General Comment No. 10 (1998)
The role of national human rights institutions in the protection
of economic, social and cultural rights *
1. Article 2, paragraph 1, of the Covenant obligates each State party "to take steps ... with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of the [Covenant] rights ... by all appropriate means". The Committee notes that one such means, through which important steps can be taken, is the work of national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights. In recent years there has been a proliferation of these institutions and the trend has been strongly encouraged by the General Assembly and the Commission on Human Rights. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has established a major programme to assist and encourage States in relation to national institutions.
2. These institutions range from national human rights commissions through Ombudsman offices, public interest or other human rights "advocates", to "defensores del pueblo". In many cases, the institution has been established by the Government, enjoys an important degree of autonomy from the executive and the legislature, takes full account of international human rights standards which are applicable to the country concerned, and is mandated to perform various activities designed to promote and protect human rights. Such institutions have been established in States with widely differing legal cultures and regardless of their economic situation.
3. The Committee notes that national institutions have a potentially crucial role to play in promoting and ensuring the indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights. Unfortunately, this role has too often either not been accorded to the institution or has been neglected or given a low priority by it. It is therefore essential that full attention be given to economic, social and cultural rights in all of the relevant activities of these institutions. The following list is indicative of the types of activities that can be, and in some instances already have been, undertaken by national institutions in relation to these rights:
(a) The promotion of educational and information programmes designed to enhance awareness and understanding of economic, social and cultural rights, both within the population at large and among particular groups such as the public service, the judiciary, the private sector and the labour movement;
(b) The scrutinizing of existing laws and administrative acts, as well as draft bills and other proposals, to ensure that they are consistent with the requirements of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights;
(c) Providing technical advice, or undertaking surveys in relation to economic, social and cultural rights, including at the request of the public authorities or other appropriate agencies;
(d) The identification of national-level benchmarks against which the realization of Covenant obligations can be measured;
(e) Conducting research and inquiries designed to ascertain the extent to which particular economic, social and cultural rights are being realized, either within the State as a whole or in areas or in relation to communities of particular vulnerability;
(f) Monitoring compliance with specific rights recognized under the Covenant and providing reports thereon to the public authorities and civil society; and
(g) Examining complaints alleging infringements of applicable economic, social and cultural rights standards within the State.
4. The Committee calls upon States parties to ensure that the mandates accorded to all national human rights institutions include appropriate attention to economic, social and cultural rights and requests States parties to include details of both the mandates and the principal relevant activities of such institutions in their reports submitted to the Committee.