If we ask what difference it would make, were the U.S. to ratify the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, we have to keep in mind the dangers of debilitating reservations, understandings and declarations. We cannot simply read the substantive provisions of the Covenant, but must also consider how the application of these provisions to domestic law might be restricted at the time of ratification. Leaving that important matter aside, however, we can consider what impact the substantive law of the Covenant might have in the United States. Furthermore, we can and should consider what being a party to the treaty would mean in terms of reporting requirements and participation in the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights that ECOSOC has created to oversee the enforcement of this treaty.
It is important to understand how the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights fits into the overall scheme of human rights implementation under international law. The UN General Assembly created the Commission on Human Rights, which is made up of government representatives and oversees generally the implementation of human rights instruments. UN staff in Geneva administer the Commission, which meets twice a year to receive reports and has established a Sub-commission of legal experts to review complaints and make recommendations. The Commission on Human Rights can request governments to respond to inquiries, authorize investigations, and make findings and recommendations. The Commission has appointed "special rapporteurs" to investigate certain kinds of human rights violations and make reports. Non-governmental organizations granted consultative status by ECOSOC can make interventions at meetings of the Commission and the Sub-commission, and NGOs are very active in expressing concerns and making suggestions to the Commission and to the Sub-commission.
In addition, each of the two main treaties implementing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has its own set of administrative procedures. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights creates a Human Rights Committee made up of eighteen persons nominated and elected by governments that have ratified the treaty, and this Committee can request that a government respond to allegations raised by another government that is a signatory to the treaty. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights requires the States that have ratified the treaty to submit reports on compliance with treaty provisions for review by the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC) and by specialized agencies of the UN. Both treaties specify that reports are to be made directly to the UN Secretary-General, who is responsible for referring these reports to the appropriate Committee, Commission or specialized agencies of the United Nations.
In contrast to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights does not give non-governmental organizations (NGOs) any right to intervene in the Committee's review of allegations made by one government against another concerning violations of international human rights law. The Committee on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights, which was established by ECOSOC in 1986, has developed procedures that do permit NGO interventions. This involvement of NGOs has not been challenged by ECOSOC, thus NGOs now have a means of intervening to help support enforcement of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights that is not available to them with the Committee that enforces the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has eighteen experts, who meet for three weeks each year, and has adopted a consultative model of enforcement. It has also issued several "General Comments," which help to define the rights of the Covenant and the procedures for its enforcement. In its first General Comment, the Committee has asserted that it envisions more than merely pro forma reporting. It expects the States Parties to "ensure that a comprehensive review is undertaken with respect to national legislation, administrative rules and procedures, and practices in an effort to ensure the fullest possible conformity with the Covenant."(23)
The Restatement (Third) of the Foreign Relations Law of the United States implies that ratification of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights by the U.S. would not be onerous.
By adhering to this Covenant, the United States would be obligated to take legislative, executive, and other measures, federal or State, generally of the kind that are already common in the United States, "to the maximum of its available resources," "with a view to achieving progressively the full realization" of those rights. Since there is no definition or standard in the Covenant, the United States would largely determine for itself the meaning of "full realization" and the speed of realization, and whether it is using "the maximum of its available resources" for this purpose.(24)
Nonetheless, the U.S. would have to defend its position before the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Its self-evaluation would be subject to scrutiny by both the international community and public opinion in the United States, to see if the U.S. government is being forthcoming and reasonable.
The Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights begins with a Preamble that asserts its provisions are realizing the principles in the Charter of the United Nations and that "these rights derive from the inherent dignity of the human person." Moreover, the Covenant recognizes that "in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ideal of free human beings enjoying freedom from fear and want can only be achieved if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his [and her] economic, social and cultural rights, as well as his [and her] civil and political rights." The Preamble also notes that "States under the Charter of the United Nations" have an obligation "to promote universal respect for and observance of" human rights. Finally, it realizes that "the individual, having duties to other individuals and to the community to which he [or she] belongs, is under a responsibility to strive for the promotion and observance of the rights recognized in the present Covenant."
