Debating Economic and Social Rights

Photo:Shutterstock/Donatas Dabravolskas (All rights reserved)

Photo: Boris Stroujko/Shutterstock (All rights reserved)

Are legal protections useful to activists fighting poverty?

Almost 70 years ago, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights gave equal recognition to economic and social rights, alongside civil and political rights. Yet there is continued controversy as to whether the human rights to food, housing, education, or health deserve such recognition or are properly the subject of legal protection and adjudication. Why?

Is it simply a reflection of a political bias that distrusts the welfare state model that is supposedly implicit in programs to fulfil these rights? Or are there genuine differences between, for example, a right to food and a right to free speech that suggest only the latter can be protected effectively through law and the courts? In any case, should struggles for social justice rely on the courts? How does the reframing of these struggles in the language of human rights help?