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The Right to Life with Dignity: Economic and Social Rights Respect in the World

  • Author(s): Kolp, Felicity Ann
  • Advisor(s): Kirp, David L.
  • et al.

The international human rights system formally recognizes two principal categories of rights: civil and political (CP) rights and economic, social, and cultural (ESC) rights. While these are in theory equal and indivisible, CP rights have been heavily prioritized in reality. This project seeks to address this imbalance, focusing on ESC rights realization.

Conceiving of ESC rights as a path between CP rights and development helps anchor the concept and offers a constructive perspective on how these rights can contribute to the alleviation of human suffering. Building upon this theoretical foundation (described more fully in Chapter II), the greater part of this project focuses on ESC rights to better understand what they are, where they are upheld, and why they are protected or violated. Thus the driving questions motivating this project are: what are ESC rights, where are they being referenced and utilized successfully, and why?

The first question of ESC rights content is a background question, which lays the foundation for the subsequent and more central questions regarding their successful provision. Chapter III presents the relevant theoretical and practical components of ESC rights, and builds on previous studies to present a framework for their measurement. The resulting ESC rights index purports to capture this concept in a single indicator, which then is incorporated into the subsequent statistical investigation.

This quantitative analysis addresses the second question, which asks where ESC rights are being used effectively. Following an extended description of methodology and data issues in Chapter IV, Chapter V immediately employs the newly developed ESC rights construct in response to this second question. The measure is applied at the country level to gain a better understanding of where around the world ESC rights are most - and least - realized. This analysis is comparative both within ESC rights (between various categories of countries) and between ESC and CP rights. Results show that countries have consistently improved their ESC rights record in recent decades. In contrast, CP rights scores have remained relatively constant. Additionally, countries' ESC rights scores are converging, while the relative distance between CP rights scores has changed very little over the same time period.

The third and final question further extends this examination, to consider the underlying conditions associated with the respect and provision of ESC rights. Chapter VI helps shed light on whether variables included in earlier CP rights studies have similar impacts on ESC rights, or whether a different collection of variables better explains ESC rights outcomes. It appears that a broader spectrum of issues is involved in at least ESC rights promotion. Results of analyses by income level suggest that, in general, political factors are more influential for CP rights, and economic factors for ESC rights. Moreover, results vary more by countries' economic development level in the ESC rights analyses. Consequently, policy recommendations may differ not only between CP and ESC rights, but also within these categories.

While previous investigations have provided valuable insights into human rights provision, the exclusive focus on CP rights has resulted in an incomplete analysis. This research project fills this gap by considering the interaction of political, economic, and social conditions on ESC rights violation. Gaining this type of new and constructive information has important implications for academic research, policy formulation, and project work happening at the field level. Chapter VII concludes by highlighting these areas of impact, and identifying the relevant individuals and institutions implicated in the pursuit of continued and future ESC rights realization.

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