Mobilization for the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the ICESCR

Thursday 17 September 2009 by Alexandra Aubry, Plateforme DESC France

1. The Optional Protocol to the ICESCR

On 10 December 2008, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the United Nations adopted the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).   The adoption of the Optional Protocol was a historic step forward for human rights. 42 years after the adoption of a similar mechanism for civil and political rights, people suffering from ESC rights violations will at last be likewise taken into consideration within the United Nations legal system. Their right to an efficient remedy has been recognized.   The Optional Protocol is important as it provides the victims of ESC rights violations with remedies when they cannot be heard within their national legal system. Therefore, it redresses the existing inequality in terms of human rights’ protection that marginalizes ESC rights.   An international complaint mechanism will also help to further define the content of ESC rights and the corresponding State obligations, as well as serve as a guideline for national jurisdictions and human rights institutions.

The final text of the Optional Protocol includes some important clauses for a better protection of ESC rights

  • The Protocol makes provisions for a communications / complaints procedure that shall enable individuals and groups acting in the name of alleged victims to lodge a complaint with the Committee on ESC rights regarding specific violations of rights contained in the Covenant.
  • The Protocol demands that the State takes all the appropriate measures to ensure that the individuals under its jurisdiction are not subject to any kind of mistreatment or bullying as a consequence of their communication with the Committee within the Protocol’s framework.
  • Conditions: all the internal remedies available (at national level) must have been exhausted, except if such remedies involve unreasonable delay (in the case of inefficient remedy or deliberately long procedures)
  • This means that the States Parties to the ICESCR who join the Protocol acknowledge the Committee on ESC rights’ competence in receiving and considering communications alleging violations of ESC rigths contained in the Covenant.
  • The Protocol allows the Committee to ask the State Party concerned to urgently consider taking so-called “provisional” measures in order to protect the victims of alleged violations from irreparable damage.
  • The Protocol creates an investigation procedure = if the Committee receives reliable information mentioning serious or systematic violations of the ICESCR, it will be able to ask the State Party to cooperate in the review of such information and, to that purpose, to submit a report on the subject. The investigation may include a visit on the territory of the State concerned.
  • The Protocol would allow developing international and national jurisprudences through the Committee on ESC rights’ recommendations = a better definition of ESC rigths’ content + a better implementation of the ICESCR
  • The Protocol puts (CP and ESC) rights back on the same level

And now...?

The Optional Protocol shall be opened for signature at a ceremony that will be held on 24 September 2009 in New York.

The Optional Protocol will enter into force when ratified by 10 parties What is more, the victims of ESC rights violations will be able to use the new procedure only if their State has ratified the Optional Protocol.

Therefore, the next step is to obtain the signature and ratification of the Optional Protocol by as many States as possible.

List of the countries which committed to the International Coalition* to sign: Portugal, Venezuela, Uruguay, Chile, Ecuador, Spain, Finland, Belgium, Marocco, Angola, The Ukraine

*The Coalition first worked for the drafting and adoption of the Optional Protocol. It is now working towards its signature and ratification.
Executive Committee of the Coalition of NGOs: The Coalition is directed by a volunteer committee composed of national, regional and international organizations. The directing Committee is an operational group of individuals and organizations who coordinate the work of the Coalition.

The current Executive Committee is composed of representatives of the following organizations: Amnesty International (AI), UK. Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), Geneva, ESCR-Net, USA, FoodFirst Information and Action Network (FIAN), Germany, International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), Geneva, International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH), France, International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia-Pacific (IWRAW Asia-Pacific), Malaisia, Inter-American Platform of Human Rights, Democracy and Development (PIDHDD), Paraguay, Bruce Porter (Canada) and Lilian Chenwi (South Africa) are also members of the Executive Committee as individuals.

See the Coalition’s website:

2. Advocacy carried out by the French Platform for ESC rights

We rely on the work and propositions of the International NGO Coalition. First of all, the Coalition brings together national, regional and international NGOs, individuals, social movements and local organizations from all over the world.

This Coalition has worked towards an Optional Protocol to the International Covenant to Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Our advocacy actions

We carried out several advocacy actions in order to exert pressure on our governements and have them sign and ratify the Protocol

  • Mail to the attention of the Human Rights Ambassador and Human Rights Secretary of State, to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Parliament and Senate in order to explain our approach and our wish to meet them;
  • The petition has been made available online on the Coalition’s website. It is open for signature by both associations and individuals, and available in three languages (English, French and Spanish). Our goal is to circulate it on our websites and have it signed by as many people as possible. Online:
  • Drafting of a short and pedagogical text introducing both ESC rights and the Protocol, which will be attached to the petition.

Download the text (in French only)

Coalition’s propositions to organize events before September 24

The proposition is the following:

  • organize discussions on the ESC rights situation in our countries, specific violation cases, the existing or non-existing remedies within our country;
  • invite the national authority representatives so that they can present the governement’s plan for September 24 and give their position regarding the ratification.

Our proposition

On 18 September 2009, we are organizing:

  • a pedagogical training / awareness raising seminar on ESC rights, ICESCR and the Protocol, directed at non-state actors (importance of awareness raising);
  • a political debate with media coverage gathering representatives of the associative environment and Members of Parliament

If you wish to have more information about this Coalition, join it so that we mobilize all together for the ratification: all you need to do is go on the website, fill in a form and mail it to this address:

Working jointly with the coalition means:

  • Having access to all the information we need.
  • Mobilizing all together in order to exert pressure on our governments for the ratification of the Protocol and discuss the advocacy activities we carry out in our countries.

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