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Leijten en Arenas Catalán present current research at conference on economic and social rights

On 9 and 10 November, the Institute of International and European Law of the University of Göttingen and the Minerva Center for Human Rights of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, organized a conference called ‘Unpacking Economic and Social Rights: International and Comparative Dimensions’.

Following a call for abstracts, speakers from various countries were invited to present their views on this topic in Göttingen (Germany). Both Eduardo Arenas Catalán and Ingrid Leijten had the chance to present and discuss their current research projects.

The conference resulted from a joint research project directed by Prof. Tomer Broude (Jerusalem) and Prof. Andreas L. Paulus (Göttingen). It examined economic and social rights from a comparative perspective, looking at German, Israeli and European legal systems and their respective constitutional, legislative and jurisprudential experiences, as well as the universal human rights framework under the auspices of the United Nations. Speakers included Prof. Ana Maria Guerra Martins, who is a judge at the Portuguese Constitutional Court and spoke about this court’s austerity case law; Prof. Andreas Paulus, who serves as a Justice at the Bundesverfassungsricht and discussed the German right to an Existenzminimum; Michael Windfuhr, the Deputy Director of the German Institute for Human Rights, who also is a member of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), and various academics from Europe and Israel.

Leijten’s presentation was titled ‘Non-Discrimination, Indivisibility, and Judicial Economic and Social Rights Protection’. She talked about indivisible rights protection and the increased justiciability of economic and social rights norms, and how this creates multiple avenues for complaints about discrimination in the socio-economic field. She addressed both the chances and concerns involved in this development and argued that in improving socio-economic rights protection, we should not forget about the content of (other) substantive socio-economic rights concerning e.g. housing, health care and social security. In this regard, and especially in an indivisible context, sufficiency or minimum protection forms an important point of departure.

Arenas Catalan’s presentation was titled ‘The Doctrinal Evolution of the Right to Health: Revisiting Discarded Narratives of Social Rights’. He showed that while social rights such as the right to health were welcomed to the family of human rights recognized by the West in the 1990s, this came at the expense of narrowing-down their content and scope. Today’s widespread social and economic inequalities prove the scant success of such a limited recognition. Hence, the need to revisit the theoretical foundation of social rights. Older perspectives in human rights, which put the accent on solidarity and participation, can be more effective in combatting right-wing populism. According to Arenas Catalán, human rights law should tackle this task both openly and along this different focus.

The conference allowed thorough discussion by all participants on the development and shortcomings of economic and social rights protection. It showed the need for a broader approach to these rights, involving not only courts, but also legislators and executives, as well as institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF). At the same time, it became clear that in promoting material equality and social justice, socio-economic rights cannot alone form the answer.

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