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TWN Info Service on Finance and Development (Jun08/06)
21 June 2008
Third World Network

HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL ADOPTS OPTIONAL PROTOCOL ON ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL RIGHTS

In what is being seen as an important milestone, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) on Wednesday adopted the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which would allow persons to petition an international human rights body about the violation of their rights under the Covenant.

In its resolution adopted Wednesday, the Council recommended that the UN General Assembly adopts and opens for signature, ratification and accession the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, at a signing ceremony in Geneva in March 2009. The Optional Protocol will enter into force three months after the date of deposit with the UN Secretary-General of the tenth instrument of ratification or accession.

Below is a report on the adoption of the ICESCR Optional Protocol by the HRC. It was published in SUNS # 6500, Friday, 19 June 2008. This article is reproduced here with the permission of the SUNS.  Reproduction or recirculation requires permission of SUNS (sunstwn@bluewin.ch).

With best wishes
Martin Khor
TWN

Human Rights Council Adopts Optional Protocol on Economic and Social Rights

By Kanaga Raja, Geneva, 19 June 2008

In what is being seen as an important milestone, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) on Wednesday adopted the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which would allow persons to petition an international human rights body about the violation of their rights under the Covenant.

The Optional Protocol was annexed to a resolution (A/HRC/8/L. 2/Rev. 1/Corr. 1) that was adopted without a vote on the last day of the eighth session of the Human Rights Council (2-18 June).

With its adoption of the Optional Protocol, the Human Rights Council brings to fruition a process set in motion by the 1993 Vienna World Conference on Human Rights prompting the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to prepare a first draft optional protocol in 1996 and leading to the commencement of intergovernmental negotiations in 2004.

In its resolution adopted Wednesday, the Council recommended that the UN General Assembly adopts and opens for signature, ratification and accession the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, at a signing ceremony in Geneva in March 2009.

The Optional Protocol will enter into force three months after the date of deposit with the UN Secretary-General of the tenth instrument of ratification or accession.

Article 1 of the Optional Protocol states that “A State Party to the Covenant that becomes a Party to the present Protocol recognizes the competence of the Committee to receive and consider communications as provided for by the provisions of the present Protocol. No communication shall be received by the Committee if it concerns a State Party to the Covenant which is not a Party to the present Protocol.”

Article 2 states that: “Communications may be submitted by or on behalf of individuals or groups of individuals, under the jurisdiction of a State Party, claiming to be victims of a violation of any of the economic, social and cultural rights set forth in the Covenant by that State Party. Where a communication is submitted on behalf of individuals or groups of individuals, this shall be with their consent unless the author can justify acting on their behalf without such consent.”

The Optional Protocol also states that the Committee shall not consider a communication unless it has ascertained that all available domestic remedies have been exhausted. This shall not be the rule where the application of such remedies is unreasonably prolonged.

In a press release, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, congratulated the Council on its adoption of an important new human rights instrument to strengthen the protection of economic, social and cultural rights.

“This is a highly significant achievement”, she said. “The Protocol will provide an important platform to expose abuses that are often linked to poverty, discrimination and neglect, and that victims frequently endure in silence and helplessness. It will provide a way for individuals, who may otherwise be isolated and powerless, to make the international community aware of their situation.”

“Since the adoption of the two core international human rights covenants in 1966, the lack of a complaint procedure for economic, social and cultural rights has been a missing piece in the international human rights protection system,” Arbour said.

“As we are celebrating the 60 years anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Optional Protocol reaffirms our commitment to a unified and comprehensive vision of human rights, sending a strong, unequivocal message about the equal value and importance of all human rights,” the High Commissioner added.

The adoption of the Optional Protocol was also welcomed by the International NGO Coalition for an Optional Protocol to the ICESCR, a grouping of international non-governmental organizations, regional networks, grassroots activists, community-based organizations, and individuals.

The Steering Committee of the NGO Coalition includes amongst others Amnesty International, the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), and the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH).

A press release issued by the FIDH said that the momentous decision by the Human Rights Council brings one step closer the possibility of an international remedy mechanism for violations of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

The Optional Protocol is the result of several decades of work by governments, civil society, experts and the UN human rights bodies to remedy a long-term gap in human rights protection under the international system. The ICESCR is among the only major human rights treaties to lack a petition mechanism, it said.

According to the press release, the Optional Protocol adopted by the Council includes a number of provisions, including the following:

-- States Parties to the Covenant joining the Protocol recognize the competence of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to receive and consider communications alleging violations of the economic, social and cultural rights set forth in the Covenant.

-- The Protocol provides for the possibility of so-called “interim measures” by providing that the Committee may transmit to the State Party concerned for its urgent consideration a request that the State Party take such interim measures to avoid possible irreparable damage to the victims of the alleged violations.

-- The Protocol also creates an inquiry procedure, setting out that if the Committee receives reliable information indicating grave or systematic violations of the Covenant, the Committee shall invite that State Party to cooperate in the examination of the information and to this end to submit observations with regard to the information concerned. The inquiry may include a visit to the territory of the State Party concerned.

-- The Protocol requires that States take all appropriate measures to ensure that individuals under its jurisdiction are not subjected to any form of ill-treatment or intimidation as a consequence of communicating with the Committee pursuant to the Protocol.

“The adoption of the Protocol by the UN Human Rights Council brings the possibility of international justice one step closer for millions of excluded people, groups, communities and peoples worldwide,” said FIDH.

In other actions before concluding its current session, the Human Rights Council also adopted several resolutions on issues ranging from the right to education; promotion of a democratic and equitable international order; promotion of the right of peoples to peace; the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members; human rights and extreme poverty; to the situation of human rights in Myanmar.

The Council also appointed 13 new mandate holders and extended for three years the mandates of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, the Special Rapporteur on the right to education, the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises.

Also extended for three years were the mandates of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, the Independent Expert on human rights and extreme poverty, and the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children.

The Council also adopted by consensus a Presidential Statement on the terms in office of Special Procedure mandate-holders. It stated that a Special Procedure mandate-holder's tenure will not exceed six years in a particular position (2 terms of three years each for thematic procedures).

According to the Statement, the Human Rights Council guarantees the integrity and independence of the system of Special Procedures, and will also follow up on the implementation of the Code of Conduct for Special Procedure mandate-holders contained in HRC resolution 5/2.

In this regard, said the Statement, the President will convey to the HRC information brought to his or her attention including inter alia, by States and/or by the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures, concerning cases of persistent non compliance by a mandate-holder with the provisions of the HRC resolution 5/2, especially prior to the renewal of mandate-holders in office.

The Council will consider such information and act upon it as appropriate. In the absence of the above-mentioned information, the terms in office of the mandate-holders shall be extended for a second three-year term by the Council, the Statement concluded.

The ninth regular session of the Council will be held from 8 to 26 September 2008.

 


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