International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
New York, 16 December 1966
F o r t h c o m i n g
Introductory note to be published
The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights were adopted by the General Assembly by its resolution 2200 A (XXI) of 16 December 1966.
The preambles and articles 1, 3 and 5 of the two International Covenants are almost identical. The preambles recall the obligation of States under the Charter of the United Nations to promote human rights; remind the individual of his responsibility to strive for the promotion and observance of those rights; and recognize that, in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ideal of free human beings enjoying civil and political freedom and freedom from fear and want can be achieved only if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his civil and political rights, as well as his economic, social and cultural rights.
Article 1 of each Covenant states that the right to self-determination is universal and calls upon States to promote the realization of that right and to respect it.
The article provides that “All peoples have the right of self-determination” and adds that “By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development”. Article 3, in both cases, reaffirms the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all human rights, and enjoins States to make that principle a reality. Article 5, in both cases, provides safeguards against the destruction or undue limitation of any human right or fundamental freedom, and against misinterpretation of any provision of the Covenants as a means of justifying infringement of a right or freedom or its restriction to a greater extent than provided for in the Covenants. It also prevents States from limiting rights already enjoyed within their territories on the ground that such rights are not recognized, or recognized to a lesser extent, in the Covenants.
Articles 6 to 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognize the rights to work (art. 6); to the enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work (art. 7); to form and join trade unions (art. 8); to social security, including social insurance (art. 9); to the widest possible protection and assistance for the family, especially mothers, children and young persons (art. 10); to an adequate standard of living (art. 11); to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health (art. 12); to education (arts. 13 and 14); and to take part in cultural life (art. 15).
The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights states that the rights provided for therein may be limited by law, but only in so far as it is compatible with the nature of the rights and solely to promote the general welfare in a democratic society (art. 4).
The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights entered into force on 3 January 1976, three months after the date of deposit with the Secretary-General of the thirty-fifth instrument of ratification or accession, as provided in article 27.
The Commission on Human Rights held its first session from 27 January to 10 February 1947, at which a drafting committee, consisting of seven Member States, was established. At its first session, held from 9 to 25 June 1947, the Drafting Committee of the Commission decided to prepare two documents: a preliminary draft of a declaration or manifesto setting forth general principles of human rights; and a draft outlining convention on those matters which the Committee felt could be formulated as binding obligations. The report of the Drafting Committee (E/CN.4/21) was submitted to the Commission on Human Rights for consideration at its second session, held in December 1947. The Commission endorsed the recommendation by the Drafting Committee to draft two separate documents, as many Governments were prepared to accept a declaration if it were to precede and not replace a convention. Efforts were consequently concentrated on a draft declaration, leading to the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights by resolution 217 A (III) of 10 December 1948. (See Universal Declaration on Human Rights). In the same resolution, the General Assembly requested the Economic and Social Council to ask the Commission on Human Rights to continue to give priority in its work to the preparation of a draft covenant on human rights and draft measures on its implementation (resolution 217 E (III)). The Economic and Social Council transmitted this resolution of the General Assembly to the Commission on Human Rights by resolution 191 (VIII) of 9 February 1949.
A first draft convention was prepared by the Commission on Human Rights during its sixth session, in 1950, and a report was submitted to the Economic and Social Council for consideration at its sixth session (E/1618 and Corr. 1 and Add. 1). In addition, the Council had before it two reports which the Commission had requested the Secretary-General to prepare (E/1721 and Corr. 1, and E/1732), dealing with federal and colonial clauses, and the possibility for the proposed Human Rights Committee to seek advisory opinions from the International Court of Justice. In resolution 303 I (XI) of 9 August 1950, the Council concluded that further progress could not be made until policy decisions were taken by the General Assembly on certain matters, including the general adequacy of the first draft and the articles relating to its implementation, the desirability of including articles on economic, social and cultural rights, and the desirability of including special articles relating to federal states and to Non-Self-Governing and Trust Territories. The General Assembly considered these topics at its fifth session, and adopted resolution 421 (V) of 4 December 1950 deciding that the covenant should include economic, social and cultural rights as well as a clause with regard to its territorial application, and that the draft articles proposed by the Commission on Human Rights should be revised and additional rights be added. Furthermore the Commission was asked to consider provisions relating to federal states and petitions with regard to alleged violations of the Covenant. The resolution was transmitted to the Commission on Human Rights by the Economic and Social Council by resolution 349 (XII) of 23 February 1951.
