Skip to main content

Historical documents

181 Heyward to Burton

Memorandum, NEW YORK, 11 June 1948

Addition of Economic and Social Rights
Amongst our proposals, the addition of articles giving economic and social rights are the most controversial. As the Covenant will not be effectively discussed at the present session of the H.R.C.[1], there is an opportunity to consider our general policy and strategy in view of the probability that the matter will be raised at the Council[2] and the Assembly.

[matter omitted][3]

One suggestion for avoiding these difficulties is to have a special covenant on economic and social rights. People who object to them in the present Covenant are fond of declaring that they ought to find a place in subsequent covenants. In practice, however, I do not think this would work out. You can hardly have an additional covenant covering the few paragraphs we want to add to this one. I do not think that the Human Rights Commission is properly composed to prepare a more detailed Covenant on these subjects, which mostly seem to fall within the competence of the I.L.O.[4] The Human Rights Commission could never compete with the I.L.O. in competence for drafting a detailed covenant relating to the right to work, fair wages, or social security.

The second objection that economic and social rights could not be implemented by the machinery proposed by Australia, that is, the Court of Human Rights, seems well taken but could be met by making alternative provisions. In regard to the ITO[5] Charter, Australia considered that the International Court of Justice should not be called upon to pronounce on economic measures. It seems clear that clauses relating to economic and social rights should be implemented by specialised agencies dealing with the relevant field. In the case of the right to work, the right to wages, limitation of working hours, social security, this means the I.L.O.; in the case of education, it would mean UNESCO.[6] Unfortunately bringing in the I.L.O. would probably lose any sympathetic interest we might otherwise have from the Soviet.

If the consent of the I.L.O. could be obtained to undertake implementation, then a provision could be included in the clauses dealing with economic rights to the effect that they would be implemented according to the machinery provided in the I.L.O. Constitution for the implementation of its conventions. This does not provide for complaints from individuals but does include representations from associations of employers or workers. In fact there have been only one or two cases or complaints about non-observance of ILO Conventions and the machinery has never been used to any extent. This may indicate that international enforcement of economic and social rights is largely academic.

If economic and social rights are omitted from the covenant, they are left to conventions to be prepared by specialised agencies or possibly special conferences like Freedom of Information. No conclusion one way or the other is suggested here. Personal opinions in the delegation are divided. We do think the question of policy deserves reconsideration in the light of the arguments being used, which we have tried to state above.

[matter omitted]

[1] The Human Rights Commission was meeting in its third session which ran from 24 May to 18 June 1948.

[2] That is, the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.

[3] The omitted material reviewed arguments for and against the inclusion of articles on economic and social rights.

[4] International Labour Organization.

[5] International Trade Organization.

[6] United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

[AA : A1838, 856/13/7, III]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
Back to top