationalization of national economic policy" and the increasing human rights impact of private sector activities, particularly transnational corporations and financial markets.

* Address the human rights responsibilities of international organizations and governments that have created and manage them, in light of the apparent erosion of the capacity and/or willingness of national governments to secure and enhance the economic and social rights of their citizens as a result of economic globalization.

* Support and encourage civil society organizations in promoting the human rights agenda at local, national and international levels, including fulfilling their "countervailing role in representing the public interest" and in holding governments and international organizations accountable for their human rights obligations.

These proposals have been put forward and discussed in a variety of NGO and UN fora throughout the year. The following section describes some of the major initiatives taken at the Commission on Human Rights.


A number of observers noted the unprecedented attention given to economic, social and cultural rights (ESCRs) at the 54th session of the Commission on Human Rights. Phillip Alston, chair of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and consistently critical of the marginal place given to ESCRs in the commission's deliberations, said the number of new ESCR-related mechanisms created by the commission this year represents a major breakthrough.

Human Rights and Extreme Poverty

The relationship between human rights and extreme poverty was intensely debated at this year's session. At a roundtable on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty held on 24 March, High Commissioner Mary Robinson suggested that decisions concerning appropriate priorities in the quest for development can be made easier by using the language and standards of human rights, and by placing the decision making process firmly in the context of governments' international human rights obligations.

At the initiative of France, the human rights commission adopted resolution 1998/25 on human rights and extreme poverty. It calls upon the General Assembly, specialized agencies, United Nations bodies and intergovernmental organizations to take into account "the contradiction between the existence of situations of extreme poverty and exclusion from society, which must be overcome, and the duty to guarantee full enjoyment of human rights." It also decided to appoint for a period of two years an independent expert on human rights and extreme poverty. The expert is mandated to, among other things:

* "contribute to the General Assembly's evaluation in the year 2000 of the World Summit on Social Development by making his final report and his conclusions available to the preparatory committee for the special session of the General Assembly devoted to that evaluation;" and

* make suggestions for next year's session of the commission on "the main points of a possible draft declaration on human rights and extreme poverty so that the Commission can consider the possibility of initiating at the [1999] 51st session of the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities the drafting of a text for examination by the Commission and possible adoption by the General Assembly."

The resolution was adopted by a roll-call vote with 51 votes in favour, one against and one absent. The United States voted against the resolution on the grounds that the operative paragraph would add a burden to the budget of the High Commissioner's office and would overlap and duplicate other efforts in this area.

The Right to Education

In resolution 1998/33, initiated by Portugal, the commission decided "as part of its effort to impart a higher visibility to economic, social and cultural rights, to appoint, for a period of three years, a special rapporteur whose mandate will focus on the right to education." Among other tasks the special rapporteur will "promote, as appropriate, assistance to Governments in working out and adopting urgent plans of action, wherever they do not exist, to secure the progressive implementation, within a reasonable number of years of the principle of compulsory primary education free of charge for all, bearing in mind, inter alia, levels of development, the magnitude of the challenge and efforts by Governments...[and] to make his or her reports available to the Commission on the Status of Women whenever they concern the situation of women in the field of the right to education." The implementation of this resolution will be carried out in close collaboration with UNICEF and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The resolution was adopted by a vote of 52 votes in favour and one against. The United States said it voted against the resolution because of its financial implications.

Toxic Waste

Senegal, on behalf of the Africa Group, introduced resolution 1998/12, which notes "the increasing rate of illicit movement and dumping by transnational corporations and other enterprises from industrialized countries of hazardous and other wastes in African and other developing countries." The resolution renews for a period of three years the mandate of the special rapporteur on this issue to continue her multidisciplinary and comprehensive study of the existing problems in cooperation with relevant UN bodies and convention secretariats. She is also to include in her next report "comprehensive information on persons killed, maimed or otherwise injured in the developing countries through this heinous act."

