Now is (not yet) the Winter of Our Discontent: The Unfulfilled Promise of Economic and Social Rights in the Fight Against Economic Inequality

By Caroline Omari Lichuma

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Material inequality or (extreme) economic inequality has been touted as one of the greatest challenges of the twenty-first century. Wealth is “hemorrhaging upwards” rather than “trickling down.” In a world where the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the inequality gap in income and wealth continues intensifying at an alarming pace, there exists an “inequality explosion” that threatens the very fabric of our global society. While economic inequality and questions of (re)distribution of wealth and income have traditionally been examined within the spheres of development law and political economy, I argue that a human rights based approach that contains economic and social rights (hereinafter, ESRs) at its core is capable of mitigating economic inequality. International human rights norms enjoy a high level of global legitimacy, as evidenced by the fact that the key human rights instruments have been widely accepted in all regions of the world. 169 States have ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (hereinafter, ICESCR). Underpinned by universally recognized moral values and reinforced by national and international legal obligations, ESRs therefore provide a compelling normative framework through which material inequality can be addressed.

About the Author

Ms. Caroline Lichuma is a PhD candidate at the Georg-August Universität, Göttingen. In 2010, she graduated with an LLB from the University of Nairobi, where she received the Hamilton Harrison and Mathews – Le Pelley Prize for the best third year student in the school of Law for the 2008/2009 academic year. She thereafter undertook her LLM degree in International Legal Studies at the New York University School of Law, where she was a Dean Graduate scholar. Caroline has worked as an assistant lecturer at the Strathmore Law School and at Riara Law School, both in Nairobi, Kenya. She was the 2014 Emer De Vattel Scholar at The Hague Academy of International Law’s Public International Law Summer School. And in 2017, Caroline was one of the finalists of the International Junior Faculty Forum held at Stanford Law School, where she presented her paper, “TWAILing the Minimum Core Concept: Rethinking the Minimum Core of Economic and Social Rights.”

Project & Publications Type: Rapoport Center Working Paper Series