Economic and Social Rights in Times of Disaster

Obligations of immediate effect and progressive realization

Authored by: Ellen Nohle , Gilles Giacca

Routledge Handbook of Human Rights and Disasters

Print publication date:  March  2018
Online publication date:  March  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138069916
eBook ISBN: 9781315115238
Adobe ISBN:


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Economic and social rights have often been downplayed in normative discussions about the applicability of human rights. They are said to require positive State action and allocation of significant resources, which cannot be expected in times of disaster. Economic and social rights have moreover been interpreted as aspirational statements rather than as imposing immediate legal obligations on States, in contrast to civil and political rights. When a State is experiencing a disaster, aspirations might be considered a luxury that cannot be afforded. In this chapter, the authors will, to the contrary, demonstrate that the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights imposes legal obligations on States, some of which are of immediate effect and must be complied with in all situations, disasters included. In preparing for disasters, States must put in place emergency plans and structures that enable compliance with at least the core content of these rights. Moreover, States Parties have a positive and immediate obligation to take steps toward the progressive realization of economic and social rights, which should inform the reconstruction following a disaster.

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