What is the OP-ICESCR?

The Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (OP-ICESCR) is an international treaty that allows victims of violation of economic, social and cultural rights, to present complaints at the international level. When people cannot access justice in the courts of their country for violations of economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR), they can bring a complaint to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR). However, their country must first become a party to the OP-ICESCR treaty through ratification or accession.

The OP-ICESCR is also a powerful tool for advocacy. All States parties to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) have the obligation to respect, protect and fulfill ESCR. The OP-ICESCR reinforces that all rights violations must have a remedy, foremost in their own country, but at the international level if necessary. The OP-ICESCR gives advocates a tool to push for improvements in their own judiciary system, as well as for laws and policies that secure and advance ESCR. The recommendations of the Committee on ESCR in emerging cases can be utilized to help interpret human rights obligations. 

The Optional Protocol includes three procedures: 

  1. A complaints procedure
  2. An inquiries procedure
  3. An inter-State complaints procedure

1. The Complaints Procedure

  • Provides an opportunity to seek remedy and compensation in individual cases when a State violates ESCR;
  • Provides the possibility to access a procedure to seek justice at the international level when access to justice at the national level has been denied;
  • Provides the CESCR with an opportunity to advance new jurisprudence (legal interpretation about the content of State’s obligations) on ESCR;
  • Provides a legal mechanism within which contributions of claimants, States, third parties and the Committee itself can help to further define and clarify the nature and scope of the ESCR protected under the ICESCR. 

Who Can Present a Complaint?

  • Individuals or groups of individuals, who allege to be victims of violations of the ICESCR and who have not found effective remedies within their own country, can file a complaint. In addition, third persons may file complaints on behalf of these individuals or groups of individuals with their consent.
  • Third persons may file complaints on behalf of presumed victims, without their consent, but must justify acting on their behalf.

2. The Inquiry Procedure

When a State Party agrees to be bound by the inquiry procedure, the Committee will also be able to initiate and conduct investigations into grave or systematic violations of ESCR. This procedure adds to the complaints and periodic reporting procedures as it: 

  • Allows the Committee to respond in a timely fashion to serious violations taking place within a State Party instead of waiting until the State’s next periodic report to the CESCR is submitted;
  • Offers a means to adequately address systematic or widespread violations of ESCR in cases where individual complaints are not adequate to reflect the extent of the situation;
  • Addresses situations where individuals or groups are unable to submit complaints due to practical constraints or fear of reprisals.

3. The Inter-State Complaints Procedure

The OP-ICESCR also includes a second opt-in procedure, the inter-State complaints procedure. States that opt in to this procedure can make complaints against other States Parties and have complaints made against them.

For more information on the Optional Protocol see our Resources.

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