human rights treaty – a total of 196 countries as of September 2015.153
Regional instruments such as the African Charter on Human and Peoples’
Rights154 and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child155
replicate these obligations and, for ratifying countries, impose legally binding
Having fleshed out the relevant treaty provisions, the question that remains
is, what is the exact nature of associated obligations? In other words, what
specific strategies or programs are required to be adopted and operationalized
in order to be compliant with the terms of these provisions? The first attempt
at answering this question was made by the UN Committee on Economic,
Social and Cultural Rights (Committee on ESCR)—the Committee charged
with implementing the provisions of the ICESCR156—in 1990.157 General
Comment No. 3 was remarkable for marking the first articulation of the
nature of the obligations incumbent upon States Parties to the ICESCR.158
For purposes of this essay, the most significant of the explanatory
pronouncements are the ones relating to progressivity of implementing the
obligations and the concept of minimum core obligations. The Committee on
ESCR acknowledges that due to resource difficulties, certain provisions
would not be actualized immediately159 but recognizes that others could be
153. Chapter IV Human Rights: Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNITED NATIONS
TREATY COLLECTION, http://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_
no=IV- 11&chapter= 4&lang=en (last visited Nov. 6, 2015).
154. African (Banjul) Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, art. 16, OAU Doc.
CAB/LEG/67/3 (June 27, 1981).
155. African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, art. 14, OAU Doc.
CAB/LEG/24.9/49 (July 11, 1990).
156. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Monitoring the Economic,
Social and Cultural Rights, OHCHR, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/CESCR/Pages/
CESCRIntro.aspx (last visited Nov. 6, 2015) (the Committee was established under ECOSOC
Resolution 1985/17 of May 28, 1985 to carry out the monitoring functions assigned to the
United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in Part IV of the International
Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESR). to carry out the monitoring
functions assigned to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in Part IV
of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESR)).
157. United Nations Econ. & Soc. Council, Comm. On Economic, Social and Cultural
Rights, General Comment No. 3: The Nature of States Parties’ Obligations, U.N. Doc.
E/1991/23 (Dec. 14, 1990) [hereinafter General Comment No. 3]. A remarkable characteristic
of the interpretive exercise of the Committee on ESCR is that the magisterial force of its
pronouncements transcends the ICESCR to apply in other regimes. For instance, in the
performance of its role of interpreting the provisions of African Charter on Human and
Peoples’ Rights, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights “draw[s] inspiration
from international law” on human rights, including “instruments adopted by the United
Nations” or within any of its “Specialized Agencies.” African (Banjul) Charter on Human and
Peoples’ Rights, supra note 154, at art. 60.
158. See General Comment No. 3 ¶ 1.
159. See General Comment No. 3, supra note 157, ¶ 1, 9; see also UDHR, supra note
131, at pmbl (note that the Committee’s progressivity jurisprudence was inspired by the
UDHR. The UDHR requires “that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this