ECONOMIC, SOCIAL, AND CULTURAL RIGHTS
A. THE LEGAL FRAMEWORK
1. The Republic of Colombia is a state party to the International Covenant on Economic,
Social and Cultural Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1966, and ratified by the
Colombian state on October 29, 1969. In addition, it is party to countless conventions
entered into under the aegis of the International Labor Organization ("ILO") on
particular aspects of some of the rights analyzed in this Chapter.
2. The 1991 Colombian Constitution includes economic, social, and cultural rights under
Title II, Chapter 2. According to a definition by the Constitutional Court of Colombia,
these rights "imply the provision of services by the state and therefore an economic
outlay that generally depends on a political decision."( 1 ) In addition, the Constitution states, at Article 53, that, "the
international labor conventions, duly ratified, are domestic law." Other human rights
treaties, including those on economic, social, and cultural rights, are a guide for
interpretation and prevail in the domestic legal order, pursuant to Article 93 of the
3. In December 1997, Colombia acceded to the Additional Protocol to the American
Convention on Human Rights (the "Convention" or the "American
Convention") on economic, social, and cultural rights, known as the Protocol of San
Salvador. Law 319 of September 20, 1996, approved that Protocol after both the Senate and
the House of Representatives considered it. Later, the Constitutional Court of Colombia,
in an important and extensive analysis, declared the Protocol to be constitutional, as it
was found to be perfectly compatible with the letter and spirit of the Constitution of
Colombia.( 2 ) The Commission highly values Colombia's
accession to this instrument, which brings the inter-American system very close to the day
when this treaty, detailing the economic, social and cultural rights of the Latin American
people, will enter into full force. With ratification by just one more country, the
Protocol of San Salvador will enter into force.
4. The fact that this Protocol has yet to enter into force, however, does not mean that
the inter-American system lacks provisions which directly protect economic, social, and
cultural rights, and give rise to obligations for the Colombian State. Article 26 of the
American Convention requires that the states parties to the Convention adopt
"measures, both internally and through international cooperation ... with a view to
achieving progressively, by legislation or other appropriate means, the full
realization" of these rights. As the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (the
"Commission," the "IACHR" or the "Inter-American
Commission") has stated previously: While Article 26 does not enumerate specific
measures of implementation, leaving the State to determine the most appropriate
administrative, social, legislative, or other steps to pursue, it expresses a legal
obligation on the part of the State to engage in such a process of determination and to
adopt progressive measures in this sphere. The principle of progressive development
establishes that such measures are to be undertaken in a manner which constantly and
consistently advances toward the full realization of these rights."( 3 ) Furthermore, the Charter of the Organization of American States
("OAS"), as amended by the Protocol of Buenos Aires, enshrines several economic,
social, and cultural rights at Articles 33, 44, and 48, among others. Finally, the
American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, at Articles XI, XII, XIII, XIV, XV,
XVI, and XXII, sets forth many of these rights. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights
has held that the American Declaration has full legal effect, and the member states of the
OAS are bound by it.( 4 )
5. Having briefly described the legal framework and the legal basis of the obligation of
the Colombian State to respect and guarantee economic, social, and cultural rights, the
Commission will now analyze the actual effectiveness of these rights. The Commission
understands that neither the existence of the legal provisions cited nor of government
projects brought to the Commissions attention during its visit are sufficient to
consider that the rights are actually respected or guaranteed. It is essential that the
economic, social, and cultural rights recognized in international and constitutional
provisions have real effect in the daily lives of each of the inhabitants of Colombia,
thereby guaranteeing minimal conditions for leading a dignified life.
6. The progressive nature of the duty to ensure the observance of some of these rights, as
is recognized in the language of the provisions cited, does not mean that Colombia can
delay in adopting all measures needed to make them effective. To the contrary, Colombia
has the obligation to immediately begin the process leading to the complete realization of
the rights contained in those provisions. In no way can the progressive nature of the
rights mean that Colombia can indefinitely postpone the efforts aimed at their complete
attainment.( 5 )
7. The Commission understands that this obligation to progressively develop economic,
social, and cultural rights in Colombia is not necessarily being fully met by the State.
Thus, for example, the percentage of the population with access to health care fell from
88% to 87% between 1980 and 1993. The obligation to develop these rights progressively
requires at a minimum that their observance and access to them not be diminished over
B. THE EFFECTIVENESS OF ECONOMIC, SOCIAL, AND
8. The prevailing socioeconomic situation in Colombia has traditionally placed it among
those countries with the best economic indicators in Latin America. Most of the indicators
have been above average for the region.
