Socio-Economic Rights: Legally Enforceable or Just Aspirational?


Although the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 cited social welfare rights without distinguishing them from civil and political rights, the separation has been widely accepted by judges, scholars and politicians. Historically, the classification of human rights into two groups, with the relegation of socio-economic rights into a lower category of human rights, emerged and developed mainly after the 1950s during the Cold War and ultimately led to the adoption of two separate UN Covenants, with different formulation and enforcement mechanisms for each set of rights; the causes and purposes of that classification are well-documented (Cranston 1973; Alston 1990; Sadurski 2005) and profoundly political. Scholars and judges have taken significant steps in the last thirty years to cast light on the legal nature of socio-economic rights. Nonetheless, there is still incredulity concerning not only their normative constitutional role, but also their judicial enforceability. Although much ink has been spilt, socio-economic rights are a hot topic again today, due to the current global economic recession and the – often controversial – state actions (or non-actions) that affect the social welfare of millions. Is there any role for the judiciary within this conquered-by-state-policy realm? The goal of this paper is to defend the justiciability of socio-economic rights. To this end, I will present the arguments against their justiciability, after which I will comparatively examine the socio-economic rights jurisprudence, being careful not to get lost in the jurisprudential labyrinth.


social welfare, human rights

How to Cite

Trispiotis, I., (2010) “Socio-Economic Rights: Legally Enforceable or Just Aspirational?”, Opticon1826 8.







Ilias Trispiotis (UCL)





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