History of the Optional Protocol process

Friday 25 September 2009

Since the formulation of Civil and Political (CP) rights at international level in 1966, the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights has created the Human Rights Committee which review state’s official reports and can also receive individuals’ complaints.

No Committee was set up for ESC rights in 1966.

In 1985, this situation was denounced in the Resolution 1985/17 of 28 May 1985 of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The ECOSOC set up a Committee to monitor the enforcement of states’ commitments (the Committee on ESC rights). But this Committee could only review reports, it was not entitled to receive complaints, whether they have individual, collective or interstate character, which shows, for ESC rights, how imperfect the system was.

Since 1993, civil society organisations (CSOs) have been instrumental in the debate that has been going on in the United Nations (UN) about treating ESC and CP rights on an equal footing, by adopting an Optional Protocol to the ICESCR.

In 2003, a working group was created with Committee members, international experts and international civil society’s representatives, for the drafting of a protocol.

The draft Optional protocol to the ICESCR was finalised in April 2008, and approved by the new Human Rights Council (which has replaced the United Nations’ Human Rights Commission) in June 2008. It was adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10th, 2008.

It was opened for signature on 24 September 2009, at a ceremony held in New York.
To see the list of signatory states, click here.

It shall enter into force three months after the date of the deposit with the Secretary-General of the United Nations of the tenth instrument of ratification or accession. Pressure must now be exerted on states to ratify it and make it a binding instrument.

With this optional protocol, individuals or groups, after having exhausted all national and regional appeals, may transmit to the UN Committee on ESC rights communications related to ESC rights violations. The Committee could carry out an investigation and ask explanations to the accused state.

This instrument also provides for the Committee to be able to request a specialised UN body to intervene on issues raised. It can also call on the existing UN voluntary contribution fund (once it has been established that the state concerned has made all endeavours to enforce the right in question, and that this right can really not be enforced due to a lack of available means).

An International Coalition for an Optional Protocol to the ICESCR was formed: www.escr-net.org

Demand justice and the protection of all human rights by signing the petition: http://protectallhumanrights.org/en

To have more information on the Optional Protocol to the ICESCR

PDF - 47.2 kb
Optional Protocol to the ICESCR
PDF - 178.2 kb
Critical Report n°2: The optional Protocol to the ICESCR, CETIM, Novembre 2008.

Attached documents

Ecosoc-RES-1985-17

11 February 2009
Document : Word
181.5 kb

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