Recognition of the need to protect the rights and interests of the vulnerable and disadvantaged has been a recurrent theme in the work of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR). This article reviews the work of the CESCR to ascertain whether the Committee has had a clear-cut framework or criteria to determine which individuals or groups should be considered vulnerable and disadvantaged and what measures are required to protect their human rights. The first section reviews the Committee's reporting guidelines. The second analyzes the treatment of vulnerability in the Committee's general comments and statements. The third evaluates how the CESCR has approached the subject of vulnerability in its concluding comments for state party reports reviewed between 1997 and 2009. The fourth concludes that despite the importance the CESCR accords to the subject of vulnerability, it does not offer a clear-cut conception or definition of vulnerability or related terminology. Nor does it provide criteria for identifying which individuals or groups qualify as vulnerable or disadvantaged in general or in specific contexts. Moreover, the CESCR is often vague about what protecting and improving the status of the vulnerable and disadvantaged entails. Therefore the paper recommends that the CESCR address vulnerability in a more conceptually robust and integrated fashion through issuing a general comment or a statement on the topic.


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pp. 682-732
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