Change to Law, New Access to Justice Mechanism – Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted by UN 2008.

The Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 2008.  One of the main pillars of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the right to an effective remedy for victims of violations of all human rights, was finally made complete. The adoption of the Protocol is one of Amnesty International’s first Demand Dignity victories and Amnesty International supporters and members in over 40 countries continue to campaign for all states to sign up to the Protocol.

Imagine your government demolishes your home without warning. You cannot stop them and you are left on the street. Your child cannot go to school because of where you come from, but your demand for equality is ignored. For too many people, economic, social and cultural rights are denied on a daily basis. As a result, vast numbers lack adequate housing, food, water, sanitation, health, work, education or social security. Governments too often fail to meet their obligations under international law to ensure economic, social and cultural rights for all. People denied these rights have often been unable to seek justice, but rather have to rely on the goodwill of the government. Many people around the world, particularly those living in poverty, suffer violations of their rights and are denied justice at the national level. This includes women denied access to maternal, sexual and reproductive healthcare, people living in slums who are denied access to water and sanitation, and children of minority groups who do not receive an adequate education.

Working as part of an international coalition of NGOs, Amnesty International campaigned for an Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights to provide a legal remedy for those whose rights are violated and who cannot obtain justice in their countries. