19 January 2017 — In 1986 a group of international human rights experts convened in Maastricht to discuss the character and scope of state parties’ obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights. This resulted in the Limburg Principles on the Implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Throughout the years, these principles have proven to be of great importance for the interpretation and application of the economic and social rights that can be found in the ICESCR as well as in other human rights documents and constitutions.
To celebrate the 30th birthday of the Limburg Principles, the Maastricht Centre for Human Rights of the University of Maastricht on 1 and 2 December organized a conference on this topic. The conference started with the annual Theo van Boven lecture, delivered by Philip Alston (New York University). Prof. Alston talked about the accomplishments of as well as the challenges for the international regime for the protection of economic and social rights. He emphasized that although states’ obligations in this field are generally recognized, all too often this does not hold true for the accompanying individual rights. At the same time Alston pointed out that especially in times characterized by populism, the idea that ‘your human rights do nothing for me’ is widespread and needs to be countered. Alston’s lecture was followed by presentations of different experts on socio-economic rights and migration, which resulted in interesting discussions.
Ingrid Leijten talked about the role of (international) courts in protection socioeconomic rights. She presented several examples from the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, showing that individual economic and social rights can also be protected on the basis of classical fundamental rights norms. Ingrid Leijten discussed different explanations for this phenomenon, and argued that a focus on minimum core socio-economic rights would best suit the ECtHR’s role in this particular field. Finally, she discussed the broader implications of the protection of socio-economic rights by different (semi-)judicial actors.