Celebrating a New Route to Justice
Extract of remarks made by Bruce Porter, SC member of NGO Coalition for the OP-ICESCR in occasion of celebrating the entry into force on 5 May 2013.
This is truly an historic week for the global human rights movement, and one which civil society groups, social movements and potential claimants of ESC rights can join with states parties and with all member states of the UN in celebrating. It is potentially one of the most important developments in human rights protections at the UN in a generation.
I say “potentially” because what we are celebrating this week is the creation of a new architecture and institutional framework through which ESC rights can achieve truly equal status, but it is at this point just a blueprint for change. It is an opportunity to commit to working together to bring a shared vision into reality.
While the OP-ICESCR is a modest procedure, which can only provide access to justice for a limited number of claimants from, at this point, only a few States, the transformation that has been effected to our international human rights architecture is profound. The states which have now ratified the OP-ICESCR to bring it into force must be congratulated for their leadership. The NGO Coalition for the OP-ICESCR pays tribute to these states and we will work with these states and other friends of the OP-ICESCR to ensure that these first ten ratifications will be followed by many more in the coming months. We are also committed to working with the States parties to the OP-ICESCR, with the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and with other human rights bodies to ensure that the experience under the new OP truly demonstrates how critical a role this new procedure can play in the progressive implementation and realization of ESC rights in all countries.
We believe that once it is demonstrated how important it is to bring to light the human dimension of ESC rights and to ensure that the voices of rights claimants are fully heard, the OP-ICESCR will be seen as a central pillar of states’ commitment to international human rights as indivisible and interdependent. Hopefully, the ratification of the OP-ICESCR will soon become the norm rather than the exception.
These are the challenges we face in bringing the vision of the OP-ICESCR into reality – to demonstrate that human rights accountability enhances democracy and democratic accountability, supports, rather than detracting from, social and political action for justice.
The OP-ICESCR and similar procedures at the domestic and regional levels will be important components of broader commitments both from governments and civil society to develop rights-based solutions to growing socio-economic inequality and dispossession of marginalized groups.
If the new architecture of ESC rights being subject to effective remedies is to really take effect, it must generate a broadly based commitment to ensuring access to justice and to effective remedies at all levels, through a myriad of institutions – ranging from city or municipal or workplace charters to framework legislation that puts in place rights-based strategies to progressively implement and realize the right to adequate food, to adequate housing, to water, sanitation, healthcare, education, fair and just conditions of work. These rights should be realized from the ground up, made subject to effective protections that are meaningful to people where they most need them.
Can a procedure for filing petitions at the United Nations in Geneva really make a difference to the millions of people around the globe, in developing and developed countries alike, deprived of basic requirements of dignity and security and meaningful citizenship by the ravages of poverty and increasing socio-economic inequality? Does the ratification of the OP-ICESCR by ten forward-looking states, committed to recognizing the equal status of ESC rights, bringing it into force, really make that much of a difference? Certainly not, if we do not embrace this as the beginning of a collaborative, historic project in which all parties have a major stake and a constructive role to play.
The OP-ICESCR should not create a more adversarial relationship between those advocating for their rights claimants and their supportive organizations and states parties. It must be remembered that States Parties have ratified the OP-ICESCR because they believe in its premises and they want to benefit from meaningful engagement with rights holders, ensure access to justice and to better realize ESC rights. We have a common cause and a shared vision. If we work together, we can make this new architecture of rights into a reality of rights for those who have for far too long been denied them. Affirming that shared vision together is truly a cause for celebration.