Center for Economic and Social Rights

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162 Montague Street
, 2nd floor, Brooklyn, NY11201

Tel: (718) 237-9145, Fax: (718) 237-9147, E-mail: rights@cesr.org

 

 


Mr. Chairperson, my name is Juana Kweitel and I am speaking on behalf of the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR), which is part of a world wide network of economic, social and cultural rights practioners. Thank you for the opportunity to address the Commission. As part of the network we have identified the adoption of an Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as a priority for our collaborative work, because it will ensure that economic, social and cultural rights become a reality for all.

 

The adoption of an Optional Protocol is critical for individuals and groups throughout the world who are suffering abuses of their economic, social, and cultural rights. In many countries these individuals and groups do not have access to adequate remedies when then they are denied enjoyment of these rights, it is vital that adjudication and remedies be avaialable at domestic, regional and international levels.

 

Mr Chairperson, in 1993 at the Vienna Conference on Human Rights, the member states of the United Nations recognised the indivisibility of civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights and recommended consideration of an Optional Protocol to the ICESCR. Yet, twenty five years after the entry into force of the First Optional Protocol to the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, there is still no means for individual or group redress under the ICESCR. This fundamentally undermines the commitment of the international community to the indivisibility of human rights.

 

Arguments that economic, social and cultural rights lack justiciability have been refuted time and time again, and were most recently discussed in February 2001 at a workshop organised by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in cooperation with the International Commission of Jurists, and with the financial support of the Government of Finland. In their discussion of justiciability, participants noted the availability of communications procedures at the regional level, including the 1995 Additional Protocol to the European Social Charter; the San Salvador Protocol in the Inter-American human rights system, and the complaints mechanism under the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.

 

In addition, many national courts have recognized the justiciability of social, economic, and cultural rights in their jurisprudence. In the Grootboom case in South Africa, for example, the court found that the government’s failure to address the needs of 700 individuals living in a field without basic shelter violated the South African constitution. However, the court left it up to the government to determine the best means of remedying this violation. Courts in India, the USA, Argentina, Canada, Nigeria and other countries have also recognized the justiciability of many economic, social and cultural rights, including through recognition of the interdependence and indivisibility of all human rights and through the incorporation of economic, social and cultural rights in domestic law.

 

Mr. Chairperson, it is of upmost importance that these initiatives at the domestic and regional levels be reinforced at the international level by an Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. By contextualizing these rights in real life situations, a communications procedure will enable the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to further elaborate the understanding of rights contained in the Covenant.

 

Accordingly the Center for Economic and Social Rights makes the following recommendations:

 

First, we urge the Commission on Human Rights to recommend the convening of  an open ended working group to develop the Optional Protocol to the ICESCR, in the resolution sponsored by Portugal. It is essential that action be taken at this Commission to ensure that the issue of the draft optional protocol to the ICESCR be included on the agenda of the 58th Commission on Human Rights.

 

We also urge the Commission to show their support for additional resolutions on economic, social and cultural rights, including

 

  • the resolution sponsored by Mexico on women and the rights to land, property and housing

  • the resolution sponsored by Germany on the right to adequate housing

  • the resolution sponsored by Cuba on the right to food

  • the resolution sponsored by France on human rights and extreme poverty

 

 

Thank you very much.

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