International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: position statement

This position statement sets out the action we've taken in devolved areas to implement the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).


1. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) is a multilateral treaty which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 16 December 1966.

2. The Covenant commits State parties to work to secure the full enjoyment of economic, social, and cultural rights by everyone under their jurisdiction. These rights include labour rights and the right to health, the right to education, and the right to an adequate standard of living (including adequate food and housing). They also include cultural rights. The UK signed the Covenant in 1968 and ratified it in 1976. There are a total of 171 State parties to the Covenant.

3. ICESCR, and its Optional Protocol, are part of the International Bill of Human Rights, along with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including the latter's First and Second Optional Protocols.

4. ICESCR has one Optional Protocol establishing complaint and inquiry mechanisms for the Covenant. It was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 10 December 2008and entered into force on 5 May 2013.The UK Government is not currently a party to this Optional Protocol. The Scottish Government has welcomed the availability of mechanisms such as those provided for in the Optional Protocol and will continue to raise the issue of ratification with the UK Government.

5. The Covenant is monitored by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The Committee is a body of 18 independent human rights experts who are elected for four-year terms, with half the members elected every two years.

6. All States parties are required to submit regular reports to the Committee outlining the legislative, judicial, policy and other measures they have taken to implement the rights affirmed in the Covenant. A first report is due within two years of ratifying the Covenant and thereafter reports are due every five years. The Committee examines each report and addresses its concerns and recommendations to the State party in the form of 'Concluding Observations'. The Committee typically meets every May and November in Geneva.

7. Under ordinary circumstances, State parties are obliged to submit reports on their implementation of international treaties to the UN every five years. The UK Government submitted the sixth State party report on ICESCR in 2014 and as such the seventh report was due in 2019. However due to the global pandemic and the events of the past two years the UK's seventh report was delayed and published in May 2022.

8. As part of that formal reporting process, the Scottish Government contributes to the UK State party report in relation to matters which fall within devolved competence in Scotland. The overall UK report is subject to a strict word-count limit and this limits the extent to which activity in Scotland can be addressed in detail. The Scottish Government therefore publishes a separate standalone position statement to ensure that the Scottish Parliament, civil society and the general public have access to a full Scotland-specific account of human rights policies and delivery[2].

9. Publication of the position statement is explicitly intended to support informed debate and increased accountability on Scotland's compliance and promotion of international human rights obligations. It should be read in conjunction with the formal State party report submitted to the UN by the UK Government on behalf of the UK as a whole. The Scottish position statement does not itself form part of the formal treaty reporting process and is not, for example, presented to the UN for consideration by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

10. The ongoing scrutiny exercised by international institutions, alongside domestic scrutiny by the Scottish Parliament and engagement with civil society, has continued to provide necessary constructive challenge to public authorities in Scotland and has helped to maintain a collective focus on respecting, protecting and fulfilling human rights.



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