Media Center

Press Release

OAS Policy Roundtable Discussed the Regional Agenda to Promote Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

  February 24, 2015

The Organization of American States (OAS) today hosted its 65th Policy Roundtable entitled "Regional Agenda for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: A Look into the Future," with the aim of promoting a dialogue to analyze the implications of public policies, progress in implementing the Protocol of San Salvador, and its inclusion in the discussion of the post-2015 development agenda.

The Secretary General of the OAS, José Miguel Insulza, said the Hemisphere must pool its efforts to reduce its social differences, and warned that inequality is a threat to democracy. "The debt of the region in terms of poverty, inequality and social exclusion, as well the citizen demand for social, economic and political equality, points to the need to give answers, and has led the region to search for a new development paradigm," he said in his opening remarks during the event held at OAS headquarters in Washington, DC.

"Similarly, in the context of the discussions about the Post -2015 Development Agenda, equity and social inclusion have been seen as key elements in global efforts, establishing inequality as one of the cross-cutting elements to ensuring that no one is left behind," he added.

Secretary General Insulza highlighted the progress in the regulatory framework of the Inter-American System on economic, social and cultural rights, and added that since the entry into force of the Protocol of San Salvador (PSS), "there have been significant advances." The Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, known as the "Protocol of San Salvador," was adopted in 1988 and entered into force in 1999, with 19 signatory states and 16 ratifications to date: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname and Uruguay

"The evolution of this process, thanks to the political will of member states and the commitment of the Working Group for the analysis of national reports provided in the Protocol of San Salvador, have paid off," said the OAS Secretary General. This week, the first session of the Working Group on the implementation of PSS is being held for the first time at OAS headquarters.

The OAS leader added that these indicators of progress, devised by the Working Group and approved by member states-on the rights to social security, health, education, labor and trade union rights, adequate food, a healthy environment, and the benefits of culture, "are pioneering in designing a methodology that prioritizes regional indicators."

Referring to the "new development paradigm," he recalled that in recent years the member states of the OAS have strengthened their commitments in this area. In this regard, he recalled the approval of the Social Charter of the Americas in 2012, and recently its Plan of Action. He stressed that both the Declaration of the OAS General Assembly in 2014 and the Seventh Summit of the Americas, to be held in April this year, make direct reference to social inclusion.

Following Secretary General Insula’s speech, the Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Emilio Álvarez Icaza, moderated a panel that included the participation of the Social Affairs Officer in the Division of Social Development of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) of the UN, Simone Cecchini; the Samuel Z. Stone Professor of Latin American Economics at Tulane University, Nora Lustig; IACHR Commissioner Paulo Vannucchi; and the Chair of the Working Group to examine the periodic reports of states parties to the Protocol of San Salvador, Laura Pautassi.

In his speech, the ECLAC representative recalled that in 2002, 44 percent of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean was living below the poverty line, while in 2008 the figure dropped to 34 percent, and in 2011 fell to 29 percent. "Since then, there is a slowdown in the reduction of poverty," he noted and attributed it to a decrease in the growth rate.

Cecchini also noted that there was a major change in public policy in many countries in the region, incorporating programs that focus on rights, and promoting equality, participation and accountability. "For us the rights agenda goes hand in hand with the equality agenda," he said, adding that a focus on rights "forces countries to take seriously this approach to have a comprehensive and multidimensional look" at the public policies in this area.

For her part, Professor Lustig said that transparency in the formulation of public policies is critical to advancing the rights promoted by the PSS. In this regard, she said that in taxation it is important to know how much is paid and to whom in terms of income distribution. "In the discussion of tax reform is in the region this subject is never present," she warned.

Professor Lustig also said the region had 15 years of happiness due to economic growth in recent years. However, she said that to achieve greater equity it is necessary to review the systems of fiscal policy, and by way of example, criticized the impact of consumption taxes on sectors with fewer resources. "A demand that citizens should be making in tax matters is that fiscal policy should not impoverish the poor," she said.

For his part, Commissioner Vannuchi quoted Italian philosopher and thinker Norberto Bobbio, who pointed to the tension between the rights of freedom and the rights to equality to explain the different paradigms that led the governments of capitalist and socialist character during the last century. Commissioner Vannuchi said the IACHR plans to establish by 2016 a Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Commissioner Vannuchi said that the rapporteur should have a role of bringing the Commission closer to the states, and although he clarified that states do not like to be monitored and criticized, he considered this work essential to achieving the goals outlined in the PSS.

For her part, Laura Pautassi said that the objective of the Working Group is "to take a step further on the agenda of rights" in order to "improve the issue of equality and support states in improving public policies." The Chair of the Working Group to Examine the Periodic Reports of States Parties to the PSS added that the group she leads bases its work around three core principles: equality and discrimination; access to justice; and access to information.

Pautassi said one of the main challenges of the Working Group was "to design a matrix that was large enough to be able to measure the PSS." She said "the focus on rights goes through public institutions." Moreover, she said that the Group is a working tool for states, "that does not inspect, but monitors."

The Roundtable was closed by the Acting Director of the Department of Social Inclusion, Betilde Muñoz-Pogossian, who said that the OAS can play a fundamental role in supporting national and regional efforts towards the full realization of these rights. In this regard, Director Muñoz-Pogossian stressed the "importance of measuring" contained by the new instrument created by the application of the PSS. "Following a careful process validated by the countries themselves, States Parties adopted a system of measurement and monitoring through indicators and qualitative signs of progress that also contain cross categories of all rights, and connect the commitments contained in the Protocol with national public policies that are documented through the reporting process," she said.

Muñoz-Pogossian also stressed "the importance of the indivisibility and progressiveness of rights" contained in the PSS, which on one hand refers to "the close relationship and interdependence of economic, social and cultural rights and civil and political rights, and on the other, the progressive nature of the full realization of these rights,” she said. This is supported, she said, by the consensus adopted in Inter-American jurisprudence, academia and in political debates that are taking place in the region, that "human rights are complementary, interdependent and indivisible. That is, there is no hierarchy, it is invalid to prioritize achieving some over others."

A gallery of photos of the event is available here.

The video news of the event is available here.

For more information, please visit the OAS Website at

Reference: E-055/15