Economic, social, and cultural rights constitute one of the most relevant issues and one of the most complex challenges at this time in the Hemisphere. While most of the constitutions and national statutes of States in the region recognize rights such as the right to health, the right to education, and the right to adequate housing, and while there have been undeniable social gains in recent years, Latin America continues to suffer from the worst income distribution in the world. Among other things, the region faces grave situations of extreme poverty, hunger and malnutrition, particularly impacting the access of historically marginalized populations subject to discrimination to the conditions necessary for ensuring a dignified life. Accordingly, the persistence of situations of social exclusion, often with structural roots, even in the economically strongest states, renders null and void the economic, social, and cultural rights of a large part of the population, at the same time as it constitutes a barrier to the enjoyment of all other human rights.
Economic growth does not automatically translate into a better standard of living for the most excluded and marginalized groups but requires that special measures or policies be put in place to benefit them.
During 2000-2010 Latin America and the Caribbean experienced the greatest period of economic growth in the last four decades and showed encouraging signs of progress in poverty reduction. Indeed, income inequality declined in most countries and almost a third of the total population of the region joined the so-called "middle class," according to the United Nations Program for Development (UNDP). However, these efforts have been insufficient Figures from the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean of the United Nations (ECLAC) indicate that there are more than 160 million people living in poverty in the region, or 28 percent of the population, of which 68 million live in extreme poverty. ECLAC also warned that progress has slowed, while UNDP has indicated that 216 million are at risk of falling into poverty and that 10 of the 15 most unequal countries in the world are in Latin America.
With respect to the Caribbean, UNDP has indicated that wage controls, price increases, arbitrary dismissals, reduction in public spending on social issues, unemployment and underemployment in the past two decades have contributed to raising indices of social inequality and poverty.
On the other hand, according to a 2013 report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the indices of income inequality and relative poverty in the United States were among the highest of the OECD countries, and had increased considerably in recent decades. In addition, in Canada, from 1998 to 2008, poverty rose in all age groups by 2% to 3% to an overall rate of 12%. In summary, the effects of inequality and exclusion translate primarily into the impossibility of satisfying the economic, social, and cultural rights of the groups historically discriminated against such as women, children, youths, indigenous peoples, Afrodescendants, and rural and peasant populations, among others.
In this regard, it is important to highlight that economic growth does not automatically translate into a better standard of living for the most excluded and marginalized groups but requires that special measures or policies be put in place to benefit them. For example, that may occur if growth gives rise to an increase in public health resources, but specific policies are not adopted to ensure that persons with disabilities have physical access to hospitals. In addition, while the IACHR has argued that there is a close relationship between democracy, rule of law, and human rights, that does not mean that democracy per se translates into the full effective observance of the economic, social, and cultural rights of those living in poverty and extreme poverty. For this reason it is key that governments adopt measures aimed at ensuring economic, social, and cultural rights based on an assessment of the specific needs of different groups and populations in society.
In that context it should be noted that during the process of strengthening the inter-American system both the OAS member states and the other actors of the system expressed their interest in directing more attention to the issue of ESC rights. As a result of that process, the IACHR created specialized institutional spaces. In effect, during the 146th regular period of sessions, held October 29 to November 16, 2012, the Commission, in light of its commitment to strengthen its work on economic, social, and cultural rights, and in response to the suggestions of states and civil society, decided to create a Unit on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESC Rights), which is currently entrusted to Commissioner Paulo Vannuchi.
Unit on Economic, Social
and Cultural Rights
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
1889 F St. NW - Washington D.C. 20006 - EEUU
Commissioner entrusted to the Unit on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights