Significant progress has been made over the last two decades in clarifying the normative content of article 2(1) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and this has been followed by the development of new methodologies seeking to monitor state compliance with economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR) obligations. New tools and techniques that adapt both quantitative and qualitative approaches have started to give operational meaning to complex concepts such as “progressive realisation” and “maximum available resources”, making it possible to translate these concepts into measurable standards against which to judge the adequacy of actions taken by states.
In this article, we briefly analyse the range of new methodologies which have been developed to monitor the positive obligation to fulfil ESCR. We argue that each methodology has strengths in measuring a distinct aspect of the obligation but, as yet, no single methodology provides an overall picture of compliance. We suggest then that a more holistic approach be adopted that combines a range of methodologies and tools—both quantitative and qualitative—to address the multidimensional factors affecting the fulfilment of ESCR and to help gather the evidence to demonstrate how poor human rights outcomes (a failure to meet an obligation of result) may be linked to deficiencies in social and economic policies and programs (a failure to meet an obligation to conduct). In order to combine these different methodologies in a systematic way, this article also discusses how one approach—the OPERA framework developed by the Center for Economic and Social Rights—provides an overarching analytical framework within which multiple tools and techniques can be eclectically integrated to allow for a more holistic assessment of states’ compliance with their obligation to fulfil ESCR. The ultimate aim of this approach is to hold states to account for their obligations to fulfil ESCR by combining the strengths of a broad range of new methodologies; quantitative and qualitative.
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