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Optional Protocol to the ICESCR Ratification Campaign

Millions of people around the world suffer violations of their economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR), including abuses of the rights to adequate housing, food, water, sanitation, health, work and education.  Many of them find no mechanisms within their countries to address these violations, and up to now there was no procedure at the international level to seek justice for these violations.  However, once in force, the Optional Protocol will enable victims of violations of the rights protected in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, who are unable to find remedies within their own countries, to seek justice within the United Nations.

The International NGO Coalition for the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (OP-ICESCR or Optional Protocol), coordinated by ESCR-Net, brings together hundreds of individuals and organizations from around the world who share the common goal of promoting the ratification and implementation of the Optional Protocol. The NGO Coalition led civil society efforts towards the adoption of the Optional Protocol and now focuses on the ratification and implementation of this Treaty.

Victims of violations of ESCR can only utilize the procedure after their State has ratified the Optional Protocol and a total of ten ratifications has been reached. States will only ratify the Optional Protocol if civil society groups tell them how important it is to do so, so we need your help!


Join the campaign and Get involved!

For more information on the Ratification Campaign, contact Suad Elias at  
To join the Coalition, simply fill out the Membership Form and return it to the email address above.
For further information on the Coalition visit:

  • Update on Ratifications:  Spain Becomes the 3rd Country to Ratify the OP-ICESCR. 7 More To Go!

Honoring its commitment to international human rights obligations and realization of economic, social and cultural rights, Spain ratified the OP-ICESCR on September 23, 2010. Ecuador became the first State to ratify it in June, 2010 and Mongolia, shortly after.

The Optional Protocol was opened for signature and ratification on 24 September 2009 during the 2009 Treaty Event at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.  Besides these 3 ratifications the Protocol is signed so far by 32 other countries (signature is a legal step prior to ratification): Argentina, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chile, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, El Salvador, Finland, Gabon, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea-Bissau, Italy, Kazakhstan, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Mali, Montenegro, Netherlands, Paraguay, Portugal, Senegal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Togo, Ukraine and Uruguay. 

  • Toolkit for Action for the OP-ICESCR


The NGO Coalition is glad to announce the launch of its Toolkit for Action for the Optional Protocol.  The Toolkit aims to facilitate international and national advocacy work for the ratification of the OP-ICESCR and the national implementation of ESCR.  The objective of this Toolkit is to provide human rights advocates with the relevant information, strategies and tools for undertaking national level efforts toward the ratification and implementation of the OP-ICESCR in their country.

The Toolkit includes Four Booklets which are available here.

Booklet 1: Refreshing Your Knowledge about the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Booklet 2: Overview: The Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Booklet 3: Why Should States Ratify the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights?
Booklet 4: Tools to Lobby Your Country and Advocate for the Ratification and Implementation of the Optional Protocol.

The booklets are currently available in English and French and will be soon available in Spanish and Arabic.

To join the Coalition email list please send an E-mail to:


On September 2010, the NGO Coalition launched a statement calling on States to seize on the opportunity offered by the first anniversary of the Optional Protocol's opening for signature, ratification and accession and the MDG-10 year review by becoming party to this treaty to ensure at least 10 ratifications or accessions by December 10, 2010.  On December, 2010, we reiterated our call, asking States to ensure that the second anniversary of the adoption of the Optional Protocol by the UN General Assembly in December 10, 2008, was marked with a historic moment for human rights in the world: the entry into force of a mechanism that will reunify the vision of human rights as including economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights, all in equal status.  The NGO Coalition for an Optional Protocol prepared model letters and press releases to facilitate actions by interested organizations. You can see the statement and letters here.

We thank all the organizations who took action during the dates, and we thank those who continue working in support of the OP-ICESCR. 