The resolution was adopted by a roll-call vote of 33 in favour, 14 opposed and six abstentions. Some delegations that abstained said they acknowledged the human rights dimensions of the problem, but thought the Basel Convention was a more appropriate forum to deal with these issues.

Economic Adjustment and Debt

At the initiative of Cuba, the commission adopted resolution 1998/102, which recognizes that "foreign debt constitutes one of the main obstacles preventing the developing countries from fully enjoying their right to development," and affirms that "the exercise of the basic rights of the people of the debtor countries to food, housing, clothing, employment, education, health services and a healthy environment cannot be subordinated to the implementation of structural adjustment policies and economic reforms arising from debt." Accordingly, the commission decided to appoint for a three-year period a special rapporteur on the effects of foreign debt on the full enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights. The rapporteur's mandate is to report annually to the commission on the negative effects of debt and associated policies, and measures taken by governments, the private sector and international financial institutions to alleviate such effects.

The resolution was adopted by 27 votes to 16 against, with nine abstentions. Japan, which voted against the resolution, said it linked the problem of foreign debt to the question of human rights, which would introduce "inappropriate elements" and divert attention from the real nature of the problem.

The representative of the United States, which also voted against, made a more general statement on what she described as a "proliferation of new mechanisms"related to economic, social and cultural rights. She said although her delegation believes that freedom from hunger and the freedom to achieve an adequate standard of living are fundamental to the dignity of every individual, these new mechanisms relate to issues that are being dealt with more effectively elsewhere and would overstrain the capacity of the High Commissioner's office.

For a number of NGOs, the creation of new thematic mechanisms should not necessarily be conditional on whether the issue is already treated elsewhere. Rather, the expertise of the High Commissioner's office can help clarify the human rights implications of different issues, which then need to be fully integrated in the work of the respective specialized bodies.


A recurring theme debated this year is the challenge of defending and promoting economic, social and cultural rights in the context of globalization. This raises the importance of the collective international responsibilities of states and global institutions.

Globalization and Income Distribution

In order to foster greater understanding between human rights and economic specialists, NGLS and the International Service for Human Rights held a seminar on Globalization, Income Distribution and Human Rights. Participants discussed the human rights obligations of states toward their domestic constituencies in relation to the apparent erosion in their capacity and/or willingness to fulfill these as a result of globalization.

At the seminar Jos‚ Bengoa, special rapporteur to the human rights sub-commission, said liberalization policies in recent years may have fostered economic growth but have also led to rising inequalities and a decline in living standards, even in richer countries. Given the extent of current disparities, he described these trends as a violation of the norms of national and international coexistence and therefore of the rights of the person. This situation, he said, is socially "explosive."

Charles Gore, Technical Adviser at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said the analytical message of UNCTAD's 1997 Trade and Development Report (see NGLS Roundup, November 1997), is also that globalization is associated with rising income inequalities within and between nations. He said much of this growth in inequalities can be attributed to the shift in the relative bargaining power of labour and capital, where capital has benefited from the easy "exit option" afforded through financial liberalization. This has lead to a "hollowing out" of the middle classes, many of whom have joined the poorer income groups, and the emergence of a global "rentier class" that trades in financial assets instead of productive investment.

Mr. Gore argued that such patterns are unlikely to be temporary adjustments to globalization. If left unchecked, they would represent more permanent trends of the global economy and would cause various forms of political instability, including a popular "backlash" against globalization.

Globalization and Civil Society

At the same seminar Mr. Bengoa argued that it is important to distinguish between what he called the "top-down" and the "bottom-up" forces of globalization. Top-down forces account for liberalization policies in favour of powerful private economic interests, which he said account for many of the negative features of globalization. But it is equally important to emphasize the bottom-up forces that can be potentially "liberating," particularly in traditionally closed societies that have tolerated high levels of inequality. These forces, he said, are "globalizing social aspirations and human rights standards" and fostering global alliances of civil society groups across different sectors, which are demanding changes in national, regional and global economic institutions and processes.

