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A call on States to ratify new instrument to enhance protection of economic, social and cultural rights

GENEVA (8 May 2013) – A group of United Nations human rights experts today urged world Governments to ratify a key international instrument that allows individuals and groups who have been denied their economic, social and cultural rights to have their claims reviewed directly by a UN committee of experts.

The Optional Protocol* to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which has just entered into force, has been ratified so far by ten pioneering States: Argentina, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mongolia, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain and Uruguay, forming a “club for social justice”.

“This new procedure empowers individuals and groups, regardless of their nationality or migration status, to invoke, among other things, the rights to food, water and sanitation, health, education, housing, work and social security, before the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,” the experts said.

The UN independent experts stressed that the Optional Protocol represents “a major step in the protection and realization of economic, social and cultural rights, and a powerful affirmation that they are as important as civil and political rights, and fundamentally interrelated and interdependent with them.” This new mechanism, they added, gives hope against the impending retrogression inherent in many so-called ‘austerity measures.’ “Such retrogression is incompatible with article 5 of the Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights”.

“Case law is living law that gives a name and a face to individual victims,” the experts noted. “It is dynamic and future-oriented and it creates precedent that serves a triple purpose: to provide a tailored remedy in specific situations, concretize the norms so as to facilitate their understanding by public officials and enforcement by domestic courts, and ultimately contribute to the prevention of violations,” the experts added.

“The ‘club for social justice’ will surely grow, as was the case with the Optional Protocol to the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which since its entry into force in 1976 has mandated the Human Rights Committee to register and examine thousands of cases, leading to the adoption of ground-breaking case-law and concrete remedies to the victims,” the experts said.

“We urge Governments worldwide to join this ‘club for social justice’, and call on human rights defenders, national human rights institutions and civil society at large to publicize this new petitions procedure in a concerted effort aiming at the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, so as to advance toward universal participation,” the UN independent experts concluded.

The experts: 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; Farida SHAHEED, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; Alfred de ZAYAS, Independent expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order; Kishore SINGH, Special Rapporteur on the right to education; Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; Christoph HEYNS, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Olivier De SCHUTTER, Special Rapporteur on the right to food; 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; Maina KIAI, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Anand GROVER, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; Margaret SEKAGGYA, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; François CRÉPEAU, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; Rita IZSÁK, Independent Expert on minority issues; Pablo De GREIFF, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence; Gulnara SHAHINIAN, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and its consequences; Ben EMMERSON, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism Catarina de ALBUQUERQUE, Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation. Learn more: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/Pages/Themes.aspx

(*) Check the Optional Protocol: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/docs/A.RES.63.117_en.pdf

Provisional rules of procedure under the Optional Protocol: http://www.ohchr.org/en/hrbodies/cescr/pages/cescrindex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact Thibaut Guillet (+41 22 9179329 / spbconsultant10@ohchr.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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