Letter dated 16 May 2012 addressed by the Chairperson of the
Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to States parties to
the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
I write to you, on behalf of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
(the Committee), as representatives of States parties to the International Covenant on
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (the Covenant) and in relation to the protection of
the Covenant rights in the context of the economic and financial crisis.
The Committee has observed over recent years the pressure on many States parties
to embark on austerity programmes, sometimes severe, in the face of rising public deficits
and poor economic growth. Decisions to adopt austerity measures are always difficult and
complex, and the Committee is acutely aware that this may lead many States to take
decisions with painful effects, especially when these austerity measures are taken in a
recession.
However, I wish to underline that under the Covenant all States parties should
avoid at all times taking decisions which might lead to the denial or infringement of
economic, social and cultural rights. Besides being contrary to their obligations under the
Covenant, the denial or infringement of economic, social and cultural rights by States
parties to the Covenant can lead to social insecurity and political instability and have
significant negative impacts, in particular, on disadvantaged and marginalized individuals
and groups, such as the poor, women, children, persons with disabilities, older persons,
people with HIV/AIDS, indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities, migrants and refugees. In
view of the indivisibility, interdependence and interrelatedness of human rights, other
human rights also are threatened in this process.
States parties have, of course, a margin of appreciation within which to set national
economic, social and cultural policies that respect, protect and fulfil the Covenant. In this
context, I wish to highlight that the Covenant also provides important guideposts which
can help States parties to adopt appropriate policies that deal with the economic downturn
while respecting economic, social and cultural rights.
At the heart of the Covenant is the obligation on States parties to respect, protect
and fulfil economic, social and cultural rights progressively, using their maximum
available resources. This requires States to adopt and implement laws and policies that
aim to achieve incremental improvements in universal access to basic goods and services
such as health care, education, housing, social security and cultural life.
Economic and financial crises and a lack of growth impede the progressive
realization of economic, social and cultural rights and can lead to regression in the
enjoyment of those rights. The Committee realizes that some adjustments in the
implementation of some Covenant rights are at times inevitable. States parties, however,
should not act in breach of their obligations under the Covenant.
In such cases, the Committee emphasizes that any proposed policy change or
adjustment has to meet the following requirements: first, the policy must be a temporary
measure covering only the period of crisis. Second, the policy must be necessary and
proportionate, in the sense that the adoption of any other policy, or a failure to act, would
be more detrimental to economic, social and cultural rights. Third, the policy must not be
discriminatory and must comprise all possible measures, including tax measures, to

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