Top UN official hails adoption of ‘missing piece’ in human rights protection

18 June 2008

The top United Nations human rights official has hailed the adoption of a new legal instrument which will enable people to submit complaints on violations of their economic, social and cultural rights to an international human rights body.

The Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 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,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said.

“It will provide a way for individuals, who may otherwise be isolated and powerless, to make the international community aware of their situation,” she added, calling the adoption of the text by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council “a highly significant achievement.”

Ms. Arbour noted that the lack of a complaint procedure for economic, social and cultural rights has been “a missing piece in the international human rights protection system,” since the Covenant – which has 158 States parties – opened for signature in 1966.

“As we are celebrating the 60-year 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,” she stated.

The Protocol is expected to get the final approval by the General Assembly later this year. It will enter into force once it has been ratified by 10 States.

The adoption of the Optional Protocol was among a series of actions taken by the Human Rights Council, which is scheduled to wrap up its eighth regular session today. It also decided to extend the terms of office of eight of its Special Procedures mandate holders – rapporteurs, experts and working groups which the Council can use to explore either specific country situations or thematic issues – and appointed 13 more.

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