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Open-ended Working Group on an Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights


Working Group completes its mandate

On Friday 4 April 2008, on the last day of its fifth session, the Working Group adopted its report ad referendum and agreed to transmit the draft optional protocol (annexed to the report) to the Human Rights Council for its consideration. The Working Group has thus completed its mandate.

As the High Commissioner stressed in her address to the Working Group on 31 March 2008, the establishment of communication procedure under the ICESCR will truly be a milestone in the history of universal human rights, sending a strong and unequivocal message about the equal value and importance of all human rights and putting to rest the notion that legal and quasi-judicial remedies are not relevant for the protection of economic, social and cultural rights.

Mandate to draft the optional protocol (2006-2008)

At its first session, in June 2006, the Human Rights Council decided: “to extend the mandate of the Working Group for a period of two years in order to elaborate an optional protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights” and requested the Chairperson-Rapporteur, Ms. Catarina de Albuquerque, to prepare “a first draft optional protocol (…) to be used as a basis for the forthcoming negotiations” (resolution 1/3 , OP 2).

Pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 1/3 , the Chairperson submitted a draft optional protocol (A/HRC/6/WG.4/2) to the fourth session of Working Group (16-27 July 2007). Based on the discussions held and proposals for amendments made during that session, the Chairperson prepared a first revised draft (A/HRC/8/WG.4/2) which was considered at the first part of the Working Group’s fifth session (4-8 February 2008). Subsequently, based on the discussions held, the Chairperson prepared a second revised draft (A/HRC/8/WG.4/3) to facilitate negotiations at the second part of the fifth session (31 March - 4 April 2008).

Following informal consultations with delegations held in Geneva, 25-28 February 2008, the Chairperson prepared, for the second part of the fifth session, additional drafting proposals concerning articles 4, 5, 8, 13 and 14. The Chairperson circulated these proposals to delegations on 25 March 2008 in English and French. Moreover, after the Working Group had concluded its negotiations, the Chairperson received a letter from the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Background (1990-2006)

In 1990, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights formally started discussions on an Optional Protocol to ICESRC, with a view to establishing an individual complaint mechanism under the Covenant similar to those existing under all the other main UN human rights treaties (with the exception of the Convention of the Rights of the Child). The Committee submitted a statement and analytical paper on this issue to the 1993 Vienna World Conference on Human Rights (A/CONF.157/PC/62/Add.5). The World Conference subsequently encouraged the Commission on Human Rights, in cooperation with CESCR, "to continue examination of optional protocols" to ICESCR (A/CONF.157/23, para. 75).

In 1997 the Committee presented a draft Optional Protocol to the Commission on Human Rights (E/CN.4/1997/105), which the Commission sent to Governments, intergovernmental organizations and NGOs for comments.

In 2001 the Commission on Human Rights appointed an independent expert, Mr Hatem Kotrane, to examine the question of a draft Optional Protocol to ICESCR (res 2001/30). Mr Kotrane submitted reports to the Commission in 2002 and 2003 (E/CN.4/2002/57; E/CN.4/2003/53) recommending the adoption of a complaint mechanism.

In 2002, at its fifty-eighth session, the Commission decided to establish at its next session an Open-ended Working Group "with a view to considering options regarding the elaboration of an optional protocol to the ICESCR" (res 2002/24). The Working Group has held four sessions: in 2004 (23 February-5 March), 2005 (10-20 January), and 2006 (6-16 February) and 2007 (16-27 July).

At its second session (2005) the Working Group gave the Chairperson a mandate to prepare a report containing elements of an Optional Protocol with a view to facilitating the discussions. This "elements paper" allowed for a focused discussion on the main elements of an individual communications procedure at the third session (2006).

By its resolution 1/3 of 29 June 2006 , the Human Rights Council changed the mandate of the Working Group, giving it a specific mandate to start negotiating the text of an Optional Protocol.

Reports of the Working Group (2004-2008)

For the various documents made available at previous session, see documents - first, second, third, fourth and fifth sessions

High Commissioner’s statements to the Working Group

Other relevant statements and documents

The High Commissioner has referred on several occasions to the optional protocol and to the need to strengthen legal protection of economic, social and cultural rights. The following documents are of particular relevance:

  • Report of the High Commissioner to the 2007 substantive session of ECOSOC (E/2007/82) (dedicated to the issue of progressive realization of economic, social and cultural rights): Arabic | Chinese | English | French | Russian | Spanish
  • Report of the High Commissioner to the 2006 substantive session of ECOSOC (E/2006/86) (dedicated to the issue of legal protection of economic, social and cultural rights): Arabic | Chinese | English | French | Russian | Spanish
  • Second Annual Transitional Justice Lecture, "Economic and Social Justice for Societies in Transition" by Ms Louise Arbour, High Commissioner for Human Rights, New York University School of Law, 25 October 2006: English
  • Keynote address by Ms Louise Arbour, High Commissioner for Human Rights, "Poverty, inequality and violence", International Conference organized by the World Organization against Torture, 4-6 October 2005: English
  • Statement on behalf of Ms Louise Arbour, High Commissioner for Human Rights to the High Level Seminar on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Nantes, 5-7 September 2005: English
  • LaFontaine-Baldwin lecture 2005 "Freedom from want - from charity to entitlement" by Ms Louise Arbour, High Commissioner for Human Rights, 3 March 2005: English
  • OHCHR Plan of Action: Arabic | Chinese | English | French | Russian | Spanish