The purpose of Module 9 is to provide an overview of the nature and extent of states’ and nonstate actors’ obligations to promote and protect human rights.

This module should help trainees understand/clarify for themselves:

  • the state’s generic obligations to respect, protect and fulfill human rights;
  • the meaning of obligations of conduct and of result;
  • the meaning of a state’s obligations under article 2(1) of the ICESCR; 
  • how to develop a "checklist” to examine the extent to which a state has met its obliga­tions with respect to ESC rights; and
  • The extent of human rights obligations of nonstate actors.

Suggested Methods

¨      Small group Discussion: A trainer could give the following passage from the module for small group discussion:

"In the region of Kalahandi in the Indian State of Orissa there have been recurring starvation deaths every other year among the families of landless laborers in a number of villages.”

The participants should answer the following questions:

-         Do these starvation deaths have anything to do with human rights?

-         Who is to blame for the starvation deaths? Could we blame it on the rains that failed or the landlord who did not employ the laborers?  Should we also blame the neigh­bors who did not provide food to the starving families?

-         Is there a role for the state in preventing such starvation deaths?  How could it be ar­gued that a state has an obligation to prevent such starvation deaths?

After each small group presents its report, using the information in the manual the trainer could make a lecture presentation clarifying the concept of state obligations, including the meaning of a state’s obligations under article 2(1) of the ICESCR. 

¨      Small group discussion on the meaning of a state’s obligations under Article 2(1) of the ICESCR: A trainer could give the text of the General Comment on Article 2(1) of ICESCR of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights for discussion in small groups. 

After reading the text, each small group should summarize the main points and list what they consider to be a state’s obligations. 

¨      Case study: A trainer could use the following case study to initiate discussion on state obligations as well as defining the content of ESC rights.

In the region "K” in the Indian State of "O” there have been recurring starvation deaths among landless laborers for the past two years.  "K” has not gotten any rains for the past four years, and officials blamed the deaths on the persistent failure of the Indian monsoon.

In this region a few rich and powerful landlords own most of the land, and land re­form has never been effectively implemented.  The laborers are paid less than the minimum wage and women are paid even less.  Even this income is not available since the landlords stopped employing the laborers due to the drought condition.  La­borers are not organized as no trade union is allowed to be established by the land­lords, who use the police to discourage unionization of workers.

Stories are trickling in about parents sending their children to the distant city of "C” to work as domestic help.  The media has also carried news reports about a laborer who has sold his wife for a bag of rice.  More reports about starvation deaths ap­peared, with women, children and aged being the victims.  The opposition parties have built up pressure on the government, and have accused it of being negligent and inactive in dealing with the crisis.  The government in turn blames the opposition parties and NGOs for exaggerating the crisis in order to get international media atten­tion.

The villages where the starvation deaths took place are highly inaccessible.  Villagers have to walk at least 10 kms to reach the nearest bus stop to go to the fair price shop situated in the local town that is 15 kms away.   A clerk in one of the fair price shops is hoarding bags of rice and selling them on the black market. 

One day a group of villagers raids the fair price shop.  The police take immediate ac­tion and severely beat some villagers and arrest many of them.  The police charge the villagers with belonging to a radical group that is threatening the security of the country.

Questions for discussion:

1.    What are the specific human rights standards involved in this case?

2.    What is the cause of starvation deaths in "K”?

3.    What was the obligation of the State "O” with respect to the people of "K”?

4.    What is the minimum content and core content of rights in the above case?

5.    Were there any failures in relation to the state’s obligation?

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