Political rights since 1994 Focus: Are socio-economic rights a form of political rights?

Authors David Bilchitz

ISSN: 1996-2126
Affiliations: Professor, University of Johannesburg; Director, South African Institute for Advanced Constitutional, Public, Human Rights and International Law (SAIFAC); and Secretary-General, International Association of Constitutional Law
Source: South African Journal on Human Rights, Volume 31 Issue 1, 2015, p. 86 – 111


This article focuses on a particular problem in South Africa — and that has arisen in many developing democracies around the world — concerning the frequent failures of representative institutions adequately to represent and address the interests of the poor. It explores some of the underlying reasons that have been advanced to explain this phenomenon. The article then focuses on the recognition of fully justiciable socio-economic rights in many modern constitutions and contends that part of their raison d’etre is to offer one means of correcting the flaw in representative democracy that leads to the under-representation of the interests of the poor. The article then seeks to illustrate the political dimension of socio-economic rights through an analysis of some of the case law on the subject in South Africa. It concludes by reflecting on the manner in which, at least partially, socio-economic rights can be seen as a species of political rights and how this contributes further to breaking down the division between different classes of rights.