International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights


The United Nations General Assembly adopted the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on December 16, 1966. The Covenant entered into force on January 3, 1976.  Its Preamble notes that the “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”

It has been ratified by 170 countries and has 71 signatories. India acceded to the Covenant on April 10, 1979.

Invoking the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Preamble to the Covenant states that “… the ideal of free human beings enjoying freedom from fear and want can only be achieved if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his economic, social and cultural rights, as well as his civil and political rights.” 

The Covenant contains 31 Articles arranged in five parts. Articles 1-15 (in Parts I, II and III) cover recommendations to State Parties about securing the economic, social and cultural rights of all people. Articles 16-25 (Part IV) states the manner in which State Parties shall report about the measures they have adopted to observe the rights recognised by the Covenant. Articles 26-31 (Part V) discuss the process by which the Covenant is to be ratified and amended. (In UN documents, a ‘State Party’ to a treaty is a country that has ratified or acceded to that particular treaty, and is therefore legally bound by the provisions in the instrument).

Article 1 states that all people have the right to self-determination concerning their political status and are free to pursue their own economic, social and cultural development. They may freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources regardless of obligations arising out of international economic cooperation and “In no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence.”

Article 2 mandates that State Parties shall take steps – individually and through international assistance and cooperation, especially economic and technical – to fully realise the rights recognised under the Covenant to the maximum of their resources. They shall do this without discrimination of any kind.

Article 3 stipulates that State Parties shall ensure the equal rights of men and women. They may – says Article 4 – subject the rights outlined in the Covenant to limitations “only in so far as this may be compatible with the nature of these rights and solely for the purpose of promoting the general welfare in a democratic society.” Nothing in the Covenant may be interpreted  – by a State, group or person – as a right to perform an act aimed at the destruction of the freedoms recognised by it (Article 5).

Article 6 notes that State Parties must recognise the right to work – including the right to the opportunity to gain a living by work they freely choose or accept – and take appropriate steps to safeguard it. For this, they shall take such measures as providing technical and vocational guidance, and implementing policies to achieve steady economic, social and cultural development.

Article 7 stipulates the right of everyone to just and favourable conditions of work, including fair wages to workers, that allow a decent living for themselves and their families, safe working conditions, equal opportunities for promotion, and a reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays for rest and leisure. State Parties – Article 8 notes – shall ensure the right to form and join trade unions for the protection and promotion of economic and social interests, and the right to strike.

In Article 9, the Covenant stipulates the right to social security, including social insurance. State Parties shall recognise the widest possible protection and assistance for the family – “the natural and fundamental group unit of society” It also notes in Article 10 that mothers should be accorded special protection (including paid leave) for a reasonable period before and after childbirth, and that special measures should be taken to protect and assist all children.

Article 11 discusses “the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions,” and the fundamental right to be free from hunger. State Parties shall recognise that everyone has a right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health (Article 12), and education (Article 13), and State Parties which do not provide free primary education shall do so within two years of becoming a Party to the Covenant (Article 14).

Article 15 mandates the right of everyone to take part in cultural life and enjoy the benefits of scientific progress, and this includes the conservation, development and diffusion of science and culture. State Parties shall respect the freedom indispensable for scientific research and creative activity.

Focus by Archita Joshi.


United Nations


United Nations


16 Dec, 1966