The last few decades have seen a transformation of Economic, Social and Cultural (ESC) rights into powerful tools of social change. A number of jurisdictions officially allow individuals to bring claims of ESC rights violations to court. Courts have used these rights to ensure the provision of basic services, like access to water or basic healthcare, resulting in real gains for the poor. These legal tools not only provide courts with new rights to protect but also new methods of review. The traditional understanding of rights is that they limit what States are able to do, i.e. the rights impose negative obligations. Negative obligations impose minimal limits on policy making. In contrast, ESC rights often include positive obligations, where the State must conduct some action to comply with its obligation. To effectively enforce ESC rights means courts must look at and evaluate policy making.
Gabriel Armas-Cardona is a human rights lawyer and a graduate from New York University School of Law. He has worked for the Human Rights Defender’s Office of Armenia and at Lawyers Collective of India under the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to health. His focus is on using international human rights law, particularly the right to health, to make positive change on the ground.
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