The concept of economic human rights is basically derived from human rights which are the inalienable rights of all human beings. These rights which are indispensable for the development of the individuals are recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) as the "foundation of freedom, justice and peace‚€Ě in the world.
Though the expression "human rights" is relatively new, yet its spirit in one form or the other was always there in human society. In the earlier centuries they were commonly spoken of as natural rights, particularly by the Romans. In the Arabian Peninsula of the 7th century the Holy Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet (SAAS) prescribed a comprehensive system of rights and obligations.
In the West the two most important documents of human rights are considered to be the Virginia Bill of Rights (1776) and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens (1789) as they emphasize the essentials of democracy, freedom and equality. The progress in this field continued during the 19th century and the 20th century may be rightly called the century of human rights.
The UDHR, which consisted of civil, political, economic and cultural rights, was adopted on 10 December 1948. It was a major step in the promotion of human rights. Later on two covenants, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) were adopted. These covenants together with the UDHR are known as the International Bill of Human Rights.
It is interesting to note that the economic and social rights found acceptance at the international level prior to civil and political rights. The International Labor Organization (ILO), which functioned continuously since its birth in 1919 till it was adopted by the UNO as one of its specialized agencies, has relentlessly worked for the rights of the workers all over the world.
Economic human rights include the right to work and rights in work in favorable conditions, to adequate standard of living, to highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, the right to education and the right to social protection. These rights are also called positive rights, as they require governmental interference and involvement.
The politically homogenous Europe has had less difficult time coming to terms with economic human rights. Nearly all major European states are firm believers in the virtues of a welfare state including the UK. In 1945 the Labor Government legislated to create the welfare society in the UK providing a system of socio-economic support designed to protect citizens from the insecurities of life and further legislation in this direction continued for the next three decades. From 1979 the Conservative government changed its policy of welfare. Unfortunately the New Labor government, which returned to office in May 1997 after 18 years of conservative government, has endorsed to the Thatcherite agenda, which is taking it gradually away from the system of a welfare state based on the principle of universalism and driving it towards selectevism.
The USA, which signed the ICESCR in 1979 under the Carter Administration, has not yet ratified it. Of the four freedoms, which Roosevelt proclaimed in 1941, Freedom from Want is not yet guaranteed by the constitution.
It was the constitution of the Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic 1918, which for the first time in Europe guaranteed economic fundamental rights to all its citizens. All the successive constitutions of the USSR have had a comprehensive set of economic rights. After the disintegration of USSR, the new constitution of the Russian Federation ratified in December 1993, also guarantees economic liberties and freedoms. It is interesting to note that unlike the former USSR Constitutions the new constitution of Russia provides for open competition, freedom of activity and private ownership.
For the people of a vast number of developing countries, economic backwardness is a major obstacle towards the full realization of human rights. Still many third-world countries provide some if not many economic human rights to their citizens by their constitutions.
The fundamental rights provide by the constitution of Pakistan are mostly the civil and political rights, a few economic rights such as prohibition of forced labor, right to form trade unions, right to occupation and right to property are included among the fundamental rights. Most of the economic rights are described as Principles of Policy in the Pakistani Constitution. The implementation of these principles depends on the availability of resources and as such they are not mandatory.
In the Indian Constitution 1950, Human Rights were included to create a society in which socio-economic justice prevailed. Unfortunately most of the justiciable rights consist of civil and political rights whereas economic human rights are provided in the form of Principles of State Policy, which are not justiciable. The dream of making India a welfare state has not been fulfilled. Though India is the largest democracy in the world, the gains of its fast economic growth have been largely captured by a very small privileged class.
The Iranian Constitution 1979 which is the product of the Iranian Revolution guarantees 24 rights as fundamental rights out of which 9 fall within the category of economic rights. A brief survey of the economic and social conditions of Iran is indicative of positive efforts in this direction by the Iranian government, but full realization of economic rights recognized in the ICESCR, is still far from reality.
Today the Muslim Ummah consists of 57 states some of whom have vast resources, yet the majority of the Muslim world is poor, illiterate, backward and deprived. Most of these countries have an embarrassingly low Human Development Index (IIDI). A mental and material gulf lies between the rulers and the ruled and this in spite of the fact that the very concept of human rights in Islam is based on the principles of dignity and equality of mankind, and social justice is the foundation of the Islamic society.
This study is indicative of the fact that economic human rights and their importance has been recognized by the international community. The role of the state in this regard is of utmost importance, which through its constitutional/legislative procedures may guarantee these rights. Alongwith the state the role of the NGO‚€™s and INGO‚€™s cannot be undermined. In the new millennium particularly the new century the stage is set for a subtle interplay of the influence between the state and the non-state actors on behalf of economic human rights, relief and sustainable human development.