New collection looks at social rights in Chile

  • Date

    Mon 27 Sep 21

A new collection of essays, co-published by our Human Rights Centre, focuses on the role of social rights in Chile’s new constitution, designed to address long-standing inequalities.


New collection looks at social rights in Chile

A new publication brings together fifty academics and practitioners from around the world to ask how Chile’s process of constitutional reform might reduce long-standing inequalities by enhancing the status of economic, social and cultural rights.

The new collection, Derechos Sociales y el Momento Constituyente de Chile (‘Social Rights and Chile’s Constitutional Moment’) has been edited jointly by experts from the Universidad de Concepción of Chile, the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (GI-ESCR) and our Human Rights Centre.

In October 2019, public anger at fare increases on public transport in Chile’s capital, Santiago, escalated rapidly into a series of mass demonstrations, focusing on issues including the quality of public services and pensions. On 23 October, an estimated 1 million Chileans gathered in Santiago’s Plaza Italia.

These protests revealed serious cracks in Chile’s economic and social model, dating back to the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte: “It’s not 30 pesos, it’s 30 years”, shouted demonstrators.

As the protests developed, Chile’s 1980 referendum, introduced under the dictatorship, was the subject of renewed focus.

A referendum in October 2020 confirmed Chileans’ determination to elect a constitutional convention, to draft a new constitution. Representatives were elected in May 2021, and the convention began its proceedings in July.

Dr Koldo Casla, one of the collection’s co-editors said: “Three decades after the fall of Pinochet, and despite democratic elections, the socio-economic pillars that underpinned the military regime remain intact. Chile’s economic system continues to benefit a few at the expense of the majority.

“Chile’s constitutional moment is much more important than the mere reconsideration of the architecture of public institutions, or the technical legal formulation of rights. This is an opportunity to revisit the foundations on which Chilean society is built, and the type of country and sort of future Chileans deserve.”

Despite economic growth in recent decades, Chile has one of the highest rates of income inequality in the OECD, and one of the lowest rates of public spending.

Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR) include, among others, the right to work, the right to food, the right to housing, the right to water, and the right to social security.

The most important ESCR treaty is the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The ICESCR was adopted in 1966 and came into force in 1976. More than 170 countries are bound by ICESCR, including Chile.

Derechos Sociales y el Momento Constituyente de Chile is published in Spanish, with an English version to follow in 2022. The book features contributions on the theoretical foundations of human rights, the role of the judiciary and other accountability bodies, the content of rights, the necessary protection for groups at greater risk of harm, disadvantage and discrimination and lessons learned from previous constitutional processes around the world.

The book also presents extensive analyses of the possible articulation of social rights in Chile’s legal system.

Over half of the featured experts are Chilean, with contributions also from countries including Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ireland, South Africa, United Kingdom and the United States.

To coincide with publication, Dr Casla will be publishing a blog on the Open Global Rights website and he spoke to Stephen Matthews for a blog on Essex Blogs.

The Human Rights Centre is hosting a launch event for the publication on 20 October.