Human Rights Council Seeks to Govern Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Friday, July 25, 2008
At the 8th Session of the Human Rights Council held from June 2-13 in Geneva, the Human Rights Council adopted the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The adoption of the Optional Protocol will make it easier for the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (the Committee) to globally govern human rights by hearing individual communications of alleged violations of general human rights contained in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (the Covenant).
In remarks made at the Third World Forum on Human Rights held in Nantes, France, Didier Têtêvi Agbodjan, the French representative of the NGO Platform for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, stated that the Optional Protocol would go far in ensuring that economic, social and cultural rights are brought to the same level of enforceability and acceptability as political and civil rights, which are generally easier to enforce and are more widely recognized.
The Optional Protocol has been praised by supporters as an international instrument that will increase the impact of the Covenant at the national level, allowing for the universal adjudication of these rights and the development of a body of customary international law in the area of economic, social and cultural rights. Under the Optional Protocol, the Committee will be permitted to hear complaints of rights violations from individuals, groups, or interstate organizations.
According to a presentation made at the Third World Forum on Human Rights on behalf of Catarina de Albuquerque, chair of the working group on the Optional Protocol, the battle to make economic, social and cultural rights justiciable “has nearly been won.” In fact, Ms. de Albuquerque hopes that the Protocol will be used to teach judges and lawyers how to effectively use economic, social and cultural rights, and that it will change national judicial systems to make remedies available to those who see themselves as victims of violation of these rights.
The Optional Protocol will enter into force after ratification by ten member States. The United States of America has not ratified the Covenant. However, the development of customary international law pertaining to the Covenant will increase the likelihood of federal courts relying on it to promote the economic, social and cultural rights contained therein.
Jim Kelly is the President of Solidarity Center for Law and Justice, P.C., a public interest civil and human rights law firm based in Atlanta, Georgia. The opinions expressed herein are his own.