  • Advocacy on the Rules of Procedure for the OP-ICESCR

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) is in the process of adopting Rules of Procedure for the OP-ICESCR. A number of key issues that will be influential in determining the effectiveness and competence of the ESCR Committee's consideration of communications under the OP-ICESCR will be addressed in these Rules of Procedure. Currently, the CESCR is still in the process of revising and discussing the draft rules and had their last discussion on November 12 during the 45th session in Geneva. The NGO Coalition organized an event during the prior Committee Sessions in May 2010 and advanced some key issues for the rules in conversations with Committee Members through members participating in the November sessions. The NGO Coalition for the OP-ICESCR drafted a commentary on the draft Rules of Procedure aimed at influencing the development process and continues looking at manners in which to positively influence this process. This commentary is available here.

For a summary of the document in Spanish click here.

For more information on the NGO Coalition for an OP-ICESCR and ESCR-Net's work in this area, please contact Suad Elias at

  • Election of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

The terms of 10 of the 18 members of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the body in charge of supervising compliance of States with the ICESCR and of resolving the cases that will be presented under the OP-ICESCR, will expire on December 31, 2012. Elections to replace them will take place in early 2012.  The elected individual members will have an impact on the overall quality and effectiveness of this body and of the OP-ICESCR. However, in too many instances nominated candidates and elected members lack the independence and/or the qualifications to effectively supervise State's ESCR obligations. There is no requirement under the terms of the ICESCR for State parties to ensure an open and transparent process at the national level for the identification of possible candidates to this position. Consequently, with few exceptions the selection and nomination process at the national level  is very opaque in terms of who is selected and why. Unless civil society tries to stimulate a better process, there are limited opportunities for effective NGO participation in the elections. Civil society involvement is also important to press States to vote for independent candidates with strong and relevant expertise in the field of ESCR.   

As nominations for candidates will occur in the second semester of 2011, we encourage organizations to get involved in this process and start lobbying your national authorities as soon as possible towards the creation of transparent processes for the identification of strong candidates as well as the election of independent candidates with relevant expertise in the ESCR field, while maintaining gender balance. If you are interested in supporting this process or need more information please contact Suad Elias at

  • WORKSHOP AT THE WORLD SOCIAL FORUM, DAKAR, SENEGAL - A new international instrument to demand social justice: The new United Nations complaints mechanism for violations of the rights to food, housing, health, education and water.
On February 8, 2011, Amnesty International, FIDH, FIAN and the NGO Coalition organized a workshop at the World Social Forum in Dakar, Senegal, with the support of the regional representative of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The overall objective of this workshop was to raise awareness about the OP-ICESCR to strengthen knowledge about the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Protocol and enhance participants' interest and capacity to campaign for the ratification of the OP-ICESCR. In addition, the workshop aimed at creating synergies between civil society actors in Senegal with a view to encourage advocacy around the ratification of this treaty.

During the meeting, participants coming from different parts of the world, especially from various African countries, showed interest in the topic and discussed the opportunities and challenges that the new mechanism opens for victims of ESCR violations, as well possible steps to propel ratification by African countries.

Enforcement of ESCR Judgments

View the web page for Enforcement of ESCR Judgements work

In May 2010, ESCR-Net coordinated a workshop in Bogota, Colombia in collaboration with DeJusticia and the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights on enforcement of ESCR Judgments. An analytical report from the workshop was produced and can be viewed here.  A publication resulting from the papers presented at the conference is also being finalized. The Enforcement of ESCR Judgments project is currently supporting the development of a plan for strategic advocacy on implementation of the Yakye Axa case which was decided by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2005 yet still not implemented by the government of Paraguay. This aspect of the project is being coordinated in collaboration with Tierraviva based in Paraguay, the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), FIAN International and Amnesty International. ESCR-Net is currently fundraising for the next phase of the Enforcement of ESCR Judgments project, which we expect to begin implementing in the fall of 2011. 

Online Litigation Forum - Get involved!

