Maastricht Principles on Extra-Territorial Obligations of States

Despite the universality of human rights, many States still interpret their human rights obligations as being applicable only within their own borders. This attempt to limit accountability territorially has led to gaps in human rights protections, especially in human rights regulation and accountability of transnational corporations and international financial institutions.

Extraterritorial obligations (ETOs) are a missing link in the universal human rights protection system. ETOs allow human rights to assume their proper role as the legal basis for regulating globalization and ensuring universal protection of all people and groups. ETOs are a tool needed to ultimately stop violations of human rights, destruction of eco-systems, and climate change.

As the challenges have grown in size and number with increased globalization, the human rights community has increasingly clamored for stronger ETOs. After years of advocacy, in September 2011, CIEL participated in the conference that resulted in the adoption of the Maastricht Principles on the Extra-Territorial Obligations of States in the area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The Maastricht Principles do not establish new elements of human rights law, but instead clarify extraterritorial obligations of States on the basis of existing international law. According to the Principles, parties may hold States accountable for violating human rights of people outside of their own territories. Additionally, States are duty-bound to support one another and cooperate in the realization of all peoples’ economic, social and cultural rights.

The time has come for civil society, States, inter-governmental organizations, international and regional courts and human rights treaty bodies, to apply the Maastricht Principles as an integral part of human rights analysis and policy-making to secure universal protection of human rights.