29.05.2013

The Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) enters into force

On 5 May 2013 the Protocol formally entered into force, three months after Uruguay’s ratification. According to the Protocol, it shall enter into force three months after the date of the deposit with the UN Secretary-General of the tenth instrument of ratification or accession. The Protocol, adopted in 2008, grants individuals, or groups of individuals under the jurisdiction of a State Party, the right to submit communications about alleged violations on any economic, social and cultural right (ESCR), thereby placing all human rights on an equal footing.

It also enables the Committee to consider interstate communications when a State Party considers that another State Party is not fulfilling its obligations under the Covenant. In this case, if the State Party has recognized this competence of the Committee, the State may bring the matter by written communication to the attention of that other State Party, and also to the Committee. The recognition of this competence is also required for the inquiry procedure through which the Committee may examine reliable information that indicates grave or systematic violations by a State Party of any of the economic, social and cultural rights set forth in the Covenant. The procedure establishes that the Committee shall invite a State Party to cooperate in the examination of the information and to submit observations with regard to the information concerned. Where justified and with the consent of the State Party, the inquiry may include a visit to its territory. After examining the findings of such an inquiry, the Committee shall transmit these findings to the State Party concerned together with comments and recommendations.  

The entry into force of the Protocol brings an end to the separation between civil and political rights and ESC rights, recalling that all human rights are equally important. Also, it reinforces their justiciability since the existence of an international procedure might not only influence the national jurisprudence, but also create an incentive for States to strengthen the protection of ESCR by ensuring domestic remedies where these are non-existent or inadequate. In that sense, the Protocol is intended to complement and not to replace national systems that should remain the immediate means to seek for justice.

For more information, please follow this link to a previous article on the ratification by Uruguay of the Protocol, and for up-to-date information on the signature and ratification process of the Protocol, please visit the United Nations Treaty Collection’s website at: http://treaties.un.org/pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=IV-3-a&chapter=4&lang=en