People who have their economic, social and cultural rights routinely trampled upon are set to gain a fresh route to justice via the UN – but once in force it will only immediately apply to citizens of 10 nations, Amnesty International said.
The new complaints mechanism, established by the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights (the Protocol), will allow individuals and groups to seek justice from the UN if their rights – including adequate housing, food, water, sanitation, health, work, social security and education – are violated and their government fails to provide justice.
“Access to justice is essential for victims of all human rights violations and the Protocol is a key step towards accomplishing this,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International, in a news dispatch Wednesday.
“Almost 40 years after the equivalent Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights came into force, we have finally achieved parity between the two treaties and meaning to the principle of indivisibility of all rights.
“We congratulate the first 10 countries that have ratified the Protocol but all other states must follow. For human rights to be truly achieved, everyone whose human right is violated must have an effective remedy.”
Uruguay provided the crucial 10th ratification of the Protocol, which means it will be in force on 5 May, 2013.
Despite this significant step, not a single African country is party to the Protocol, while Mongolia is the only Asian country to ratify it.
Globally, 160 countries are parties to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and are therefore in a position to also ratify the Protocol.
The Protocol is only legally binding in those countries which are party to it.
“Governments have too often only paid lip service to their obligations under international law to ensure economic, social and cultural rights for all,” said Shetty. “The reality is that in many countries there are no effective mechanisms to address the violations many people suffer.”
The Protocol enables people, who have suffered violations such as being forcibly evicted from their homes, or denied an education because of where they live, to have their complaints heard in front of an independent, international panel of experts once they have exhausted all domestic options.
Amnesty International has documented many cases around the world where people are finding it impossible to obtain justice for such violations, and for whom the Protocol could be crucial.
In Nigeria, more than 13,000 people were forcibly evicted in August 2009 when a local government ignored a court order and destroyed their waterfront settlement.
In Slovenia, the government has failed to help the many Roma families who today are living without water or sanitation in informal settlements.
The 10 states that have ratified so far are Argentina, Bolivia, Bosnia