A Social Forum

The main features and conclusions of Mr. Bengoa's study are found in his final report (E/CN.4/Sub.2/1997/9) and its addendum on Poverty, Income Distribution and Globalization: A Challenge to Human Rights (E/CN.4/Sub.2/1998/8), which were presented at the 50th session of the human rights sub-commission on 3-28 August. "In our globalized world," says the addendum, "economic, social and cultural rights constitute a common legal-ethical code" that should determine the limits of globalization. It advocates the creation of "codes of conduct" or "ethics of globalization" in order to assign responsibilities to states and to other key actors of globalization, including transnational corporations, trading and financial consortia. Mr. Bengoa's proposal to establish a Forum on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (or "Social Forum") to pursue analytical and policy work in this area with all key actors including NGOs, was endorsed by the sub-commission. The proposal will be submitted for consideration and adoption to the 45th session of the Commission on Human Rights in 1999.

Responsibilities of Global Economic Institutions

During its day of general discussion on 11 May, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights focused on the impact of globalization on economic and social rights. In addition to debating some of the issues on income distribution covered in the NGLS/ISHR seminar, the committee also focused on the human rights responsibilities of global economic institutions.

Philip Alston, chair of the committee, said it is unacceptable that the international system has the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Trade Organization (WTO) and other "giant entities," whose powers are growing daily, but continue to neglect social dimensions. These social dimensions, he said, are left to other agencies whose powers are conversely diminishing daily, and to governments whose functions and resources are consistently shrinking.

Mr. Alston said that the IMF remains essentially unaccountable to the people whose economic futures it determines, does not seek to inject any transparency into its arrangements, and gives no priority to comprehensive monitoring of the impact of its policies and to ensuring the most vulnerable are not its principle victims. He said it can no longer be permitted that such organizations claim they are not responsible for economic, social and cultural rights.

In response, IMF representative Grant Taplin said the IMF is not an independent institution but rather responds to the needs of its members and is shaped by them. When a country comes for financial support, he said, the board that considers the request is composed of 24 executive directors who represent the universality of its members. He added that the content of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is not included in its articles of agreement.

Mr. Taplin also said that when addressing the issue of safety nets accompanying economic policy reforms, questions that should be asked are whether they are affordable and if they are targeted to the most vulnerable groups. It is not possible, he said, to have social safety nets when a country does not have the money to pay for them. He asked why there is a dynamic history of employment in some nations and not in others. He said there is no simple answer for this, but maybe it is related to "incentives to find work."

Guy Standing, senior economist at the ILO, said it is fundamentally important to demand transparency in the criteria used by international agencies, notably the IMF and World Bank, when supporting or "obliging"nations to adopt specific policies. He added that international financial agencies should be encouraged to demonstrate that such policies do not jeopardize human rights in social, labour and other fields. Mr. Standing also stressed that the problem stretches beyond the responsibilities of specific inter-governmental bodies. Increasingly, he said, non-accountable private financial actors in the global economy can induce national decisions that are opportunistic and lead to "moral hazard."

In a statement based on its day of general discussion, the committee emphasized that the realms of trade, finance and investment are not exempt from general human rights obligations. The statement calls upon the IMF and the World Bank to pay enhanced attention in their activities to respect for economic, social and cultural rights, including through encouraging explicit recognition of these rights. Similarly, it recommends the WTO devise appropriate methods to facilitate more systematic consideration of the impact upon human rights of particular trade and investment policies. It also urges the UN Secretary-General to undertake a study of the potential impact upon respect for economic, social and cultural rights of the draft Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), which is currently being negotiated in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Trade and Investment Regimes

This year's session of the human rights sub-commission also discussed at length the impact of global trade and investment regimes upon human rights. Many NGO interventions gave particular emphasis to the MAI, which may be proposed as an agenda item in the forthcoming round of negotiations at the WTO. For instance, a representative of the International NGO Committee on Human Rights in Trade and Investment said provisions in the current MAI draft amount to "a bill of rights and freedoms for transnational corporations...a declaration of corporate rule." He argued its prescriptions including "national treatment," "rollback" and "standstill" clauses, and its dispute settlement system run counter to the basic premise and the overarching principles of the international human rights regime, and therefore contradict existing legal obligations of states.

