Submission to the Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights (ESCER) of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) regarding the situation of ESCER in the region

TEDIC, InternetLab, Derechos Digitales, Fundación Karisma, Dejusticia, Asociación por los Derechos Civiles and Privacy International welcome the call made by the Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights (ESCER) of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to inform the preparation of the Annual Report of the ESCER for the year 2019, which will be presented to the Organization of American States (OAS) during 2020.

This submission aims to outline developments from around the region as they relate to key areas of concern observed by the co-submitters in relation to the progressive realisation of Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights (ESCER), in particular with regards to the use of data and technology in relation to the access and enjoyment of these rights.

The use of technology and data in the realisation of economic, social, cultural and environmental rights raises some key concerns in relation to, among others,  the protection, respect and promotion of the right to privacy as provided for under Article 11 of the American Convention on Human Rights, Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As the systems being deployed interfere with individuals’ privacy, they need to comply with the principle of legality and be necessary and proportionate to the legitimate aim they are trying to achieve. Beyond the failure to protect individuals and their data as they interact with the systems put in place, these also have implications for non-discrimination and equality. 

In his annual report to the UN General Assembly on digital welfare states and human rights, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights presented three observations which, as highlighted by the areas of concern outlined in this submission, must also be taken into account by the Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights (ESCER) including that governments were risking of “stumbling, zombie-like, into a digital welfare dystopia”, that “big technology companies (frequently referred to as “big tech”) operate in an almost human rights-free zone”, and that “instead of obsessing about fraud, cost savings, sanctions, and market-driven definitions of efficiency, the starting point should be on how welfare budgets could be transformed through technology to ensure a higher standard of living for the vulnerable and disadvantaged.”

There is no question that technology can help governments to address their obligations to realise economic, social, cultural and environmental rights and some of the key challenges they face in doing so to ensure individuals and communities live with dignity, but safeguards and due process guarantees need to be taken into account from the outset in order to identify and mitigate risks, and provide access to redress.

This first call from the Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights is an important first step which provides the opportunity to map out the current panorama of the current situation of the ESCER in the region.  We hope that it will lead to further concrete actions to address the issues raised in this submission and to call for measures to be taken by governments, industry, and other third parties to ensure the respect, promotion and protection of economic, social, cultural and environmental rights in the region.

A strong stand against data exploitation is essential to challenge current power dynamics, to ensure people’s dignity and autonomy, and to prevent further violations of fundamental rights and freedoms.

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