The United Nations human rights chief urged Member States to sign and ratify a new instrument that strengthens the protection of economic, social and cultural rights, which opened for signature today.
The Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights – adopted in December 2008 – will enable victims to complain about violations of the rights enshrined in the Covenant at the international level for the first time.
“This is a historic moment in the evolution of the protection of human rights and in providing access to remedies to victims of violations of economic, social and cultural rights,” High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told a ceremony at UN Headquarters in New York.
She said the Optional Protocol closes a historic gap in human rights protection, as it reaffirms the equal importance of economic, social and cultural rights with civil and political rights.
“It will enable victims to seek justice for violations of their economic, social and cultural rights at the international level for the first time, through the submission of communications before the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
“Thus, the Optional Protocol represents a veritable milestone in the international human rights system,” said Ms. Pillay.
The High Commissioner noted that violations of a set of rights reverberate on other rights and undermine them all. “Indeed, economic, social and cultural rights, like other human rights, are the birthright of every human being.
“A child excluded from primary school because of school fees, a woman paid less than her male colleague for the same work, a family forcibly evicted from their home, a man left to starve when food stocks lie unused – these are all instances of individuals denied their economic, social and cultural rights,” she stated.
“I call on all States to promptly sign and ratify this crucial new human rights instrument.”
The Optional Protocol is one of 39 treaties highlighted in this year's annual UN treaty event, during which Member States are encouraged to sign, ratify or accede to legal instruments with global reach in areas ranging from climate change to terrorism and the use of nuclear weapons.