Part I of the treaty contains a single article that declares the right of self-determination for all peoples and describes several implications of that right. Part II contains Articles 2-5. Article 2(1) asserts: "Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to take steps, individually and through international assistance and co-operation, especially economic and technical, to the maximum of its available resources, with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of the rights recognized in the present Covenant by all appropriate means, including particularly the adoption of legislative measures." This statement makes several important assertions. First, the parties to the treaty are to "take steps." Second, they are to use "all appropriate means," and it is assumed that this includes legislation. Third, the goal is "full realization" of the rights in the Covenant. Fourth, achieving realization of these rights, it is acknowledged, will take time.
Obviously, there is considerable discretion here for States that are parties to the Covenant. In its third General Comment, therefore, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights put some boundaries on the choices a State party might make: "while the full realization of the relevant rights may be achieved progressively, steps towards that goal must be taken within a reasonably short time after the Covenant's entry into force for the States concerned."(25) Similarly, it affirmed:
the phrase "by all appropriate means" must be given its full and natural meaning. While each State party must decide for itself which means are the most appropriate under the circumstances with respect to each of the rights, the 'appropriateness' of the means chosen will not always be self-evident. It is therefore desirable that States parties' reports should indicate not only the measures that have been taken but also the basis on which they are considered to be the most "appropriate" under the circumstances. However, the ultimate determination as to whether all appropriate measures have been taken remains one for the Committee to make.(26)
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has specific objectives that are to be met by the reporting parties to the treaty.
As a first step, States are obliged to monitor and evaluate the actual situation with regard to the enjoyment of each right within their jurisdiction. In particular, attention must be paid to the proportion of citizens that do not enjoy a specific right and to those specific sectors of the population that appear to be vulnerable or disadvantaged. Concentration on aggregate national statistics, such as per capita GNP, is inadequate as it fails to reflect the position of the marginalized sectors of the population. In practice, reports that fail to identify and analyze the relative position of such disadvantaged sectors of the population have been criticized.(27)
The Committee recognized that the use of national indicators is justified by the variety of social and economic contexts, but the Committee has explicitly stated it "cannot accept their [States'] national indicators as a general criterion for international assessment."(28) In practice the Committee has relied on information submitted by NGOs to question national qualitative and quantitative data.
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has also asserted that once a State ratifies the Covenant it must "establish a coherent policy to overcome the problems encountered and to make sufficient progress in the realization of the rights."(29) In addition, such a program or policy needs to "include bench-marks to provide a 'conceptual framework' in which the progress made towards the full realization of the rights can be evaluated."(30) A timetable for the implementation of such a policy has also been suggested. In addition, the Committee has articulated four substantive obligations on States parties: participation, disadvantagement, privatization, and State organization. It sees the development process as requiring democratic forms of decision-making and has stressed the importance of "empowerment" and "self-reliance." In order to encourage participation in realizing the rights of the Covenant, the States parties are expected to "publicize the text of the Covenant, seek the participation of NGOs in the drafting of the State reports, and disseminate those reports as widely as possible."(31)
The Committee has expressed its concern for those who are disadvantaged by market economies and the privatization of State property. "The increasing emphasis being placed on free market policies brings with it a far greater need to ensure that appropriate measures are taken to safeguard and promote economic, social and cultural rights. Even the most ardent supporters of the free market have generally acknowledged that it is incapable, of its own accord, of protecting many of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of society."(32) The Committee has also been critical of reductions in government spending for health and welfare, which often accompany privatization measures, but it has not declared that these steps are necessarily incompatible with the obligations of the Covenant.
To thwart the common assumption that economic, social and cultural rights require a socialist or welfare government, the Committee has clarified that taking steps "by all appropriate means," which often will include "the adoption of legislative measures," does not require:
any particular form of government or economic system being used as the vehicle for the steps in question, provided only that it is democratic and that all human rights are thereby respected . . .. In this regard, the Committee reaffirms that the rights recognized in the Covenant are susceptible of realization within the context of a wide variety of economic and political systems, provided only that the interdependence and indivisibility of the two sets of human rights, as affirmed inter alia in the preamble to the Covenant, is recognized and reflected in the system in question.(33)
The objective of the Covenant is the "full realization" of the rights enumerated. In the drafting process these words were chosen to replace "implementation" in order "to strengthen rather than to weaken the objective set before future contracting parties."(34) The Committee has recently asserted that the reference to "progressive realization" in Article 2(1) should not be understood as undermining the principal obligation of the Article to secure "full realization" of the rights of the Covenant.
