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International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) was adopted on December 16, 1966 by the UN General Assembly and entered into force ten years later. The ICESCR, together with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), constitute the International Bill of Human Rights. The ICESCR defines a broad set of rights related to the economic, social, and cultural elements of life that states must provide to their citizens. Specific rights relate to:

  • Housing
  • Education
  • Labor
  • Environment
  • Health
  • Cultural rights (including language and religion)
  • Self-determination

The ISCESR also requires state parties to submit reports on their implementation of the Covenant. Initially, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the UN was responsible for the review of state parties’ reports. However, in 1985, the ECOSOC established the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (“the Committee”) to assume all monitoring functions of the implementation of the ICESCR. The Committee is a group of 18 independent experts on economic, social, and cultural rights who meet twice a year in Geneva. The Committee provides guidance for and also monitors each state party’s compliance with the ICESCR by drafting general comments on the scope of treaty obligations and conducting reviews of state parties’ progress in implementing the treaty. In accordance with the Optional Protocol to the ICESCR,  the Committee may also accept individual complaints and communication alleging a state party’s violation of rights under the ICESCR. However, since China is not a party to the Optional Protocol, the Committee may not accept individual complaints related to China.

To comply with the review process, each state party must submit a report to the Committee every five years on steps taken in implementing the Convention, but, in practice, reports are often combined and reviewed less frequently. To prepare for a state party’s review, the Committee designates a “Country Rapporteur,” who undertakes a detailed review of the state party report and further facilitates and coordinates the entire review process, including the preparation of all associated documents. One such document is the  “list of issues and questions,” prepared by the Country Rapporteur and a pre-sessional working group of four other experts that is convened six months prior to the full Committee’s review. The list of issues and questions highlights the Committee’s major areas of concern and additional information the state party is strongly urged to provide prior to the review. After considering all the materials, the Committee conducts an interactive dialogue with representatives of the state party. Following the dialogue, the Committee adopts concluding observations which include final remarks and recommendations.  The state party is welcome to submit comments to the Committee regarding the concluding observations, which are then made public on the Committee’s website.

Civil society members may provide input to the Committee at various points by submitting reports, making oral statements, and participating in briefings for Committee members. The Committee also encourages state parties to consult and incorporate information from civil society members in their national reports and follow-up procedures, and requires that the concluding observations are widely disseminated following the review. In addition, the Committee also considers information from civil society and other stakeholders, such as UN agencies and national human rights institutes.

China and the ICESCR

China ratified the ICESCR in 2001.When states become parties to international treaties, they are permitted to do so with reservations, understandings, or declarations, which clarify the states’ interpretation of certain provisions, or change the state’s rights and obligations under the treaty. To be valid, any such conditions cannot contradict the purpose of the treaty itself. At the time of its ratification of the ICESCR, China made a declaration on article 8.1(a) of the Covenant, under which state parties must ensure the right of everyone to form and join trade unions of their choice.

China’s declaration states that:

The application of Article 8.1 (a) of the Covenant to the People's Republic of China shall be consistent with the relevant provisions of the Constitution of the People's Republic of China, Trade Union Law of the People's Republic of China and Labor Law of the People's Republic of China.

Since its ratification of ICESCR, China has been reviewed by the Committee twice. China’s next review is scheduled for May 2019. Below are official documents and HRIC contributions related to China’s ICESCR reviews.

Official Documents & HRIC contributions

Second Review (2014)

  • China’s second periodic report (2012): EN, CH
  • List of issues in relation to the second periodic report of China (2013): EN, CH
  • HRIC pre-sessional submission in advance of the review of the PRC's second report (2013): EN
  • Replies of China to the list of issues (2014): EN, CH
  • HRIC parallel submission in advance of the review of the PRC's second report (2014): EN
  • Oral intervention of HRIC to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (2014): EN, CH
  • Summary Record of the Review (1)(2014): EN
  • Summary Record of the Review (2)(2014): EN
  • The Committee’s concluding observations (2014): EN, CH

Initial Review (2005)

  • China’s initial report (2004): EN, CH
  • List of issues to be taken up in connection with the consideration of the initial report of the PRC (2004): EN, CH
  • The Committee’s concluding observations (2005): EN, CH
Other Resources
  • Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: EN, CH
  • Full text of International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: EN, CH
  • Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Fact Sheet No.16: The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: EN, CH
  • United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC): EN, CH
  • Thematic Mandates of Special Procedures: EN, CH
  • UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA): EN, CH
  • United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO): EN, CH
  • UNESCO—The Right to Education: EN, CH
  • Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN—Right to Food : EN, CH

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