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Extra-territorial obligations: human rights beyond borders


Imagine for a moment that the essential barometer of international relations was how the human dignity of individual and community rights-holders was protected, rather than how the interests of governments and, in many cases, their corporate sponsors were advanced. How might development assistance be reshaped? And what of trade, investment, finance or other economic agreements? Or indeed national security?

CESR is no stranger to advocating human rights beyond borders. Our path-breaking work many years ago to expose the human consequences of US economic sanctions and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, had resounding influence on how sanctions are applied in international diplomacy today. Our early collaboration on legal claims in US courts against Texaco (now Chevron), which had for decades caused oil contamination in northeastern Ecuador, helped build the foundations for the community-led movement and subsequent Ecuadorian court verdict against the California-based company which caught the world’s attention last year.

While much has changed since those early days, we remain ever-more convinced that the ultimate realization of economic and social rights depends on cooperating beyond the inherited frontiers which bind us. This is particularly so in an age of unprecedented global interconnection and interdependence.

And so CESR has collaborated in an historic breakthrough in the quest to bring the law ever closer to the requisites of justice in the era of globalization. At the end of last year, CESR joined a group of distinguished experts in international law and human rights from all regions of the world to adopt the Maastricht Principles on Extra-Territorial Obligations (ETOs) of States in the area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Complementing and building upon the 1986 Limburg Principles for the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the 1997 Maastricht Guidelines on Violations of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, these new ETO principles pull together a plethora of previously isolated norms on extraterritorial obligations to effectively clarify the human rights obligations of States to respect, protect and fulfill human rights outside of their own borders.

Following the official launch of these ETO principles at the Human Rights Council last month, CESR joined a larger Consortium of academics, legal scholars and human rights advocates to develop alliances which can give teeth to this legal milestone. Such new partnerships will play a key role in efforts to transform inter-state and transnational relations, addressing a broad spectrum of issues from conflict, occupation and war to corruption, corporate accountability and climate change. Driven by the need to better understand and apply human rights obligations extraterritorially in the context of economic crisis and the coming post-2015 MDG review, CESR has joined other members to form focal groups on tax/finance policy and development assistance. Together with advocates and legal scholars the world over, CESR is committed to working beyond national borders in the struggle for economic and social justice. These recent breakthroughs are the next step of a long but promising journey.