Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Now Fully Justiciable at the International Level! The Optional Protocol on ESC Rights Comes into Force in May 2013

Very soon, those who have experienced violations of economic, social and cultural rights will have a new opportunity to access justice.

The Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (the Optional Protocol), will allow individuals and groups to seek justice in an international forum if their rights – including adequate housing, food, water, sanitation, health, work, social security and education – are violated and their government fails to ensure access to an effective remedy at the national level.

“Access to justice is essential for victims of all human rights violations and the Optional Protocol provides a key instrument to accomplish this,” said the Coalition spokesperson.

We congratulate the first ten countries that have ratified the Optional Protocol on proving their commitment to the realization of all human rights. We call on all other states to follow this positive example. For human rights to be truly achieved and a life in dignity to be a reality for all, everyone whose human rights are violated must have an effective remedy.

Uruguay provided the crucial tenth ratification of the Protocol, which means it will be in force in three months time on May 5th, 2013. The ten Sates parties to date are Argentina, Spain, Ecuador, Mongolia, Bolivia, Bosnia & Herzegovina; Slovakia, El Salvador, Portugal and Uruguay.

The Optional Protocol establishes a vital tool for people, in particular for those living in poverty, to seek realization of all human rights and to hold their government accountable for ESC rights violations. Furthermore, the Optional Protocol offers the opportunity to increase the State´s understanding of their obligations with regard to economic and social rights and will contribute to the adoption of positive measures.

The Optional Protocol is intended to complement and not replace national mechanisms, which remain the key space for victims to seek justice. However, the decisions made under this new mechanism are likely to influence national and regional courts around the world.

Therefore, governments ratifying the Optional Protocol should ensure that there are national mechanisms in place, such as courts and human rights commissions with the mandate and capacity to enforce economic, social and cultural rights.


The Protocol was adopted by the UN General Assembly by consensus on December 10, 2008 and was opened for ratification on September 24, 2009. Forty–two countries have signed the Protocol, indicating their intention to ratify, but ratification is necessary to make the Protocol legally binding on each State.

Argentina, Bolivia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mongolia, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain and Uruguay have ratified the Optional Protocol. The 32 other countries who have signed the Optional Protocol and need to ratify it are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Chile, Congo, Costa Rica, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Finland, France, Gabon, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea-Bissau, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Maldives, Mali, Montenegro, Netherlands, Paraguay, Senegal, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Togo, Ukraine and Venezuela.

160 countries around the world are Party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The ICESCR provides the main legal framework for the protection and promotion of economic, social and cultural rights. Economic, social and cultural rights include the rights to work, health, education, food, water, sanitation, adequate housing, social security, and the right to take part in cultural life, amongst others. All States that are parties to the ICESCR are obliged under international law to respect, protect and fulfil these rights for all, without discrimination.

The NGO Coalition for the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, made up of more than 300 civil society groups globally. It has been campaigning for the last eight years for the Protocol and is calling on all governments worldwide to ratify it.

The NGO Coalition for the Optional Protocol is coordinated by a Steering Committee formed by the following organizations:

Amnesty International (AI)
Community Law Center International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR-NET)
Food First International Action Network (FIAN)
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
International Women Rights Action Watch-Asia Pacific (IWRAW-AP)
Inter-American Platform for Human Rights, Democracy and Development (PIDHDD)
Social Rights Advocacy Centre (SRAC)

For media requests, please contact:
Ivahanna Larrosa: NGO Campaign Coordinator
Tel + 598 (0) 99194573 (Uruguay)

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