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This pioneering volume explores the long-neglected history of social rights, from the Middle Ages to the present. It debunks the myth that social rights are 'second-generation rights' – rights that appeared after World War II as additions to a rights corpus stretching back to the Enlightenment. Not only do social rights stretch back that far; they arguably pre-date the Enlightenment. In tracing their long history across various global contexts, this volume reveals how debates over social rights have often turned on deeper struggles over social obligation – over determining who owes what to whom, morally and legally. In the modern period, these struggles have been intertwined with questions of freedom, democracy, equality and dignity. Many factors have shaped the history of social rights, from class, gender and race to religion, empire and capitalism. With incomparable chronological depth, geographical breadth and conceptual nuance, Social Rights and the Politics of Obligation in History sets an agenda for future histories of human rights.
This chapter looks at the direction the debates on social and economic human rights took after the adoption of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1966 and until the late 1980s. The focus is on the United Nations as the debates here reflected larger political questions about the meaning and relevance of social and economic rights as obligations in the unfolding post-colonial world. With decolonisation, the former colonial powers had been ‘liberated’ from the obligations of empire while many rulers in newly independent states used the new-found sovereignty to avoid scrutiny of the broad range of human rights. Decolonisation proved to be the perfect storm for social and economic rights denial. This would be further entrenched by expanding neo-liberal reforms and debt management leading to the ‘lost decade’ for development during the 1980s. Despite social and economic rights being continually neglected, the chapter argues that they always remained central to the problem of human rights.
This chapter offers a conceptual framework for better understanding the long and often misrepresented history of social rights. It begins by debunking the common notion that social rights are ‘second-generation rights’ – that they are recent additions to ‘core’ civil and political rights that stretch back to the Enlightenment. After historicising this myth, the authors sketch out the long history of social rights presented in this volume, situating their origins across a wide range of sources: religion, liberalism, socialism, decolonisation, biopolitics, among others. Understanding the chronic precariousness of social rights, they argue, requires understanding their entanglements with notions of charity, justice, equality and, above all, ‘duties’ and ‘obligations’. The history of social rights, they insist, is inseparable from the problem of obligation – a problem with philosophical, legal and cultural dimensions. They conclude by linking the history of social rights to broader struggles over inequality, particularly those generated by class, race, gender, colonialism and globalisation.
In January 1961, Jamaica was a member of the West Indies Federation consisting of ten Caribbean islands. By 1964, Jamaica was an independent island state and recognized at the UN as a global leader in the human rights field after having abandoned the Federation in 1962. This chapter argues Jamaica presents an early example of the integration of human rights and development, normally dated to the late 1980s, and that Jamaica’s process of ending empire shaped the postcolonial world in surprising ways. It focuses on both the domestic and the international dimensions of Jamaica's human rights enterprise. Norman Manley’s period in government from 1955 to 1962, and its new practice and philosophy of societal planning, nurtured an emphasis on both human rights and decolonization. Manley’s nation and state-building project would go on to shape transformative work of Jamaica at the UN during the 1960s when Manley’s protégé Egerton Richardson – who from 1956 to 1962 had been closely associated with the planning work – refashioned international human rights work.