Relationship with other human rights


One Latop per child Iraq
The right to social security implies the relationship to other human rights. This interrelationship has been recognised by the CESCR (General Comment No. 19, para. 28). This is because the right to access and maintain benefits to secure protection from lack of work related income (caused by sickness, disability, maternity, employment injury, unemployment, old age or death), lack of access to health care and insufficient family support is intrinsically linked to the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to food and water and sanitation, the right to education, and the right to the highest attainable standard of health. Therefore, the provision of social security to all will ensure that individuals maintain a dignified standard of living and not fall into poverty despite encountering contingencies which may deprive them of earning an income. In this sense, the realisation of these rights is fundamental for the realisation of the right to social security however as pointed out by the CESCR, the adoption of measures to realize other rights will not in itself act as a substitute for the creation of social security schemes. In the same manner, the realisation of the right to social security through the establishment of comprehensive social protection systems will ultimately lead to the realisation of these other social, economic and cultural rights.

There is strong evidence that existing social protection programmes have been critical tool to ensure the enjoyment of at least minimum essential levels of economic, social and cultural rights. These minimum essential levels are those which are crucial to securing an adequate standard of living through basic subsistence, essential primary health care, basic shelter and housing, and basic forms of education – elements which together comprise a social protection floor – for all members of society.

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights imposed several obligations upon States parties that are relevant in the establishment of social protections schemes: (a) The minimum core obligation to ensure the satisfaction of, at the very least, minimum essential levels of all economic, social and cultural rights: the minimum levels that must be attained aim to secure basic subsistence and medical care for all members of society and provide protection to anyone without adequate resources. In this regard, social protection measures can be seen as a response to meeting basic minimum standards in relation to economic, social and cultural rights; (b) The obligation to ensure the progressive realization of all economic, social and cultural rights: States must devote the maximum of their available resources to ensure progressive realization of these rights. It is important to note that the allocation of resources is not left to the complete discretion of States. States must grant a degree of priority to allocating resources to ensure basic subsistence and social protection to everybody. This obligation means that retrogressive measures are unacceptable. If, therefore, measures are taken to reduce the scope or level of social protection programmes, States have to show that they have been introduced after consideration of all alternatives and are fully justifiable in regard to the protection of all economic, social and cultural rights; 29 (c) The obligation to ensure special protection for the most vulnerable individuals and groups: the human rights framework pays particular attention to individuals belonging to the most disadvantaged and marginalized groups. Their need for special assistance to ensure enjoyment of their rights must be prioritized and non-discrimination guaranteed. The principle of equality requires in certain situations that States take affirmative action or positive measures in order to diminish or eliminate conditions that cause or help to perpetuate discrimination.

One of the major contributions of the CESCR General Comment No. 19 is the understanding that all States parties to the ICESCR have a minimum core obligation to provide some form of basic social security. As noted by the CESCR, States have the immediate duty “to ensure access to a social security scheme that provides a minimum essential level of benefits to all individuals and families that will enable them to acquire at least essential health care, basic shelter and housing, water and sanitation, foodstuffs, and the most basic forms of education. If a State party cannot provide this minimum level for all risks and contingencies within its maximum available resources, the Committee recommends that the State party, after a wide process of consultation, select a core group of social risks and contingencies.” (para 59).

In other words, a State party to the ICESCR must immediately meet a minimum standard and then progressively realise an adequate level of benefits over time. In order for a State party to be able to attribute its failure to meet at least its minimum core obligations to a lack of available resources, it must demonstrate that every effort has been made to use all resources that are at its disposal in an effort to satisfy, as a matter of priority, these minimum obligations.

Photo credit: “Education in Iraq” by One Laptop per Child (CC BY 2.0 via Flickr).
Social Protection and Human Rights