What are ETOs?

ETOs stands for “extraterritorial obligations”, the human rights obligations States have beyond their national borders towards people living in other countries. These obligations are crucial for human rights to assume their role as legal basis for regulating globalization and creating an enabling international environment for the universal fulfilment of economic, social and cultural rights.

Given the transboundary nature of many of today’s human rights challenges, including climate change and eco-destruction, tax evasion or corporate impunity, it is impossible to guarantee human rights universally without adhering to both domestic and extraterritorial obligations.

While the universality of human rights has been a cornerstone of the international human rights system since its initial days, States continue to show reluctance to recognizing and implementing the extraterritorial dimensions of their human rights obligations. This reductionism has led to major gaps in the international protection of human rights, in particular economic, social and cultural rights. These gaps have become more severe with the advancement of globalization over the past few decades. They include:

  • regulation and accountability of transnational corporations (TNCs);
  • accountability of Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs), in particular international financial institutions (IFIs);
  • inconsistency of international trade and investment rules with international human rights law; and
  • protection and fulfilment of economic, social and cultural rights abroad inter alia through international cooperation and assistance.

To address these gaps and support the struggles of communities around the world whose rights are being adversely affected by States’ neglect of their ETOs, a group of international human rights experts adopted the Maastricht Principles on the Extraterritorial Obligations of States in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 2011. The Maastricht Principles (or “ETO Principles”) summarize the obligations States have under international human rights law in relation to people living in other countries. They do not create any new law or obligations, but rather restate and clarify the obligations States have already accepted under international law. The Commentary to the Maastricht Principles explains the legal sources of the different Principles.

Since their existence, the Principles have become an important point of reference both for civil society and international human rights bodies. At the same time, the more recent pronouncements and interpretations of treaty obligations by UN and regional human rights bodies have shed further light on the extent and content of States’ obligations in relation to specific policy fields and rights.