9. Without claiming to engage in an exhaustive analysis, the Commission provides the
following examples. While illiteracy in Latin American and the Caribbean as a whole is 12%
for men and 15% for women over 15 years of age, in Colombia the rate is 9% for both. While
the percentage of the population with access to health services and drinking water is 57%
and 73% respectively, for Latin America and the Caribbean as a whole, in Colombia they are
notably higher, at 63% and 76%, respectively.( 6 )
10. The Commission understands that the indicators outlined as examples, together with
others, have made it possible to achieve greater observance of economic, social, and
cultural rights than in other countries of the region. The Commission takes note of this
situation, and urges the Colombian government to maintain it. Nonetheless, the Commission
must note as well that the economic situation in Colombia is deteriorating, causing the
country to begin to lag behind the rest of the region in some respects. For example,
unemployment has climbed to hitherto unknown levels, from 7.6% (443,574 unemployed) in the
third quarter of 1994, to 12.7% (798,748 unemployed) in March 1997.( 7 ) Debt-service payments for 1996 came to 6.1% of the gross domestic
product for the region as a whole, and to 6.6% in Colombia.( 8
) Foreign debt has reached U.S. $31.6 billion dollars.( 9
) In addition, Colombia has suffered, in recent years, from serious trade deficits,
amounting to 4.1 billion dollars in 1995, 4.7 billion in 1996 and 4.8 billion in 1997.( 10 ) The Commission is especially concerned by the fact
that the infant mortality rate in Colombia is more than double the figure for the rest of
the region.( 11 ) The Government should take forceful
measures to guarantee that infant mortality is brought down to a number in accordance with
the economic situation described above.
11. The principles of non-discrimination and equal protection before the law, set forth in
Articles 1 and 24 of the American Convention, also apply to economic, social, and cultural
rights. Nonetheless, in Colombia there are profound differences in the effective
observance of economic, social, and cultural rights which divide the rural population from
the urban population. In addition, there is a profoundly inequitable distribution of
income between the richest and poorest sectors in Colombia, with a very large percentage
of Colombians living below the poverty line.
12. In Colombia, poverty is on the rise, in differing degrees for rural and urban areas.
Whereas in 1991, 29% of the rural population was below the poverty line, one year later
that percentage rose to 31.2%. During the same period, the urban population below the
poverty line increased from 7.8% to 8%, respectively.( 12
13. Whereas the poorest 10% of the population accounts for only 1% of consumption, the
wealthiest 10% is responsible for 46.9% of all consumer spending.( 13 ) The Commission recommends that the Colombian state adopt as many
measures as needed to reduce inequities in Colombia and for the Government to ensure that
the poorest sectors of the population are able to live in conditions such that their basic
needs are met.
14. These wealth inequities and increasing poverty levels also affect access to education.
One of the principle reasons why children leave school is the cost of education. Although
education itself is free, many families cannot afford the costs associated with schooling,
such as buying clothing and materials and paying for transportation. For example, in 1991,
the cost of education was named as the primary reason that young girls between 6 and 11
abandoned schooling. Poor persons are thus likely to have lower educational levels. In
1992, the population considered to be poor had an average of 4.32 years of schooling,
while average number of years of schooling for the population not considered to be poor
rose to 7.45. Because the level of schooling has a direct effect on wages earned,
education is an important aspect of a cycle of poverty. Children from poor families
receive fewer years of education than their wealthier counterparts and, as a result,
obtain lower wages at adulthood. Their families thus tend to remain poor, making it likely
that their children, in turn, will benefit from fewer years of education.
15. The Commission has also received information indicating that the quality of education
is not adequate in Colombia. More than half (52.5%) of teachers have only a secondary
education, while some teachers (0.5%) have only a primary education. Another factor
affecting the quality of education is the inadequate pay received by teachers. According
to the Colombian Federation of Educators, the average monthly salary of teachers is
$292,000 pesos (approximately $185 dollars) and 55% of teachers earn only $250,000 pesos
(approximately $158 dollars).( 14 )
16. The IACHR has received information regarding the National Development Plan for the
1994-1998 period, called "El Salto Social" ("the Social Leap Forward")
implemented by the Government, as well as the goals set in that plan. Nonetheless, it has
found that many of its ambitious anticipated results have not been attained. Thus, while
El Salto Social proposed to create 1.5 million new jobs, as of early 1997 the net creation
of new jobs came to 180,000, just 12% of the goal.( 15
) For these reasons, the Commission adopts the recommendation of the Committee on
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of the United Nations, "to make concerted
efforts to improve the effectiveness of Colombia's economic and social development
programs."( 16 )
C. VIOLENCE, FORCED DISPLACEMENT, AND THE OBSERVANCE OF ECONOMIC, SOCIAL, AND CULTURAL
17. The phenomenon of widespread violence, analyzed carefully by the Commission in other
Chapters of this Report, together with the situation of the thousands of Colombians who
have been displaced from their homes, has negative repercussions on the effective
observance of economic, social, and cultural rights.
18. As the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights of the United Nations has
indicated, "a situation of violence persists on a large scale in Colombia ... [that]
has a seriously destabilizing effect on the country and hampers the Government's efforts
to guarantee the full enjoyment of economic, social, and cultural rights."( 17 )
19. The negative impact of the violence demonstrates the interdependence of civil and
political rights, on the one hand, and economic, social, and cultural rights on the other.
