From 18-22 November 2013, the Institute for Human Rights at Åbo Akademi University in Åbo/Turku, Finland, hosted the Advanced Course on the Justiciability of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Course participants hailed from across the globe and countries represented at the course included Austria, Bolivia, Burundi, Colombia, Denmark, the Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Finland, Greece, Indonesia, Italy, Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria, Norway, South Africa, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. A diverse group of participants attended the course, which included researchers, representatives from NGOs and governments, public interest lawyers, professors, scholars, as well as post-graduate students.
The course covered a rich selection of topics that addressed various aspects concerning the justiciability of economic, social and cultural rights. These included lectures and discussions on, amongst others, the conceptual issues surrounding the justiciability of economic, social and cultural rights. This prompted participants to analyse, for example, the values and purposes underlying economic, social and cultural rights, the court’s role in socio-economic adjudication, and the role of international and regional mechanisms as avenues for socio-economic rights adjudication.
Presentations and discussions that addressed the African, European, and inter-American human rights systems highlighted the manner in which these mechanisms have adjudicated upon economic, social and cultural rights. These lectures also focused on, amongst others, the strengths and weaknesses of these mechanisms as well as the challenges they face in adjudicating socio-economic rights. Particular focus was also placed on issues surrounding the minimum core concept in the context of socio-economic rights, which allowed participants to engage with the strengths and weaknesses of this concept and its application. The lectures on globalisation and public interest litigation addressed amongst others, the impact of court orders, issues surrounding their implementation and the importance of different litigation strategies within the context of socio-economic rights.
Participants were also given an opportunity to engage with each other in working groups and were required to analyse a case and present arguments for either the state or the alleged victims. This provided important insight into the challenges both parties face in developing legal arguments within the context of socio-economic rights claims. Case studies from specific jurisdictions such as South Africa, Germany, and South Asia were also analysed, which assisted in informing participants of the manner in which other national courts adjudicate socio-economic rights. Participants were also given an opportunity to elaborate on interesting cases from their home countries. This allowed for a group discussion on litigation strategies and highlighted, amongst others, the challenges facing NGOs and communities in facilitating the implementation of court orders, the litigation of pregnant women’s right to health care in Uganda, and the challenges facing states in fulfilling obligations within the context of natural disasters.
Presenters of the course included Sandy Liebenberg (South Africa), Malcolm Langford (Norway), Catarina Krause (Finland), Colm O’ Cinneide (United Kingdom), Sisay Alemahu Yeshanew (Finland), Tara Melish (United States of America) and Katie Young (Australia). The course provided participants with an excellent opportunity to learn about and discuss relevant topics with experts in the field. It also introduced participants to important academic literature and relevant international, regional and national case law, making this a very enriching and informative experience.
The Advanced Course on the Justiciability of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights forms part of the Global School on Socio-economic Rights. The course was organised by the Institute for Human Rights at Åbo Akademi University in Åbo/Turku, Finland, in cooperation with the Socio-Economic Rights and Administrative Justice Research Project (SERAJ) at the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa, and the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights at the University of Oslo, Norway.
Demichelle Petherbridge, a SERAJ doctoral candidate from Stellenbosch University participated in the course with the assistance of a scholarship awarded to her by the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.