The Boston Principles on the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of Noncitizens

PHRGE is pleased to present the Boston Principles on the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of Noncitizens. Professor Rachel Rosenbloom coordinates this project aimed at developing Guidelines and Recommendations to protect the human rights of immigrant communities and individuals. The Boston Principles are 30 standards drawn from international human rights, humanitarian, and migration-related treaties, guidelines and other statements of best practice as well as recommendations by US-based civil society. The Boston Principles were the outcome of  a two day Institute, "Beyond National Security: Immigrant Communities and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights," hosted by PHRGE and chaired by professors Lewis and Rosenbloom.

The Boston Principles:

A Guide to the Boston Principle on the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of Noncitizens

What are the Boston Principles?
The Boston Principles are 30 standards drawn from international human rights, humanitarian, and migration-related treaties, guidelines, and other statements of best practice as well as recommendations by U.S.-based civil society. An early draft was launched at a gathering of lawyers, human rights and immigrants’ rights advocates, scholars, students, and community organizers held at Northeastern University School of Law, Boston, Massachusetts on October 14-15, 2010.  The meeting was co-sponsored by the Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy (PHRGE), the Human Rights Interest Group of the American Society of International Law, and the Ford Foundation. After incorporating comments from meeting participants, a second draft was launched for public comment on December 10, 2010, International Human Rights Day.

What's in Them?

The Boston Principles reflect the combined views of the signers on how people under U.S. jurisdiction, including noncitizens, should be treated.  They begin with the basic understanding that all human beings have human rights. Further, national governments, and the state and local authorities under their jurisdiction, have obligations to respect, protect, promote, and fulfill those human rights in civil, political, economic, social, and cultural areas of life. The Principles use language from some international treaties and standards that are already legally-binding on the U.S.; other language is aspirational.

How Can We Use Them?
We hope that advocates at state, local, and community levels will draw on the Boston Principles to further human rights and social justice by:

  • Supporting human rights educational efforts in schools and communities;
  • Calling on local and state governments to adopt resolutions that pledge compliance with human rights standards;
  • Reforming or adopting legislation;
  • Holding federal, state and local authorities accountable for compliance with international and domestic human rights standards;
  • Building awareness about human rights among communities, social networks, policymakers, lawmakers judges and ombudspersons.

The Boston Principles: A Summary
Equality and Non-Discrimination 
All individuals, including noncitizens, have the right to equality and non-discrimination. The Boston Principles apply without discrimination of any kind, such as race, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender or gender identity, disability status, language, religion or belief, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, legal or social status, age, property, birth, or other status. Immigration laws, policy and enforcement must not be discriminatory in intent or effect. Measures taken for national security must be free of discrimination and must ensure that noncitizens are not subjected to racial, ethnic, or religious profiling or stereotyping.  (Principles 1, 2 & 30)

The Rights to Recognition as a Person, Participation and to Equal Protection Under Law 
Every individual, including every noncitizen, has a right to be recognized as a person before the law. All individuals have the right to associate freely and to participate fully in public affairs and enjoy equal protection of the law.  (Principles 3 & 4)

Rights in Immigration Proceedings and Enforcement Actions
Immigration proceedings and enforcement actions must comply with internationally-recognized due process norms. Detention must be imposed only in accordance with such due process norms and must comply with internationally-recognized standards on human rights and human dignity.  (Principle 5)

Access to Justice and Accountability for Violations 
All individuals, including noncitizens, who are subjected to human rights violations, have the right to adequate and effective remedies and protection from retaliation. They are entitled to have those responsible for the violation held accountable.  (Principles 7 & 8)

The Right to an Adequate Standard of Living 
All individuals, including noncitizens, have the right to an adequate standard of living, including food, water sanitation, clothing, housing, social security and humanitarian assistance. (Principles 9 & 21)

The Right to Access Public Benefits without Fear 
All individuals, including noncitizens, have the right to seek assistance from public agencies that provide benefits or assistance to the general public without inquiry as to immigration or citizenship status unless absolutely necessary to the provision of such services, and with assurance that such inquiries, where necessary, will be kept strictly confidential.  Government agencies have the obligation to ensure that appropriate and effective measures are taken to fulfill this right and to provide translation services for access to public benefits.  (Principle 6)

The Right to Decent Work and to Just Conditions of Work 
All individuals, including noncitizens, have the right to decent work, and all workers, regardless of work authorization status, have the right to just and favorable conditions of work and to full labor and employment rights (including, but not limited to, the right to organize, the right to form and join a trade union, the right to collective bargaining, and the right to fair wages) once an employment relationship has been initiated.  (Principles 10, 11, 12, 13, 16)

Expulsion, Work Permits and Residency Authorization, and Equal Treatment in Unemployment 
No noncitizen or family member should be expelled, deprived of a work permit or deprived of residence authorization solely on the grounds of temporary absence or failure to fulfill an obligation arising out of a work contract, nor in retaliation for the exercise of workers' rights or for seeking the protection of other human rights. Noncitizen workers should be protected from retaliatory expulsion and should enjoy equal treatment with citizens with respect to legal protections and public benefits. (Principles 13, 15, 17 & 18)

The Right to Health 
All individuals, including noncitizens, and including individuals detained on the basis of immigration status, have the right to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. This includes the right to health care and to the determinants of health, including the enjoyment of other human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as public health information and requirements.  (Principle 20)

