Socio-economic rights during economic crises: A changed approach to non-retrogression

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When the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) released a letter in early 2012 addressing the financial and economic crises, it was long overdue. Finally, and around four and a half years after the crises began, the body responsible for monitoring those rights that had been most severely impacted had spoken. But what had been said? This article examines the alterations to the doctrine of non-retrogression that the 2012 Letter instigated. It does so by reference to the ‘Business as Usual’ and ‘accommodation’ theories of emergency response. The Letter to States is argued to have taken the Committee away from an approach to non-retrogression that treated times of normality and emergency in a similar way, and towards an approach that allows derogation-style deviations from the Covenant. This, it is argued, could have detrimental effects for the protection of economic and social rights. The difficulties in applying such an approach are considered.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)249-265
JournalInternational & Comparative Law Quarterly
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jan 2016


  • derogation, economic and social rights, economic crisis, emergency, enforcement, limitation, retrogression, UN Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights