Monitoring economic, social and cultural rights: Resources for practitioners

Lucky for us there are some great resources out there to help organizations identify indicators and monitoring strategies for documenting “progressive realization” of rights.


Often, when people hear “human rights documentation” they think of the practice of collecting, recording and documenting human rights violations. This “event” method of documentation is important for various reasons, including judicial, historical, educational or archiving. It is the method that is used most frequently by most human rights groups. But there is another, complementary type of human rights documentation: monitoring and documenting States’ actions towards progressive implementation of rights. This type of documentation is especially important for national and international organizations to better understand the impact of States’ actions, effectively highlight any gap between actions and commitments, advocate for change, and prepare relevant recommendations. Defenders use a combination of these types of documentation to protect civil and political rights, as well as economic, social, cultural rights.

Organizations who monitor economic, social and cultural rights under international human rights treaties, often use the concept of “progressive realization”. This concept refers to the obligation to take appropriate measures towards the full realization of economic, social and cultural rights to the maximum of their available resources. Sound vague and confusing? You’re not alone! But lucky for us there are some great resources out there to help organizations identify indicators and monitoring strategies for this type of documentation. Below  are some we’ve found helpful.

In addition to resources on monitoring economic, social and cultural rights in general, there are of course an even larger number of resources on how to monitor particular rights or rights of particular groups.

Human rights indicators : a guide to measurement and implementation

by Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2013

>> Download the PDF in EN or view online in ES

“In recent years, there has been a growing demand from various stakeholders, including national and international human rights activists and policymakers, for indicators for use in human rights assessments and in furthering the implementation and realization of human rights. This publication attempts to meet some of this demand by developing a reference resource with operational tools, including an approach to identifying quantitative and qualitative indicators, and the corresponding methodology, to promote objective and comprehensive human rights assessments.”

Frequently asked questions on economic, social and cultural rights

by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2007

>> Download the PDF

“The relative neglect of these rights on the human rights agenda has, unfortunately, fostered a host of misunderstandings and misconceptions about them. And while many of the reasons for this neglect—cold war tensions, academic neglect, lack of clarity on substance, lack of civil society engagement—have disappeared, many of the misunderstandings persist. This Fact Sheet seeks to demystify economic, social and cultural rights, and answer some of the most common questions put to practitioners.”

Defending Dignity : a manual for national human rights institutions on monitoring economic, social and cultural rights

by Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions and the Center for Economic and Social Rights, 2015

>> Download the PDF

“The goal of the Manual is to support staff and Commissioners of NHRIs to effectively monitor socioeconomic policies from a human rights perspective. Specifically, the Manual aims to foster: Interest in and commitment to the topic: Readers will develop a clear understanding of what monitoring is and a strong appreciation of why ESCR are an important topic for their NHRI to monitor. Knowledge acquisition: Readers will gain expertise on fundamental ESCR standards and principles and how they have been interpreted, especially regarding the scope of States’ obligations under international law. Skills development: Readers will build their capacity to apply a coherent analytical framework when assessing their State’s compliance with its obligation to fulfill ESCR and will increase their familiarity with how to use key tools and techniques for monitoring.”

Haki Zetu : ESC Rights in Practice

by Human Rights Capacity Building Programme (HURICAP), Amnesty International Netherlands, 2010

>> Access the handbook series

“The Haki Zetu handbook series is a practical toolkit for local NGOs and CBOs working with communities to realise their economic, social and cultural rights. This toolkit aims to support local activists and development workers who use a rights-based approach to tackle economic and social problems.

The handbooks provide information and tools with which local activists and NGO/CBO workers can raise awareness, monitor and advocate for an improved access to economic, social and cultural rights. The framework for this series was developed in consultation with an advisory committee of experts and ESCR practitioners in Africa. Each handbook is written by a topical expert. The Main Book is  co-published with ACORD (Pan-Africa), Hakijamii Economic and Social Rights Centre (Kenya), Uganda Debt Network (Uganda), and Foundation for Human Rights and Democracy (Liberia).”

Ripple in Still Water : Reflections by activists on local and national work on economic, social and cultural rights

by International Human Rights Internship Program (IHRIP) (1996?)

>> Access this resource online

“This resource is a digest of information and experiences that seem particularly relevant and useful to local- and national-level economic, social and cultural rights (ESC rights) activism. It concentrates on various advocacy strategies and tools for ESC rights activism, limiting its theoretical or historical analyses to those issues which workshop participants mentioned as having a direct bearing on their present-day work.

Section I: Developing a Framework for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Activism initiates the exploration of national-level ESC rights activism, presenting reflections about a human rights framework and human rights approach and discussing in general terms the international human rights standards which relate to ESC rights.

Section II: Strategies and Tools for ESC Rights Activism stresses the need for a clear identification of issues and establishment of goals for work, and provides information about the thinking processes organisations have employed to identify and implement various strategies for ESC rights activism and what they have learned through doing so. The resource has attempted to focus on specific strategies and tools for activism, recognizing that, in practice, organisations typically use a combination of various advocacy strategies and tools in implementing specific programs.

The Appendices are a collection of resources which were offered by workshop participants or otherwise collated by IHRIP.”