The sub-commission unanimously adopted resolution 1998/12, which refers to the "widespread protests by civil society against the Agreement" and which says the subcommission is "concerned about the possible human rights implications of the [MAI] and particularly about the extent to which the Agreement might limit the capacity of States to take proactive steps to ensure the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights by all people, creating benefits for a small privileged minority at the expense of an increasingly disenfranchised majority." The resolution urges members of the OECD "to review the draft text of the [MAI] to ensure that all its provisions are fully consistent with their human rights obligations"

From a broader point of view, the resolution says the subcommission is "convinced of the need to re-emphasize the centrality and primacy of human rights obligations in all areas of governance and development, including international and regional trade, investment and financial policies, agreements and practices."

The subcommission decided to prepare a working paper "on ways and means by which the primacy of human rights norms and standards could be better reflected in, and could better inform, international and regional trade, investment and financial policies, agreements and practices, and how the United Nations human rights bodies and mechanisms could play a central role in this regard." The paper will include an analysis of the MAI from a human rights perspective and "will consider ways to ensure that future negotiations on the MAI or analogous agreements or measures take place within a human rights framework."

The subcommission also adopted unanimously resolution 1998/9, which establishes for a three-year period a sessional working group to examine the human rights impact of the working methods and activities of transnational corporations, the scope of the obligation of states to regulate their activities, and to analyze the compatibility of international human rights instruments with the various international investment agreements.


In order to bring greater clarity to the practical responsibilities of states in implementation of economic, social and cultural rights, which many argue are qualitatively different from civil and political rights, a roundtable on Setting Benchmarks for the Realization of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was organized by the High Commissioner for Human Rights on 25 March.

Uncertain Obligations?

Professor Paul Hunt of Waikato University (New Zealand) said there remains considerable uncertainty about the nature and extent of states' legal obligations arising from the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). He referred to the "notoriously elusive phrases and concepts" found in the covenant, such as each state Party is to "achieve progressively" the full realization of the rights recognized in the covenant "to the maximum of its available resources." Professor Hunt said this means that state Parties' obligations may vary from country to country and over time, which complicates methodological requirements of evaluation and accountability. It also suggests the need for parallel NGO benchmarks-setting and reporting to counter the risks of governmental complacency.

Equity in Removing Deprivation

Sakido Fukuda-Parr, Director of the Human Development Report Office at UNDP, said she recognized these methodological problems but insisted it would be unrealistic to ignore or deny that at least some of these rights are subject to progressive realization and resource constraints. The many conditions of chronic poverty and denial of basic economic and social rights that affect over one billion people today cannot be turned around overnight. Changing these conditions, she argued, requires resources and is intimately tied up with the process of socio-economic development itself.

Ms. Fukuda-Parr said both "commitment measures" and "outcome measures" are needed. She said a commitment benchmark should be whether or not a government has signed and ratified the ICESCR. In terms of outcome measures, it is important to distinguish between those rights that are subject to resource availability or "progressive" realization, and those that are not, such as rights to non-discrimination. Equitable treatment of women is an example where low national income is not an obstacle to allowing girl children the equal right to be educated, or to ensure they have the same opportunities as boys. On the other hand those rights requiring substantial resources for their realization, she argued, have to take account of nations' different levels of economic development and should be based on the degree of equity achieved in removing deprivation. Ms. Fukuda-Parr proposed that UNDP's Human Poverty Index, which allows one to measure a country's ability to remove deprivation relative to its income, could be one instrument used for this purpose.

