Opening Statement of the NGO Coalition for an Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to the Open-Ended Working Group, Monday 10 January 2005



Madame Chairperson, my name is Caroline Lambert, I am speaking on behalf of the NGO Coalition for an Optional Protocol to the ICESCR. The Coalition comprises domestic, regional and international organisations and interested individuals who recognise the vital role that an OP to ICESCR can play in the realisation of economic, social and cultural rights across our globe and the provision of justice for victims of violations of economic, social and cultural rights. For example, women and their children who are forced to flee their homes because of domestic violence, the lack of access to vital medicines, inadequate access to education and social security.


Madame Chairperson, we thank you for the opportunity to address the Open-Ended Working Group, and congratulate you on your re-election as Chairperson for this meeting.


Madame Chairperson, we look forward to your leadership furthering the achievements of the 2004 OEWG. To our mind, one of the key outcomes of the 2004 OEWG was the agreement that all human rights include three levels of government obligation – to respect, protect and fulfil economic, social and cultural rights – and that all levels are justiciable. We heard of many examples of the ways in which ESCR have been adjudicated in jurisdictions around the world. Additionally, it was important to hear the views of governments, experts and NGOs that an Optional Protocol to the ICESCR will enable the content of the Covenant rights to be further elaborated and clarified.


We are delighted, this morning, to have heard from so many governments, and to see such interest in the development of this important mechanism, which will be an important element to the enforcement of economic, social and cultural rights and to ensuring that the indivisibility of all human rights becomes a reality in the lives of individuals and communities who, on a day-to-day basis, experience violations of their economic, social and cultural rights.


In the period between the 2004 session and the 2005 session, the political will which has driven this process was further cemented with the adoption of a two year mandate for this Working Group, and we congratulate governments for taking this position.


From our own perspective, in the intervening period, the organisations we represent have continued to work for the development of the Optional Protocol to the ICESCR. Successful regional meetings have been held in all regions and we are pleased to report that support and understanding of the importance of an Optional Protocol has increased significantly.


To this end, the Coalition for an OP to ICESCR is of the view that this session of the OEWG affords governments with the opportunity to discuss the key components of an Optional Protocol to the ICESCR. The Coalition has established five core elements for an effective OP to ICESCR.

Element One: The Optional Protocol to the ICESCR should contain two procedures: (1) a Communication Procedure and (2) an Inquiry Procedure

Element Two: The Procedures established under the Optional Protocol to the ICESCR should be available to victims of violations of ANY substantive right enshrined in the Covenant. The procedures under the OP-ICESCR should extend to ALL the rights set forth in the Covenant.

Element Three: The violations to be reviewed under the procedures to be included in the OP-ICESCR should be linked to all levels of state obligations. The process leading to the OP-ICESCR should clearly establish the need for State Parties to strengthen mechanisms and remedies for addressing violations that result from their failure to respect, protect and/or fulfil.

Element Four: The Role of NGOs should be considered under both procedures.

Element Five: No reservations should be allowed under the Optional Protocol to the ICESCR


Detailed arguments on the components of these five core elements can be found in our written statement, which also addresses arguments for an OP to ICESCR; provides substantive information on the justiciability of economic, social and cultural rights (including examples of jurisprudence drawn from all regions of the world) and addresses some key challenges to have been identified by opponents of this process.


We are looking forward to the deliberations and negotiations of the next two weeks. There are many NGOs who will be present during the two weeks, bringing with them a variety of experiences, from domestic, regional and international processes. We look forward to sharing our views and expertise with you, and learning from you in the process. We have many interested supporters who are not able to be with us in Geneva for these negotiations, but will be following these discussion via regular updates.


Finally, Madame Chair, we are confident that government representatives, drawing from the views of the people they represent, will take important steps towards the adoption of an OP to ICESCR, and we are looking forward to a successful conclusion of this meeting, in particular as it will bring real change to individuals and communities who experience violations of their economic, social and cultural rights.