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Human Rights Quarterly 22.4 (2000) 1108-1110

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Book Review

Thesaurus of Economic, Social & Cultural Rights: Terminology and Potential Violations

Thesaurus of Economic, Social & Cultural Rights: Terminology and Potential Violations, by Stephen A. Hansen (Washington, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2000) 282 pp; also available on the World Wide Web at

This Thesaurus is the first published result of an ambitious project on which the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and Human Rights and Documentation Systems, International (HURIDOCS) have been collaborating since 1996. The project's goal is to produce a series of tools and resources that will help organizations and individuals to monitor violations of economic, social, and cultural human (ESC) rights. To understand the context for the Thesaurus, one should be aware that other products in the works include a Handbook on Economic, Social, and Cultural Human Rights, written for an audience of national NGOs, and a series of manuals that will examine in greater depth five of the rights included in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) 1 : work, food, housing, health, and education. There will also be a series of five commissioned papers that explains the nature of these same rights in more detail, identifies their "minimum core contents," and describes common violations. Finally, another set of five commissioned papers will examine the effects of globalization on the realization of ESC rights in five regions of the world. Some of these additional resources may be in print or available on the World Wide Web by the time this review appears.

The AAAS/HURIDOCS project was motivated by concern and frustration of some human rights experts over the lack of progress in assuring or even approaching full realization, for all persons, of the ESC rights defined in the ICESCR and other international and regional human rights treaties. According to Audrey Chapman, 2 the fundamental requirements for effective monitoring of the relevant treaties--commitment by governments to assessing and improving their performance, provision of standards and resources by international human rights bodies, and continuing attention by NGOs--are mostly lacking. She argues that the basic standard for monitoring performance, progressive realization using the maximum of available resources, is insufficiently precise and places impossible burdens on many of the countries that prepare treaty reports and on the monitoring bodies that review them. As an alternative, she has proposed a "violations approach" which, in her view, "does not require access to extensive statistical data." 3 In recent years, the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights has been gravitating somewhat toward this approach, although its comments on states parties' reports normally refer to concerns or problems [End Page 1108] rather than violations. The goal of the AAAS/HURIDOCS project is to encourage and assist organizations, especially national NGOs, to monitor countries' performance using the violations approach.

The Thesaurus is designed as a tool to assist both NGOs and governmental organizations (its foreword is an enthusiastic endorsement by the current chair of the UN Committee) to identify potential violations of these rights. Its classification system is tied to the economic, social, and cultural rights enumerated in the International Covenant. Its main element is an alphabetical listing that contains three kinds of entries: rights, terms, and potential violations. A Covenant Article Index lists rights and potential violations under the applicable articles of the International Covenant. In addition, there are thematic and categorical indexes that enable users to locate entries relating to topics that are of interest to them and to understand their relationship to broader and narrower terms and to the various human rights treaties. Appendices include the text of the International Covenant and other relevant documents, including the Draft Optional Protocol to the Covenant, the Limburg Principles for its implementation, and Maastricht Guidelines on Violations of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.

The Thesaurus will be a useful resource for anyone wishing to understand the nature of ESC human rights and especially for those who want to advocate greater efforts by their own governments...


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