What is the CESCR?

CESCR is the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. It is one of the principle United Nations human rights treaties. It is a ‘covenant’ – but this means the same thing as treaty, here. Treaties can be sneaky and go by a lot of different names, like Charter, Pact, Covenant, Protocol, etc. – but, they are all treaties. Don’t be fooled! Why does that matter? Because treaties get dealt with in a certain way in international law. They way treaties get dealt with in international law, is also part of international law. And, there is a treaty on that! The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

But back to the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR). People call it CESCR, although this acronym is a little hard to pronounce.

Where can I find a copy?

You can find the text of CESCR, here: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CESCR.aspx

Does CESCR apply to me?

You need to check to see if your country is a State Party to CESCR, before you can know if your country is obligated to implement the obligations in the CESCR, as a matter of the treaty law contained in the CESCR. That means also that only the countries that sign up to be bound by the CESCR are obligated to submit periodic State reports to the CESCR Committee. In those State reports, countries have a chance to tell the Committee (and everyone else interested) how well and what the country is doing to implement the binding obligations in the CESCR.

What is this CESCR Committee of which you speak?

CESCR, the Committee, is one of the UN human rights treaty bodies. When people are talking about the CESCR Committee, they say CESCR, meaning, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. You might notice that this is the same acronym that is used when people are talking about the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. You’re correct. Although it isn’t the greatest idea, the same acronym is usually used for both. For clarity, you can say, the CESCR Committee, if you don’t want to confuse people.

CESCR (the Committee) meets periodically in Geneva to watch over the implementation of the obligations in the CESCR. This is the same idea as what the other UN human rights treaty bodies do: they also meet periodically in Geneva, but to watch over implementation of other human rights treaties.

Which articles in CESCR are of particular relevance to women and girls in STEM fields?

In CESCR, a few key articles are articles 2, 3, 13, 14 and 15. Plus, you might want to check out the typical articles at the end, which resemble those found in all of the UN human rights treaties. They differ slightly in the details. The stuff at the end is usually technical stuff, technical, but important. It’s fun to think of this part of the human rights treaties as a kind of operating manual, of instructions. The first parts of the treaties are the exciting parts where people wrote down what the rights were, and the end parts are always these functional articles about things like:

  • how are we going to check on implementation? (answer: with a Committee meeting in Geneva) how’s that going to work? how often do States submit reports? (answer: this varies by the human rights treaty)
  • when will this thing enter into force (EIF)? (answer: after a certain number of ratifications, like a deal that kicks in once a certain number of parties have signed up to it)
  • can a country try to make reservations to the treaty, and not accept absolutely everything in there (reservations to treaties)?

So when the drafters of the CESCR wrote the end part in CESCR, it very typically was written to talk all about the Committee, how it’s going to work (and how it does work still), how States Parties have to submit reports, etc. CESCR isn’t very long; it’s got some of your great human rights in there.

Article 2

1. Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to take steps, individually and through international assistance and co-operation, especially economic and technical, to the maximum of its available resources, with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of the rights recognized in the present Covenant by all appropriate means, including particularly the adoption of legislative measures.

2. The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to guarantee that the rights enunciated in the present Covenant will be exercised without discrimination of any kind as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

3. Developing countries, with due regard to human rights and their national economy, may determine to what extent they would guarantee the economic rights recognized in the present Covenant to non-nationals.

Article 3

The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to ensure the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all economic, social and cultural rights set forth in the present Covenant.

Article 13

1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to education. They agree that education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and the sense of its dignity, and shall strengthen the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. They further agree that education shall enable all persons to participate effectively in a free society, promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations and all racial, ethnic or religious groups, and further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

2. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize that, with a view to achieving the full realization of this right:

(a) Primary education shall be compulsory and available free to all;

(b) Secondary education in its different forms, including technical and vocational secondary education, shall be made generally available and accessible to all by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education;

(c) Higher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education;

(d) Fundamental education shall be encouraged or intensified as far as possible for those persons who have not received or completed the whole period of their primary education;

(e) The development of a system of schools at all levels shall be actively pursued, an adequate fellowship system shall be established, and the material conditions of teaching staff shall be continuously improved.

3. The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to choose for their children schools, other than those established by the public authorities, which conform to such minimum educational standards as may be laid down or approved by the State and to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.

4. No part of this article shall be construed so as to interfere with the liberty of individuals and bodies to establish and direct educational institutions, subject always to the observance of the principles set forth in paragraph I of this article and to the requirement that the education given in such institutions shall conform to such minimum standards as may be laid down by the State.

Article 14

Each State Party to the present Covenant which, at the time of becoming a Party, has not been able to secure in its metropolitan territory or other territories under its jurisdiction compulsory primary education, free of charge, undertakes, within two years, to work out and adopt a detailed plan of action for the progressive implementation, within a reasonable number of years, to be fixed in the plan, of the principle of compulsory education free of charge for all.

Article 15

1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone:

(a) To take part in cultural life;

(b) To enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications;

(c) To benefit from the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

2. The steps to be taken by the States Parties to the present Covenant to achieve the full realization of this right shall include those necessary for the conservation, the development and the diffusion of science and culture.

3. The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to respect the freedom indispensable for scientific research and creative activity.

4. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the benefits to be derived from the encouragement and development of international contacts and co-operation in the scientific and cultural fields.

Interactive exercises

1. Is my country a State Party to the CESCR? since when?

  • Go to the United Nations Treaty Collection, chapter on Human Rights: https://treaties.un.org/Pages/Treaties.aspx?id=4&subid=A&lang=en
  • Click on number three, which is the text of the CESCR: https://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=IV-3&chapter=4&clang=_en
  • Now, check on that page to see if your country is a State Party to the CESCR, and notice, what is the year when it became a State Party? How do you check? It’s easy: there has to be a year listed in the column on the right. If there is no date listed in that column on the right for your country, bad news: your country is not yet a Party to the CESCR and it’s time to ask your country to become a Party to the CESCR, and, to get your friends to ask them to do it, too. (We’ll ask them too.) However, if there is a date listed there, then notice that date and do a little celebration dance if you want, because since that date, your country obliged itself under international law to protect your rights that are listed in there. And, your country obliged itself to report about it periodically at the CESCR Committee. How did that happen? Well, besides dancing, or however else you choose to express yourself, it is also time to thank some mysterious people in the past who were working on your human rights. We can do the same for the people coming after us.

2. Entry into force

When does the CESCR enter into force? how many countries had to become Parties to it before it could enter into force? What article of CESCR is this information written in?