Progress indicators for measuring rights under the Protocol of San Salvador

by the Working Group of the Protocol of El Salvador, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, 2015 (second edition)

>> Download the PDF

“The Inter-American human rights system provides a unique, binding juridical instrument for the observance of social rights for the citizens of the region: the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights “Protocol of San Salvador” (SSP). The Protocol enshrines the obligations for the observance of economic, social and cultural rights representing a mandate to States to respect and concretely implement these rights and provide guarantees for the exercise of these rights to the citizens in the region.

By encompassing both groups of “Progress Indicators for the Measurement of the Rights Considered in the Protocol of San Salvador” developed by the Working Group and approved by OAS member states, this publication provides valuable input to foster the economic, social and cultural rights agenda, and provides a concrete tool for the follow-up and improvement of public policies in this field of action.”

The trust in indicators : measuring human rights

by Annjanette Rosga and Margaret l. Satterthwaite, in Berkeley Journal of International Law, 2008

>> Download the PDF

“This Article closely examines the use of indicators by U.N. bodies charged with monitoring State compliance with human rights treaties. The Article places these efforts to create human rights indicators in conversation with scholarship on audit and standardization from the social sciences. We conclude that while there are very real drawbacks involved in the indicators project, debates about indicators may provide advocates with new opportunities to use the language of science and objectivity as a powerful tool to hold governments to account.”

International indicators and economic, social, and cultural rights

by Judith V. Welling, in Human Rights Quarterly, 2008

>> Download the PDF

“This article explores recent progress in the development of international indicators for economic, social, and cultural rights (ESCR) and benefits ascribed to indicator standardization. Part Two outlines the general approaches and key considerations of initiatives that have undertaken international ESCR indicator development. Part Three categorizes the anticipated benefits of standardization according to their level of influence. Part Four describes how current initiatives derive indicators from the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) legal framework and highlights the importance of calibrating international indicators to specific Covenant obligations. Part Five describes how international indicators can impact ICESCR norm clarification, and Part Six addresses remaining issues and concerns related to international ESCR indicator development.”

Using quantitative methods to monitor government obligations in terms of the rights to health and education

by Edward Anderson, 2008

>> Download the PDF

“This paper proposes a set of quantitative methods for assessing whether governments are complying with their obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The paper focuses in particular on the rights to health and education. The methods focus on how one can establish, with as much certainty as possible, whether a government has made sufficient effort to promote the rights to health and education, given the constraints it faces. The methods are designed to complement and build on existing methods used for this purpose by human rights groups and advocacy organisations.”

Workshop report on improved measurement of the realisation of ESC rights

by HURIDOCS, 2010

>> Access the workshop report

“On 12 and 13 August 2010, HURIDOCS and the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights convened a workshop to discuss the so-called IBSA procedure for more effective monitoring and implementation of economic, social and cultural rights. IBSA provides a framework for accountability of State actors when reporting on their progress on implementing ESC rights, through a process of better structuring State party reports with the help of Indicators as well as state-proposed Benchmarks as implementation targets. These benchmarks are fine-tuned by the reporting State party and the Committee during a period of Scoping, finally leading to an Assessment of the State party’s performance.”

New horizons in economic and social rights monitoring

by the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) and Metrics for Human Rights, 2013

>> Access the workshop report

“This report draws together the experiences of over 40 leading figures, shared at a seminar of the same name organized by CESR and Metrics for Human Rights in Development in Madrid in 2012. Rights-based policy monitoring requires a comprehensive, multidimensional approach that integrates a variety of tools and techniques to provide compelling evidence of rights violations and this timely report offers important insights for rights advocates and activists everywhere. It is CESR’s hope that it will facilitate more effective monitoring by economic and social rights advocates and we welcome any thoughts or reflections you may have on the report.”

Fulfilling social and economic rights

By Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, Terra Lawson-Remer, and Susan Randolph, 2015

>> Information about the book (only summaries available online)

“The book develops an innovative evidence-based index, the Social and Economic Rights Fulfillment (SERF) Index and data set, and the Achievement Possibilities Frontier measurement methodology, making possible for the first time apples-to-apples comparisons of performance across very differently situated countries and over time. The book provides an overall global picture of progress, regress, and disparities among and within countries and explores the factors influencing performance – including whether treaty and legal commitments, gender equity, democracy/autocracy, and economic growth explain good performance—revealing surprising results.”

Resources on monitoring the rights of indigenous peoples

Indigenous Navigator Tools and resources

>> Access this collection of tools and resources

“The Indigenous Navigator has developed a series of tools and resources for indigenous communities to monitor their rights. All tools and resources are inter-linked and are designed to serve multiple purposes. The tools and resources includes: Questionnaires for data gathering at community and national levels, an IP Community Index and a IP National Index to quickly assess and compare the situation across regions, countries and communities, a comprehensive indicators framework, a comparative matrix, which illustrates the links between UNDRIP and other human rights instruments, a data portal for sharing data and tools across countries and communities.”

Monitoring and indicators : indigenous peoples in bilateral assistance

by Technical Advisory Service, DANIDA, 2006

>> Download the PDF

“This Note offers a brief introduction to indicators and monitoring tools for the work with indigenous peoples (IPs) in Danida’s countries of cooperation. It is primarily aimed at supporting officers at the Danish representations or at HQ responsible for preparing and managing Danish bilateral development assistance. The Note may also be of assistance to staff in partner organisations responsible for monitoring, their Danida advisers, and consultants who assist in preparing and managing programmes and projects.”

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