[T]he fact that realization over time, or in other words progressively, is foreseen under the Covenant should not be misinterpreted as depriving the obligation of all meaningful content. It is on the one hand a necessary flexibility device, reflecting the realities of the real world and the difficulties involved for any country in ensuring full realization of economic, social and cultural rights. On the other hand, the phrase must be read in the light of the overall objective, indeed the raison d'être, of the Covenant which is to establish clear obligations for States parties in respect of the full realization of the rights in question. It thus imposes an obligation to move as expeditiously and effectively as possible towards that goal.(35)
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has suggested that States parties to the Covenant have obligations to respect, protect, and fulfil the rights asserted by the treaty. "The 'obligation to respect' requires the State to abstain from interference with the freedom of the individual. The 'obligation to protect' refers to the duty on the State to prevent other individuals from interference with the rights of the individual. The 'obligation to fulfil' requires the State to take the necessary measures to ensure the satisfaction of the needs of the individual that cannot be secured by the personal efforts of that individual."(36) This understanding counters the mistaken distinction between civil and political rights, which are frequently characterized as "negative" rights requiring State abstention, and economic, social and cultural rights, which are often said to be "positive" rights requiring State action.
When the Carter administration presented the Covenant to the U.S. Senate for ratification, it proposed a "statement of understanding" that included the follow assertion: "The United States understands paragraph (1) of Article 2 as establishing that the provisions of Articles 1 through 15 of this Covenant describe goals to be achieved progressively rather than through immediate implementation."(37) This language makes no distinction between provisions of these Articles that should be immediately protected or realized and those that will require progressive implementation. Although designated as an "understanding," this would effectively be a reservation limiting the application of the treaty. Such an attachment to the ratification of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights would clearly be contrary to the interpretation of the Committee's General Comment that calls for the immediate realization of Articles 3, 8, 13(3), and 15(3) of the Covenant.(38)
The remainder of Part II of the treaty concerns any limitations that nations may try to impose on these rights. Article 2(2) asserts the principle of non-discrimination" as to "race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status." It is important to realize that the principle of non-discrimination set forth in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is the same in each treaty. The principle of non-discrimination is not subject to progressive implementation in either Covenant, but must be guaranteed immediately.
Article 3 ensures the equal rights of men and women. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights clearly sees the principle of non-discrimination as a means of achieving equality. It has not defined "discrimination" in a General Comment, but has asserted with respect to Article 6 that States parties need to report on: "any distinctions, exclusions, restrictions or preferences, be it in law or in administrative practices or in practical relationships, between persons or groups or persons, made on the basis of race, colour, sex, religion, political opinion, nationality or social origin, which have the effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise of equality of opportunity or treatment in employment or occupation."(39) This seems to be very similar to the understanding of discrimination in other human rights instruments, which has been stated as: "(1) a difference in treatment, (2) which is based upon certain prohibited grounds, (3) and has a certain purpose or effect, (4) in selective fields."(40)
It is clear, therefore, that: "The undertakings 'to guarantee' [Article 2(2)] and 'to ensure' [Article 3] cannot reasonably be construed as mere declarations of goals to be achieved in the distant future."(41) Instead, immediate obligations are imposed by the Covenant on the States that are parties to it. Article 3 probably goes beyond U.S. law and thus would require legislation by Congress to clarify the extent of its protection, because it requires the government "to ensure the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all economic, social and cultural rights set forth in the present Covenant." The challenge of this provision should not be minimized.
Article 4 asserts that "the State may subject such rights only to such limitations as are determined by law only in so far as this may be compatible with the nature of those rights and solely for the purpose of promoting the general welfare in a democratic society."
