UN General Assembly approves measures to protect economic, social and cultural rights

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

The United Nations General Assembly has adopted a new human rights instrument to protect economic, social and cultural rights.

The Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was formally adopted by the General Assembly on Human Rights Day, December 10. The protocol establishes a complaints mechanism to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, allowing individuals to complain to an international body about breaches of the Covenant. Complaints will be heard by the UN's Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The adoption of the optional protocol has been welcomed by human rights groups, with Amnesty International calling it "a historic instrument that secures access to justice for everyone whose economic, social and cultural rights are violated". Souhayr Belhassen, President of the International Federation of Human Rights, said that the protocol would strengthen human rights.

"As we have seen for other rights, the development of an international complaint mechanism for victims of violations of economic, social and cultural rights will enable the strengthening of redress mechanisms at the national level, and of policies specifically targeted to ensure the realisation of these rights," he said.

A group of 36 UN human rights experts called the protocol "an essential step towards the establishment of a long-awaited mechanism that reinforces the universality, indivisibility, interdependence and interrelatedness of all human rights". They called on all states to quickly sign and ratify the protocol.

The optional protocol will now be opened for signature. It will come into force when ratified by 10 parties.

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights came into force in 1976 and obliges its parties to protect and progressively implement economic, social, and cultural rights, including labour rights and rights to health, education, and an adequate standard of living. The Covenant has 159 parties. The United States has signed, but not ratified the Covenant.


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