At its seventh session, in 1951, the Commission on Human Rights, assisted by representatives of the International Labour Organization (ILO), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), completed its draft on economic, social and cultural rights (see report of the Commission, E/1681, and Corr. 1, Corr. 2 (French only), Corr. 3 and Corr. 4 (Spanish only)). The report was submitted to the Economic and Social Council, which discussed the draft articles and measures for its implementation at its session of the same year. In view of the discussions, by resolution 384 (XIII) of 29 August 1951, the Council invited the General Assembly to reconsider its decision to include in one covenant provisions on both economic, social and cultural rights, and civil and political rights. At the sixth session of the General Assembly, in 1951, the question of the Draft Covenant on Human Rights and measures of implementation was discussed at forty meetings of the Third (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) Committee and subsequently at two plenary meetings of the General Assembly. After continued discussions in plenary, the General Assembly requested, in resolution 543 (VI) of 5 February 1952, contrary to its previous decision, that the Commission on Human Rights draft two separate Covenants, to be submitted simultaneously for consideration by the General Assembly. As further requested by the General Assembly in resolution 549 (VI) of 5 February 1952, the Economic and Social Council held a special session on 24 March 1952, and transmitted the above recommendations to the Commission on Human Rights.
The Commission on Human Rights continued its work on the preparation of the two draft covenants at its eighth and ninth sessions, but was not able, in the available time, to carry out the instructions of the General Assembly. At its tenth session, in 1954, it however completed the two draft covenants (see the report of the Commission, E/2573). Without dealing with the substance of the drafts, the Economic and Social Council adopted resolution 545B I (XVII) on 29 July 1954, transmitting the report of the Commission to the General Assembly. At the ninth session of the General Assembly, in 1954, the item was again allocated to the Third Committee which began a first reading of the draft covenants.
Preparation of the draft covenants continued in the Third Committee during the tenth to the seventeenth sessions of the General Assembly, from 1955 to 1962. In 1963, the final substantive articles were adopted (see the report of the Third Committee to the General Assembly, A/5655). On 12 December 1963, the General Assembly invited all Governments to consider the text of the articles adopted by the Third Committee and decided to make a special effort to adopt the entire texts, including the final clauses, of the draft covenants at its nineteenth session, the following year (resolution 1960 (XVIII)). Owing to the special circumstances prevailing then, work on the covenants could not however be continued in 1964 and, at the twentieth session, in 1965, the General Assembly decided to defer the topic due to its heavy agenda (resolution 2080 (XX) of 20 December 1965). At the twenty-first session, in 1966, the Third Committee completed the drafting of the covenants, adopting final clauses and articles relating to measures of implementation. The two draft Covenants and the Optional Protocol to the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights were submitted to the General Assembly (see the report of the Third Committee to the General Assembly, A/6564). After discussions in plenary, the General Assembly adopted unanimously the recommendation of the Third Committee in resolution 220 A (XXI) of 16 December 1966, the three instruments being annexed thereto. In separate votes, the General Assembly adopted the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, with a vote of 105 to 0, the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, with a vote of 106 to 0, and the Optional Protocol to the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights with a vote to 66 to 2, with 38 abstentions.
The three instruments were opened for signature on 16 December 1966. In accordance with their respective provisions, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights entered into force on 3 January 1976 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, together with its Optional Protocol, entered into force on 23 March 1976.
Text of the Covenant
Selected preparatory documents
Report of the first session of the Drafting Commission of the Commission on Human Rights, held from 9 to 25 June 1947 (E/CN.4.21, 1947)
The Covenant entered into force on 3 January 1976. For the current participation status of the Covenant, as well as information and relevant texts of related treaty actions, such as reservations, declarations, objections, denunciations and notifications, see: