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“Economic, social and cultural rights: legal entitlements rather than charity” say UN Human Rights Experts

10 December 2008

UN Human Rights experts welcome the adoption of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights by the General Assembly

GENEVA – “The decisive action of the General Assembly today makes it clear that economic, social and cultural rights, including the rights to adequate housing, food, health, education and work, are not a matter of charity, but rather rights that can be claimed by all without discrimination of any kind,” said a group of United Nations Human Rights Experts*.

The 36 UN Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts welcome the adoption by the United Nations General Assembly of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which enables those suffering from violations of their economic, social and cultural rights to seek remedies and to hold those responsible to account for their actions – as is already the case for other human rights.

The combination of the petitions mechanism, the inquiry procedure and the possibility of interim measures will contribute to a body of jurisprudence around these rights, thereby helping States to ensure their implementation. “Allowing individuals and groups of individuals to submit complaints on alleged violations to the Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights represents a promising tool for all victims of violations of these rights to speak out and be heard,” underlined the group.

The Experts express their sincere hope that views adopted by the Committee under the Optional Protocol procedures will be used by the human rights community to assist States in taking concrete steps to realize the rights of all and to reach out to the most marginalized and disadvantaged, who are the most likely to see their rights violated.

“This marks an essential step towards the establishment of a long-awaited mechanism that reinforces the universality, indivisibility, interdependence and interrelatedness of all human rights, and the guarantee of dignity and justice for all,” stressed the group of Experts, calling on all States to sign and ratify the instrument swiftly, so as to secure a speedy entry into force and wide application.

The Experts also welcome the General Assembly's reaffirmation that there must be accountability for violations of all human rights: “As we commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the adoption of the Optional Protocol is a concrete action reaffirming, as the Declaration did, that there is no hierarchy between human rights.”

The Experts emphasized that the new complaint and inquiry mechanism will also play a role enhancing protection of other rights. “Widespread violations of economic, social and cultural rights are often root causes of social unrest and conflict which can lead to massive violations of civil and political rights.” By providing an additional avenue for redress these new mechanisms can thus help prevent other human rights violations. The 1993 Vienna World Conference on Human Rights reaffirmed the indivisibility of all rights when it encouraged consideration of an Optional Protocol.

“The Optional Protocol,” in the Experts’ view, “provides further recognition of the inherent dignity of every human being, and of the importance of justice and accountability for all violations of human rights.”

Ms. Catarina Albuquerque, Independent Expert on the issue of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation;
Mr. Phillip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions;
Mr. James Anaya, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people;
Ms. Amada Benavides, Mr. José Luis Gómez del Prado Mr. Alexander Nikitin, (Chairperson-Rapporteur), Ms. Shaista Shameem, Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination;
Ms. Manuela Carmena Castrillo (Chairperson), Working Group on Arbitrary Detention;
Mr. Santiago Corcuera (Chairperson), Mr. Olivier de Frouville, Mr. Darko Göttlicher and Mr. Jeremy Sarkin, Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances;
Mr. Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on the right to food;
Mr. Leandro Despouy, Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers;
Ms. Yakin Ertürk, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences;
Ms. Joy Ezeilo, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children;
Mr. Joe Frans and Ms. Mirjana Najcevska, Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent;
Mr. Anand Grover, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health;
Mr. Okechukwu Ibeanu, Special Rapporteur on the adverse effects of the movement and dumping of toxic and dangerous products and wastes on the enjoyment of human rights;
Ms. Asma Jahangir, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief;
Mr. Frank La Rue, Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression;
Mr. Walter Kälin, Representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced persons;
Mr. Cephas Lumina, Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights;
Ms. Gay McDougall, Independent Expert on minority issues;
Ms. Najat M’jid Maalla, Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography;
Mr. Githu Muigai, Special Rapporteur on Contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance;
Mr. Vernor Muñoz, Special Rapporteur on the right to education;
Mr. Manfred Nowak, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
Mr. Akich Okola, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Burundi;
Mr. Tomás Ojea Quintana, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar;
Ms. Raquel Rolnik, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context;
Mr. Martin Scheinin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism;
Ms. Margaret Sekaggya, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders;
Ms. Magdalena Sepulveda, Independent Expert on human rights and extreme poverty;
Ms. Gulnara Shahinian, Special Rapporteur on Contemporary forms of slavery;

For further information on the work and mandate of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council go to: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/chr/special/index.htm