A boost to protecting economic, social and cultural rights
A new complaint procedure will allow individuals to seek justice at the international level for violations of their economic, social and cultural rights.
The breakthrough came on Human Rights Day 2008, when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).
In his opening address to the current session of the Committee, Bacre Ndiaye, Director of the Human Rights Council and Treaty Body Division of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the Office would spare no efforts to promote ratification of the Optional Protocol and prepare for its entry into force.
A special event will take place during the General Assembly session in New York UN headquarters this September, when the Optional Protocol will be open for ratification. It will enter into force once it has been ratified by ten state parties to the ICESCR.
Under the Optional Protocol, individuals will be able to complain to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights about violations of rights guaranteed in the ICESCR, such as the rights to health, food, water and adequate housing.
A similar individual complaint procedure already exists for other international human rights treaties in the areas of civil and political rights, women’s rights, racial discrimination, the rights of disabled persons, and prohibition against torture.
High Commissioner of Human Rights Navi Pillay called the Optional Protocol “a veritable milestone in the history of universal human rights” because it closed “a historic gap in human rights protection under the international system.
She added that the Optional Protocol made “a strong and unequivocal statement about the equal value and importance of all human rights and the need for strengthened legal protection of economic, social and cultural rights.”
“It will move us closer to the unified vision of human rights in the Universal Declaration. Importantly, it will enable victims to seek justice for violations of their economic, social and cultural rights at the international level for the first time,” Pillay told the General Assembly when it adopted the Optional Protocol on 10 December 2008.
"The symbol of the adoption day, the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, implies a very positive future for this instrument," said Philippe Texier, who chaired the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights when the Optional Protocol was adopted.
He pointed out that the Optional Protocol was “the outcome of a long battle” involving governments, experts, non-governmental organizations, individuals and human rights activists. Its “concrete implementation”, he said, “will require notably an educational process.”
“Individuals that believe their rights have been violated will have to learn how to use effectively the new Protocol, after exhausting domestic remedies,” Texier said, meaning that a victim will have to first seek redress within a domestic legal system before complaining to the Committee.
“States will need to become familiar in responding to potential challenges to their practices, policies and legislation applied to individuals and be ready to improve them when required under the Covenant," he added.
5 May 2009