Article 5 rejects any implications that would negate the Covenant or might be used by a government to limit the effect of the Covenant. It should be noted that the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights does not explicitly recognize the right to property. Although silence in international law is without meaning, ratification in the U.S. might not be achieved without an understanding such as the following: "The United States understands that nothing in the Covenant derogates from the equal obligation of all states to fulfill their responsibilities under international law relative to foreign-owned property, including the obligation to provide just compensation and to ensure that no one shall be otherwise arbitrarily deprived of their property."(42)
Part III sets forth substantive rights in Articles 6-15. Article 6(1) asserts that the States, which are parties to the Covenant, "recognize the right to work, which includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he [or she] freely chooses or accepts, and will take appropriate steps to safeguard this right." Article 6(2) outlines the steps to be taken by the State achieve the realization of the right to work, and it speaks of "polities and techniques to achieve . . . full and productive employment." Thus, the Covenant does not require full employment but rather a policy that is directed at achieving this objective. This Article is sufficiently qualified to meet most of the objections that might be raised in the U.S., for Article 6(1) specifies that the job is to be freely chosen or accepted, and Article 6(2) protects the "fundamental political and economic freedoms" of the individual.
Matthew Craven argues that the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights might be more specific about its requirements. He suggests that States parties "be expected to show that they have a coherent strategy of the short, medium, and long-term which has as a central aim the achievement of full employment. In this respect it is arguable that a government policy that was directed towards the achievement of economic growth at the expense of maintaining a permanent pool of unemployed would be in conflict with that State's obligations under the Covenant."(43)
Similarly, Craven asserts that policies relegating employment goals to long-term strategies should require strict scrutiny. "In this respect, those States that pursue a pure 'monetarist' philosophy where the emphasis is upon the adoption of fiscal measures to reduce inflation and encourage investment will be required to show that the short and medium-term effects are not unduly detrimental to the employment situation. Although the reduction of inflation may be a precondition for the resumption of steady and stable growth, it should not be undertaken without measures to mitigate its adverse effect on employment."(44) For these reasons, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has looked carefully at the affects of structural adjustment policies in developing countries.(45)
Article 7 asserts that the "States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work." It requires: "(a) Remuneration which provides all workers as a minimum with: (i) Fair wages and equal remuneration for work of equal value without distinction of any kind, in particular women being guaranteed conditions of work not inferior to those enjoyed by men, with equal pay for equal work; (ii) A decent living for themselves and their families in accordance with the provisions of the present Covenant." The Article also ensures: (b) "Safe and healthy working conditions; (c) Equal opportunity for everyone to be promoted . . .; (d) Rest, leisure and reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay, as well as remuneration for public holidays."
The Covenant does not specifically require a "minimum wage," but the reporting guidelines of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights imply that the Committee has interpreted the language on "minimum remuneration" in the Covenant in mean this. "The guidelines indicate that the Committee expects the creation of a system which conforms, in large part, to the ILO [International Labour Organization] Minimum Wage-Fixing Convention of 1970 (No. 131) to which reference is made. Accordingly it appears to be expected that a system, as extensive as possible, be established which is enforceable either in law or by means of some other sanction."(46) Thus, machinery is to be established to monitor and adjust the level of the minimum wage and, most importantly, to enforce the requirement.
Article 7(a)(ii) asserts that the level of remuneration should be sufficient for a "decent living" for a worker and his or her family. The phrase is to be read in the context of the Covenant and seems to mean the enjoyment of the rights to housing, food, clothing, and perhaps health, education and culture.
Article 7(a)(i) asserts that workers should receive "equal remuneration for work of equal value." Craven observes that: "The concept of 'equal pay for equal work' is the more restrictive of the two concepts in that it confines the comparison to workers with the same job description in the same establishment. The concept of equal remuneration for work of equal value, however, like the 'comparable worth' doctrine in the United States, requires comparisons to be made between a wider range of jobs across the spectrum of the employment market."(47)
It may be argued that this principle is broader in two ways than that found in other related human rights instruments. "First, whereas ILO Convention No. 100 and Article 119 of the Treaty of Rome provide for equal pay only in relation to men and women, Article 7(a)(i) applies to 'all workers . . . without distinction of any kind'. Secondly, the Covenant uses the term 'remuneration' which is arguably broader than the term 'pay'. Wide though its coverage may be, the Covenant gives no further instruction as to how the concept should be realized."(48) As the Covenant requires that States guarantee the right of women to equal pay for equal work, this particular issue has been dealt with separately by the Committee.
