United Nations: World Day of Social Justice

The United Nations General Assembly instituted World Day of Social Justice in 2007. The promotion of social justice has gone hand in hand with advances in human rights awareness, particularly with regard to the duties of States towards citizens. But much remains to be done to translate this awareness into reality.


The General Assembly proclaimed 20 February as World Day of Social Justice in 2007, inviting Member States to devote the day to promoting national activities in accordance with the objectives and goals of the World Summit for Social Development and the twenty-fourth session of the General Assembly. Observance of World Day of Social Justice should support efforts of the international community in poverty eradication, the promotion of full employment and decent work, gender equity and access to social well-being and justice for all.

2017 Statement by Alfred de Zayas, Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, and Idriss Jazairy, Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights

All UN members have in effect committed themselves to advancing peace and human dignity, as set out in the UN Charter and its preamble. This commitment needs action now for a better, fairer future with greater social justice. This would ensure that States honour their pledge to establish conditions under which justice and respect can be maintained, and social progress and better standards of living promoted.

This requires policy space by States and more flexibility – not less – to better meet the economic and social challenges of the 21st century. International solidarity should ensure that all States benefit from globalization and that no one is left behind.

Every human being has the right to a standard of living that ensures adequate health and well-being for individuals and their families; this includes access to food, clothing, housing, health care and social services. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which sets out these rights, also makes clear that all people are entitled to a social and international order in which their rights and freedoms can be fully realized.

In the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, countries agreed to move individually and through international assistance and co-operation towards realizing these rights. The general comments of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights lay down the roadmap.

We point to the many resolutions by the UN General Assembly on the issue of social justice and, in particular, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and its 17 goals which include commitments to eradicate poverty, provide clean, affordable energy, promote peaceful and inclusive societies, and implement nationally appropriate social protection systems for all, including social protection floors.

Not only the UN organization itself, but also the specialized agencies and members of the UN family, play an important role in achieving social justice. Indeed, social development is central to the aspirations of people throughout the world to live in peaceful, just and equitable societies that ensure the fair distribution of income, access to resources, equality of opportunities for all, and participation in the global market through competition on a level playing field.

The promotion of social justice has gone hand in hand with advances in human rights awareness, particularly with regard to the duties of States towards citizens. But much remains to be done to translate this awareness into reality.

Unfortunately, there is no such broad-based international awareness of the impact on human rights of the actions of foreign entities, whether states, international organizations like the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund or private sector actors, including transnational corporations. The actions of some of these ‘external actors’ may well have a severe negative impact on human rights in many countries, particularly in developing economies condemned by poverty.

While regional human rights courts can consider injustices that arise as a result of ill-advised national legislation, there is no similar monitoring or corrective procedure with universal jurisdiction to consider issues created by the actions of external actors.

These include the adverse human rights impact of regimes subject to international sanctions, the external imposition of austerity measures by international finance organizations, privatization of public services and impediments to sovereign debt restructuring.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development has already documented these problems in numerous reports, but international action to advance social justice has been lacking.

In order to achieve sustainable peace in the world, we must all work for social justice in international solidarity. As the motto of the International Labour Organization puts it: ‘If you want peace, cultivate social justice’.