There is a need to build capacity and facilitate reciprocal support among groups in ESCR litigation processes. To help support groups newly interested in using litigation strategies to address ESCR violations, as well as support those already engaged in this strategy but in need of additional support in particular cases or on particular issues, ESCR-Net will create an online litigation forum for requests for input on litigation strategy and amicus support. ESCR-Net aims to develop a pool of experts interested in supporting the project, a process for responding to particular questions or requests and coordinating expert input in individual cases as needed.

We are currently outreaching to interested ESCR-Net members and interested organizations to be a part of this project. Please let us know if you have the capacity to provide input or are interested in possibly receiving support through this forum. We are happy to send more information upon request.


Please contact Rebecca Brown if you are interested in finding out more about this project and how to get involved at 



ESCR Strategic Litigation Project

  • Workshop: Strategic Litigation Initiative in Support of the OP-ICESCR, October 12-13, 2010 

View the Workshop web page here

The Optional Protocol to the ICESCR, which was opened for signature and ratification on September 24, 2009, ushers in a new era at the UN, in which the adjudication and enforcement of ESCR will be engaged for the first time. Increasing numbers of national level organizations around the world are building capacity to advance ESC rights claims before domestic and international courts or tribunals, and within human rights institutions. The scope and effectiveness of the OP-ICESCR will have an immense effect on this emerging area of human rights practice. The approach taken by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to critical areas in this developing field will be influential in all domestic and regional jurisdictions. The objective of this initiative is to enhance collaborative efforts and shared strategies in the use of the OP-ICESCR, support organizations in countries that have ratified the OP-ICESCR to begin bringing cases forward once the OP-ICESCR enters into force and provide assistance and promote collaboration in the development of strategies and arguments.

It was agreed by the Adjudication Working Group that a proactive strategy was needed to ensure the OP-ICESCR can be an effective legal remedy for victims of ESCR violations. To do this, a  background paper was developed, which formed the basis for consultations with groups around the world on effective uses of strategic litigation, obstacles, etc. This background paper and responses from the consultations were then used as the basis for a two-day workshop in New York in October 2010, in conjunction with Social Rights Advocacy Centre and the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, to establish and agree on the key components of a Strategic Litigation Initiative for the OP-ICESCR.

Furthermore, an Expert Commentary on the OP-ICESCR is also being developed to support work in this area. Draft background notes were developed and discussed during the first day of the workshop. The Commentary will be finalized and published as open-source content later this year. 

This workshop was very successful. It was attended by 40 participants including national and international NGOs, lawyers, social movements and donors. By the end of the second day, clear consensus had developed around key issues such as the scope and functions of such an initiative and key substantive and procedural issues. Now that these key aspects of the project have been defined, fundraising has begun to move the project into the implementation phase.


ESCR Justice: Monthly Caselaw Update

ESCR-Justice is a monthly update, circulated in English, French and Spanish, highlighting an important economic, social or cultural rights (ESCR) case that has been added to the Case Law Database. To date, ESCR-Net has produced seventeen editions of ESCR-Justice, which can be found here. The new cases disseminated since the last Newsletter include:


We hope that ESCR-Justice will support activists and advocates to stay abreast of important developments in ESCR litigation and promote exchange of litigation strategies across regions and jurisdictions that are otherwise limited by language and distance. ESCR-Justice is also intended to encourage discussion of crucial challenges for ESCR advocacy and encourage the use of legal strategies and the human rights approach as valid and effective means for claiming economic, social and cultural rights.

The ESCR-Justice: Monthly Case Law Update and the ESCR-Net Caselaw Database on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Related Jurisprudence, Cases and other Decisions (see below) are created in partnership with the following organizations:

Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS), Argentina

Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), Switzerland

Centro de Estudios de Derecho, Justicia y Sociedad - DeJusticia, Colombia

Human Rights Centre at Queens University Belfast, Northern Ireland

Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, University of Oslo, Norway

Social Rights Advocacy Centre (SRAC), Canada



Please send new cases and interesting developments in ESCR jurisprudence to Rebecca Brown at To share information or strategies with other ESCR advocates subscribe to the Adjudication Online Discussion Group.

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