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New human rights complaints procedure soon available

Optional Protocol to the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, now opened for signature by States, “closes an historic gap in human rights protection,” said High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.

Luís Filipe Marques Amado (seated) Minister of Foreign Affairs of Portugal, signs the treaty Optional Protocol to the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights © UN Photo/Devra BerkowitzThis important human rights protection mechanism “will enable victims to seek justice for violations of their economic, social and cultural rights at the international level for the first time.

“Indeed, economic, social and cultural rights, like other human rights, are the birthright of every human being,” she said. “A child excluded from primary school because of school fees, a woman paid less than her male colleague for the same work, a family forcibly evicted from their home, a man left to starve when food stocks lie unused—these are all instances of individuals denied their economic, social and cultural rights.”

Speaking at a ceremony on 24 September at United Nations headquarters in New York where the new international treaty was opened for signature and ratification by States, the High Commissioner explained that “for far too long economic, social and cultural rights were not given the same attention and status in law” as were civil and political rights.

However, the Optional Protocol to the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights reaffirms the equal importance of all human rights.

“This ceremony carries a message of hope for millions of people all over the world who are the holders of these rights but nevertheless continue being victims of violations,” observed the Chairperson of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Jaime Marchan Romero, also speaking at the ceremony.

“For example, the situation of extreme poverty, the exclusion of indigenous peoples from their ancient lands, the lack of adequate work, food and housing, insufficient access to health and social security systems, and the lack of effective access to education, to cultural life and to the benefits of scientific progress” are all areas of non-observance of these rights.

“Violations of one set of rights reverberate on other rights and undermine them all,” the High Commissioner noted, pointing out that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted 60 years ago, “promises the universality, indivisibility and equal value of all human rights for all people”.

Its framers “wisely chose not to rank rights. On the contrary, they recognized that political and civil rights go hand in hand with economic, social and cultural rights. They did so because all rights are inextricably linked,” she said.

And on 10 December 2008, with the adoption of the Optional Protocol on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights by the UN General Assembly, the international community has come “full circle on the normative architecture envisaged by the Universal Declaration.” The treaty will come into force when it has been ratified by 10 States.

“My country worked hard for this outcome,” remarked the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Portugal, Luís Filipe Marques Amado, as his country became the first to sign the new treaty. “This new and important instrument represents our commitment to continue to push forward the universal observance of a decisive set of fundamental rights couple with effective means of implementation,” he said.

Among the other countries to sign the new treaty, the first step in the ratification process, at the ceremony were Belgium, Ecuador, Finland, Gabon, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Senegal, Ukraine and Uruguay. Other countries were expected to sign the treaty in the next few days, taking advantage of the high-level representatives attending the United Nations General Assembly.

25 September 2009