As the Commission has indicated in another context, this is the result of "the
organic relationship between the violation of the rights to physical safety on the one
hand, and neglect of economic and social rights ... on the other. That relationship, as
has been shown, is in large measure one of cause and effect."( 18 )
20. Colombia's internal armed conflict requires the Government to use funds for defense
and weapons that should be earmarked to address the population's unmet basic needs. The
Commission feels compelled to note how social indicators have declined in recent years,
just as defense spending has been on the rise. Defense spending as a percentage of gross
domestic product rose from 1.6% in 1985 to 2.6% in 1995. In the same years, the percentage
of Government spending dedicated to defense spending rose from 10.3% to 16.3%.( 19 )
21. The Commission has taken note of the information that it has received regarding the
plans of the Government of President Andrés Pastrana to address the connection between
the violence, the deterioration of the economic situation and their negative impact on
human rights. President Pastrana has prepared a Development Plan 1998-2002 for
presentation to the Congress. The central objective of this plan is to work toward the
construction of peace by creating a society with characteristics which are favorable for
peace. The pillars of the plan are the following: 1) achieve a viable and participative
State; 2) reconstruct the social fabric; 3) move forward hand in hand in the development
of peace; 4) bring life and vitality back to the motor of economic growth - employment.( 20 )
22. In addition, as the Commission has previously explained, the violence has caused
forced displacement. Persons who are forcibly displaced, as described in depth in the
respective Chapter, suffer from many unmet needs which directly affect their economic,
social, and cultural rights.
Based on the foregoing, the Commission makes the
following recommendations to the Colombian State:
The State should, through economic development and other programs
address the problem of the inequitable distribution of wealth in Colombia, with the object
of effectively combating the poverty that characterizes the situation of many sectors of
the population. The State should also undertake concerted efforts to improve the
efficiency of existing economic and social development programs.
The State should take all measures necessary to ensure that the
observance of economic, social and cultural rights does not diminish in any aspect over
The State should take all necessary steps to improve the material
conditions of teaching staff in the nations schools and to ensure the effective
right to free primary education for all. The State should take measures to improve the
quality of education at all levels.
The State should give priority to efforts that seek to relieve the
extremely difficult economic, social and cultural situation of internally displaced
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) Constitutional Court, Judgment T-570/92 (translation by the Commission).
( 2 ) See
Constitutional Court, Judgment C-251/97, September 28, 1997.
( 3 )
IACHR, Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Ecuador,
OEA/Ser.L/V/II.96, Doc. 10 rev.
1, at 23.
( 4 ) See
I/A Court H.R., "Interpretation of the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties
of Man within the Framework of Article 64 of the American Convention on Human
Rights," Advisory Opinion OC-10/89, July 14, 1989, Series A, No. 10.
( 5 ) See
Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of the United Nations, General
Observation No. 3, adopted at the Fifth Session, 1990, E/1991/23; Limburgh Principles,
Human Rights Quarterly, Vol. 9, No. 2, 1987, at 121.
( 6 ) See
World Bank, World Development Indicators, 1998, at 16, 18.
( 7 )
Oscar Arcos Palma, Dando Palos de Ciego, Ciendías Magazine, at 10.
( 8 ) See
World Bank, at 242, 248.
9 ) See CEPAL,
Economic Balance for Latin America and the Caribbean, 1997.
10 ) See id.
( 11 )
See id., at 104, 106. The indicators are 7 per 1,000 live births in
Colombia, but only 2 to 3 per 1,000 live births in the region.
( 12 )
See World Bank, at 64.
( 13 )
World Bank, at 68. Along the same lines, see "Market alone will not correct
inequities," in Latin America Weekly Report, March 4, 1997. According to that report,
the wealthiest 10% of the Colombian population earns 41 times more than the poorest 10% of
the population. See also Albert Berry, The Income Distribution Threat in Latin
America, in Latin America Research Review, Vol. 32, No. 2, 1997, at 3-40.
14 ) See
"Tarea de matemáticas", El Tiempo, May 8, 1995. The minimum wage established
for 1995 was $118,933.50 pesos.
( 15 )
See Ciendías, at 10.
( 16 )
Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Consideration of Reports Submitted by
Member Parties pursuant to Articles 16 and 17 of the Covenant, Concluding Observations of
the Committee, December 8, 1995, E/C.12/1995/12, item 21.
( 17 )
( 18 )
Annual Report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights 1979-1980,
OEA/Ser.L/V/II.50 Doc. 13, rev. 1, October 12, 1980, at 151.
( 19 )
See World Bank, at 248.
20 ) Speech of
President Andrés Pastrana Arango, on the occasion of the presentation of the Development
Plan to the National Planning Council, November 17, 1998.