A functioning Optional Protocol will give us all a more thorough understanding of economic social and cultural rights. It will strengthen the recognition of these rights.
It will encourage states to adopt legislative policies and other measures to comply with the Covenant’s obligations. Most importantly, it will provide individuals and groups with access as a last resort to international remedies when their rights under the Covenant have been violated.
Delivered on 10 January 2005 by Nicholas Howen, Secretary General
Madame Chair, as the Secretary-General of the International Commission of Jurists I am attending this important Working Group today to call for the drafting of an Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
At the end of this Working Group’s mandate the Commission on Human Rights should instruct it to draft such an instrument. To achieve this, this Working Group will need to report to the 2005 Commission on Human Rights that it has achieved significant progress.
The International Commission of Jurists, alone, and as a member of a broad based NGO Coalition, believes that we can move forward. A functioning Optional Protocol will give us all a more thorough understanding of economic social and cultural rights. It will strengthen the recognition of these rights. It will encourage states to adopt legislative policies and other measures to comply with the Covenant’s obligations. Most importantly, it will provide individuals and groups with access as a last resort to international remedies when their rights under the Covenant have been violated.
Over the last decades, the judiciary and executive in many states have been gradually recognizing economic, social and cultural rights. Significant progress has been made in giving more precise content to the rights to food, social security, education, health, shelter and other rights. They have been shown to be judicially enforceable. Yet we hesitate to reflect this progress at the international level. States hesitate to provide leadership in giving redress to many vulnerable people whose economic, social and cultural rights are not sufficiently protected.
Over the last forty years, significant headway has been made in recognizing, implementing and monitoring violations of civil and political rights. It is now time to do the same for socio-economic rights. We must move from charity to action based on the principles of justice and equality.
Madame Chair, the issues are not new. Many have been clarified in years of discussion in academic circles, the Commission on Human Rights, the Sub-Commission the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and within the inaugural session of this working group in 2004. Indeed, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights first began to discuss the idea of an Optional Protocol in 1990, now 15 years ago. The draft Optional Protocol that is before this Working Group was presented to the Commission on Human Rights back in 1997. The ICJ believes it is time to overcome a certain inertia in this Working Group, to re-energise it and resist further delay.
This Working Group is also not the only opportunity for states to explore and learn about the issues they may perceive as barriers to their full participation in the drafting of an Optional Protocol. There are many opportunities during the year at national, regional and international levels to discuss conceptual and practical issues. We encourage states to take advantage of these alternative forums, and to use this Working Group as the place to move forward, as a matter of priority; to recommend to the Commission that it is time draft the substantive provisions of an optional protocol. Remaining issues can be resolved in the practical work of drafting.
Let us not forget that this Optional Protocol has the potential to positively change the lives of people around the world. It could help those who do not have access to even basic levels of education; people whose rights to shelter are denied and violated through, for example, forced evictions; people whose limited access to health care places their lives in danger; people who struggle to survive without sufficient food to live on, or in areas where they have no access to clean drinking water; people who face discrimination in accessing social security.
The mandate of this working group will see it “considering options for an optional protocol” for one more session after this one. In Decision 26 of April 2000 the Commission on Human Rights confirmed that standard-setting working groups such as this one must be mindful of the timeframe within which they should complete their task, and that this should not exceed 5 years. When the current mandate of the working group is completed, we will have already debated “options” for 3 years. It will be time at the end to accept the need for an instrument and immediately to move to ahead to drafting a text.
The 1993 Vienna Declaration unequivocally confirmed the universality, interdependence, and indivisibility of all human rights. The ICJ considers it is imperative that UN member states now make swift progress towards drafting an instrument that will better protect economic, social and cultural rights and improve the lives of people worldwide.
We look forward to participating in the discussions over the next two weeks. Thank you Madame Chair.AdvocacyNon-legal submissions