Daniel Ravindran, of the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, said the achievements made by some developing countries through public intervention indicate that it is possible to achieve rapid improvements in living conditions despite slow economic growth. He cited Costa Rica, Jamaica and Sri Lanka as having higher records of life expectancy at birth than countries such as Thailand and South Korea, which have enjoyed much higher economic growth rates (at least until the onslaught of the East Asian financial crisis). Mr. Ravindran also referred to the Indian state of Kerala as having achieved exceptional social development improvements despite its low income level. He noted that key factors in Kerala's success can be traced to public intervention in elementary education, land reform, equitable provision of health care and other public services, and significant efforts geared at women's empowerment. He also stressed the key role played by local citizens' movements, combined with their rights to participation and to hold authorities accountable for the provision of local services.

Mr. Ravindran also stressed the importance of budget monitoring (how much money is allocated and to what ends) by economic and social rights activists, in relation to state Parties' obligations to formulate national action plans under the ICESCR, and their commitments to do so under the various action plans adopted in UN world conferences. He said UNDP's human development reports should begin to be viewed as reports on the human rights obligations of states.

Basic Income Security

Guy Standing, senior economist at the ILO, said in the context of globalization, flexible labour markets and socio-economic fragmentation, there is a need to promote individual income security as envisaged in Article 22 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This would mean that "distribution" of the benefits of economic growth must be placed back at the centre of policy debates through an alternative vision to the neoliberal perspective, which he said could be called "economic democracy." He argued that the priority of basic income security should increasingly be delinked from the labour market and the market value of labour performance, as employment per se does not yield adequate incomes for many; he noted that even in the European Union, one-third of the poor are employed. Income security, he added, needs to be complemented with new forms of "representation security" that could represent "flexiworkers" and the "socially detached," and that could incorporate all forms of work including care, voluntary and community work.

Mr. Standing said benchmarks that could take account of this new reality are hampered by the inadequate statistical representation of society. Labour statistics need to be revised to measure labour market insecurity in a broader way than is captured by the notion of unemployment. These measures also need to extend to the wide range of community and voluntary work taking place outside the labour market, and to gauge the degree of socio-economic fragmentation or cohesion within a society.

International Benchmarks

A representative of the Indian government argued that national benchmarks for economic and social rights make sense if equal emphasis is placed on benchmarks applying to the responsibilities of states to the international community. Citing the UNDP Human Development Report 1997, which says that the costs of poverty eradication worldwide is a very small proportion of global income, he asked how a rights-based approach could spur the international community into action. He said the one international benchmark that exists-the 0.7% target for official development assistance-is not respected.

Mr. Alston said that arguments based upon "strict economic rationalism" provide a rather weak argument for the 0.7% target. Using a rights-based approach, however, "highlights the fact that governments are refusing to live up to their obligations under the economic and social rights covenant."


John Pace
Research and Right to Development Branch
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Palais des Nations
CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
telephone +41-22/917 1039
fax +41-22/917 0212
e-mail <>

Official human rights-related texts can be found on OHCHR's website (

Mark Thomson
Deputy Director
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
PO Box 16
1 rue de Varemb‚
CH-1211 Geneva 20, Switzerland
telephone +41-22/733 5123
fax +41-22/733 0826
e-mail <>

Miloon Kothari
International NGO Committee on Human Rights in Trade and Investment
c/o Habitat International Coalition
8 rue Gustave Moynier
CH-1202 Geneva, Switzerland
telephone/fax +41-22/738 8167
e-mail <>

Hamish Jenkins
Programme Officer
Palais des Nations
CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
telephone +41-22/917 2076
fax +41-22/917 0049
e-mail <>

This edition of NGLS Roundup (November 1998) was prepared by the United Nations Non-Governmental Liaison Service (NGLS). The NGLS Roundup is produced for NGOs and others interested in the institutions, policies and activities of the UN system and is not an official record. For more information or additional copies write to: NGLS, Palais des Nations, CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland, fax +41-22/917 0049, e-mail <> or NGLS, United Nations, Room FF-346, New York NY 10017, United States, fax +1-212/963 8712, e-mail <>.