In enforcing Article 7(d) the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has relied largely on International Labour Organization standards. The Committee's guidelines refer to the Weekly Rest (Industry) Convention of 1921 (No. 14), the Weekly Rest (Commerce and Offices) Convention of 1957 (No. 106), and the Holidays with Pay Convention (Revised) of 1970 (No. 132). Perhaps the Committee has not made any statement about remuneration for public holidays because there is no ILO Convention dealing with this right.
Article 8 concerns the right to form trade unions. The Article mentions the International Labour Organization Convention of 1948 and asserts that the Covenant should not be used in any way to prejudice the guarantees in that Convention. The right to join and form trade unions is part of the right to freedom of association found in Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has made it clear that this right does not require progressive implementation but is "be capable of immediate application by judicial and other organs in many national legal systems."(49)
Article 9 asserts "the right of everyone to social security, including social insurance." Article 10 concerns protection for the family, marriage, and special protections for mothers and children. Article 10(1) asserts that: "Marriage must be entered into with the free consent of the intending spouses." Article 10(2) concerns pregnancy and maternity leave: "Special protection should be accorded to mothers during a reasonable period before and after childbirth. During such period working mothers should be accorded paid leave or leave with adequate social security benefits." Article 10(3) ensures that children and young persons are "protected from economic and social exploitation."
Whereas Articles 7-10 are not controversial in the United States or contrary to general practice, Articles 11-12 have aroused strong opposition.
Article 11 affirms: "The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions." Certainly, it would be hard for the United States government to argue that it is making progress in realizing the right to housing for those who are homeless. Article 12 recognizes "the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health." Article 13 asserts that the "States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to education," and Article 14 mandates "a detailed plan of action" within two years of signing the treaty "for the progressive implementation within a reasonable number of years, to be fixed in the plan, of the principle of compulsory primary education, free of charge for all."
There is considerable debate as to whether or not these Articles assert rights rather than needs, and there is also controversy over the standard for measuring their realization. The first dispute is more familiar, but the second is equally contentious. The Covenant is clear that State parties are obliged to monitor their own implementation of the provisions of the treaty. Were the United States to ratify the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, it would have to submit a report within two years to the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Most likely some members of this Committee would pose questions that the U.S. government would then have to answer, and this could lead to further dialogue between the Committee and representatives of the U.S. government. Thus, the enforcement of these rights requires States that are parties to the Covenant to report on their "steps" to achieve "full realization" of these rights to a Committee of experts, which questions and counsels and generally urges States to do more than they are doing. This dialogue between the Committee and State parties to the treaty becomes a public record and serves to define over time what these rights mean and what their implementation requires of governments.
Article 11 asserts both the right to adequate food (1) and the right "to be free from hunger." (2) These rights are not to be understood to mean the same thing, for were this true there would be no reason to mention both. The right to be free from hunger is the only right in the two Covenants implementing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that is referred to as "fundamental." It states an absolute minimum condition for human dignity, whereas the right to adequate food defines what is necessary for human decency. In its reporting guidelines the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has not attempted to define what "adequate food" would mean, but it has asked parties to the Covenant to provide information about the extent to which the right has been realized. Members of the Committee seem to agree that more than a certain number of calories is required by this right; nonetheless, they have tended to rely on such a standard in their comments.
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has focused more on the right to housing than on any other provision in the Covenant. In its fourth General Comment the Committee said:
[T]o the extent that States are required to restrain themselves from action that obstructs access to housing, or are required to "facilitate self-help", they should implement such obligations immediately. States are thus under an obligation, for example, to refrain from action that either arbitrarily deprives people of their own housing or prevents them from finding or building their homes themselves. The Committee also comments that where these immediate obligations are beyond the powers of the State concerned, it should request international assistance.(50)
The Committee requires that States immediately formulate and monitor policies on housing. Specifically, information is requested about the housing for social groups that are most vulnerable and disadvantaged, because of their low social and economic status.
