A call to unite the two covenants on human rights


The human rights and freedoms that are encompassed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Cultural, Economic and Social Rights (ICESCR) are transformative and inseparable, said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.

“Discrimination, state repression, corruption, insecurity and violence generate poverty and people who are hungry are not free,” he said. “Civil, political, economic,social and cultural rights work together, amplifying each other. They build up a virtuous spiral that primes the forces of sustainable development and peace.”

Zeid made his comments during a panel discussion on the 50th Anniversary of the Human Rights Covenants, which took place during the Human Rights Council. The event also included a later question and answer session with civil society groups and NGOs how they engage with the covenants.

Hasan Shire, executive director of East and Horn of Africa Network of Human Rights Defenders, said the covenants have helped civil society groups to push Governments to better protect the rights of citizens.

“The Covenants have given teeth to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” he said. “They provide a strong normative framework [for the work of civil society] and the world is reminded of the universality and indivisibility of these rights.”

Yet, these rights and freedoms should not exist in the false dichotomy that is the two covenants, but should be unified, with speakers calling the division “artificial.” During the panel discussion, Catarina de Alburquerque, former Special Rapporteur on water and sanitation, called the separation of the rights into two covenants with two separate monitoring bodies a mistake. She called for the creation of one body to monitor all human rights.

“But I think you (States) can correct this mistake and end the divorce,” she said. “The best way to do this is to go back to the original vision of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and resurrect the vision and work on the unification of the treaty bodies, and the creation of a unified treaty body that would examine all the connections tween human rights and assess the impacts that the violation of one human right has on another without having to stop at the boundary, which is fictitious when you are talking about people.

This year marks 50 years since the ratification of the ICCPR and the ICESCR. The Human Rights Office is hosting a year-long celebration of the anniversaries via events and information on specially developed website.

7 March 2016

See also