The Right to Education
All individuals, including noncitizens, have the right to education, and governmental authorities have the obligation to ensure that all children receive free, compulsory primary and secondary education. Higher education shall be made accessible to all.  (Principle 19)

Family Life and Family Unity 
Any state interest in expelling a noncitizen must be balanced against the interest of the individual and of the individual’s family to remain united. The best interest of the child must be given due consideration in any immigration proceeding that may result in the deportation of a child or parent. (Principles 22 & 23)

The Rights of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 
The Boston Principles recognize the obligation of governmental authorities to eliminate discrimination against racial, ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities and discrimination against indigenous peoples in all its forms, including against noncitizens, and to guarantee the right of all individuals to equality before the law and enjoyment of all the rights recognized in the Principles. All individuals belonging to a minority or indigenous people have the right, in community with other members of the group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, and to use their own language.

The Rights of Children 
Every child, regardless of citizenship or immigration status, has the right to a life free from all forms of violence, abuse, neglect and economic exploitation. Each child has the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and the right to know and be cared for by the child’s parents, the best interests of the child being paramount.  (Principle 25)

The Rights of Women 
All women, including noncitizen women, have the right to equal protection of the law and freedom from discrimination and violence. (Principle 26)

The Rights of Persons with Disabilities 
Persons with disabilities, regardless of immigration status, have the right of access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, to transportation, to information and communications, including information and communications technologies and systems, and to other facilities and services open or provided to the public, both in urban and in rural areas. Persons with disabilities, including noncitizens, have the right to liberty of movement, to freedom to choose their residence and to a nationality, on an equal basis with others. Governmental authorities have the obligation to take appropriate and effective measures to ensure these rights.  (Principle 27 & 28)

The Right to Seek Asylum and Humanitarian Assistance 
Noncitizens have the right to seek asylum and the right to be protected against forcible return to or resettlement in any place where the noncitizen’s life, safety, liberty and/or health would be at risk.  (Principle 29)

Due Diligence Project

The Due Diligence Project is a research-advocacy project. The principle aim of the project is to add content to the international legal principle of ‘due diligence’ in the context of state responsibility to end violence against women. The objective is to create compliance indicators that are concrete and measurable across regions.

Public international law mandates states to exercise due diligence to prevent, protect, fulfill and promote human rights. This principle is commonly referred to as the “due diligence” principle. The obligation extends to not only preventing human rights abuses by the state and its agents, but also those by non-state actors in the so-called “private realm.” In order to properly address the violence committed against women, particularly by non-state actors, it is imperative that we have a deeper understanding of this obligation. What does it mean to act with “due diligence?”  What exact actions are required? When has this obligation been satisfied? Do the obligations change according to the circumstances? A deeper understanding is needed in order for international monitoring mechanisms to accurately gauge States' compliance with this obligation, and hold them accountable accordingly. States too need guidance on what exact actions are expected in order to track their own progress. 

This project, through collection of primary data in collaboration with relevant stakeholders, aims to facilitate evidence-based analysis on the current state of compliance with the due diligence standard nationally, regionally and globally. The project is primarily executed by two project directors: Janine Moussa  and Zarizana Abdul Aziz (Visting Scholar, Columbia University and Northeastern University School of Law).

Learn more by visiting the Due Diligence Project website.

Advisory Committee

  • Pramila Patten, Expert, Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, from Mauritius
  • Cees Flinterman, Expert, Human Rights Committee of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, from the Netherlands
  • Charlotte Bunch, Professor, Founding Director and Senior Scholar, Center for Women's Global Leadership, Rutgers University, USA
  • Hilary Charlesworth, Professor, Centre for International Governance and Justice, Australian National University, Australia.
  • Kamala Chandrakirana,Working Group on Discrimination against Women in Law and Practice, from Indonesia.

Janine Moussa
Zarizana Abdul Aziz

For more information, please visit:

PHRGE's Right to Education Program

Since 2009, PHRGE has been building its work to advance every child’s right to a quality education. To date, this work has been focused on bringing international human rights standards into the discussion of disparate educational outcomes in the United States. We are now strengthening our connections to movements and organizations working on the right to education globally, particularly those addressing the worldwide trend toward the privatization of education.

Our 2014 Human Rights Institute entitled, “Rethinking Education Reform: A Human Rights Perspective,” convened educators and education activists to analyze the key features of current U.S. educational reform from a human rights perspective. As a product of that Institute, PHRGE published, “At What Cost? The Charter School Model and the Human Right to Education.” In April 2015, PHRGE hosted a “community dialogue” on the legal and policy issues relating to a pending litigation challenging statutory cap on the number of charter schools in Massachusetts on the grounds that such caps violate the civil rights of students who wish to access charter schools, but are unable to do so.

Right to Education Research

As a follow-up to the 2014 PHRGE Institute, PHRGE is conducting an analysis of the impact of a recently settled lawsuit concerning services for students with special needs in New Orleans schools. The case, brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of a group of parents of children with special needs, challenged the adequacy of educational services for their children in the New Orleans school district, which became nearly 100% charter schools in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Specifically, the plaintiffs were concerned about perceived barriers to enrollment, inadequate procedures to identify students with special needs and provide Individual Education Plans, and patterns of disciplining students with special needs. The research explores the likelihood that the settlement will successfully address these concerns.