In addition, the guidelines require information about the number of homeless individuals and families, the number of individuals and families inadequately housed, the number of persons living in "illegal" settlements, the number of persons evicted in the last five years (and those currently lacking protection against arbitrary eviction), the number of persons whose housing expenses are classified as unaffordable, the number of persons on waiting lists for accommodation, and the number of persons in different types of housing tenure.(51)
The Committee has not defined "adequate housing," but it has asserted that: "the right to housing should not be interpreted in a narrow or restrictive sense which equates it with, for example, the shelter provided by merely having a roof over one's head. Rather it should be seen as the right to somewhere live in security, peace and dignity."(52) The Committee does hold the State responsible for enforcing the right to housing, but it recognizes that a States policy in this respect may rely heavily on the private sector. "Measures designed to satisfy a State party's obligations in respect of the right to adequate housing may reflect whatever mix of public and private sector measures considered appropriate. While in some States public financing of housing might most usefully be spent on direct construction of new housing, in most cases, experience has shown the inability of Governments to fully satisfy housing deficits with publicly built housing."(53)
An honest appraisal of the situation in the United States suggests that fulfilling these economic rights will require action by the government. For instance, a comparative study in the late 1980s of eight Western countries (Australia, Canada, the Federal Republic of Germany, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States) concluded that: "the poverty of American children contrasts glaringly with the poverty of the young in every other country but Australia . . .. The poverty rate for American children was 70 percent higher than the rate for children in Canada, our closest neighbor. In fact, American children . . . are at a disadvantage relative to their peers in all the other countries examined here, except Australia."(54)
It has been argued that "American courts have never recognized any governmental duty to provide welfare or subsistence benefits to citizens. Even when welfare benefits are provided, there are few constraints on a legislature's discretion in determining who will receive the benefits."(55) However, another observer suggests that constitutional developments in the 1970s and 1980s seem to have "a possible, but not openly professed or entirely consistent, belief in protection for the poor against the most severe forms of deprivation with respect to education, nutrition and welfare."(56) Were the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to be ratified, this apparent "belief" would be made much more explicit in U.S. law, unless ratification was accompanied by a reservation or understanding limiting the effect of the treaty to the protections of existing domestic legislation.
Article 15 recognizes "the right of everyone" to participate in cultural life, to "enjoy the benefits of scientific progress," and to benefit from his [or her] scientific, literary or artistic production. This is not a right that is disputed within the United States, although questions might well be raised as to how fundamental this right is and ways by which the realization of this Article is to be assessed.
Part IV sets forth the implementation measures of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Articles 16-25. In 1985 ECOSOC revised some of these procedures by creating the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Eighteen experts are elected to the Committee for four-year terms by ECOSOC from among persons nominated by States that are parties to the Covenant. The Committee meets annually for three weeks and first met in March 1987. It requires an initial report within two years of the Covenant's entry into force for a State party and subsequent reports every five years. Each report is to cover all the rights of the Covenant, but is to be organized to deal with the three groups of rights separately. A pre-sessional working group of five members of the Committee identifies in advance questions that might be addressed to States whose reports are under consideration.
Specialized agencies of the U.N. receive State reports pursuant to Article 16 of the Covenant, and Article 18 permits these agencies to submit to ECOSOC their own reports. The International Labour Organization claims that more than a hundred ILO conventions are relevant to the enforcement of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and between 1979 and 1993 the ILO provided information to the Committee on over 50 countries.(57) ECOSOC, the U.N. specialized agencies, and the Commission on Human Rights all have authority to make general recommendations on the basis of the State reports, and States parties may comment to ECOSOC concerning any such recommendations. In 1988, ECOSOC also invited NGOs in consultative status to submit to the Committee written statements "that might contribute to full and universal recognition and realization of the rights set forth in the Covenant."(58)
Article 23 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights provides for enforcement: "The States Parties to the present Covenant agree that international action for the achievement of the rights recognized in the present Covenant includes such methods as the conclusion of conventions, the adoption of recommendations, the furnishing of technical assistance and the holding of regional meetings and technical meetings for the purpose of consultation and study organized in conjunction with the Governments concerned."
Part V, which includes Articles 26-31, largely concerns procedures for ratification and amending the Covenant and details about how it "shall come into force." Article 28, however, asserts substantively that: "The provisions of the present Covenant shall extend to all parts of federal States without any limitations or exceptions." If the United States were to ratify the Covenant with an understanding that exempts state governments, its ratification would directly contradict the terms of the treaty.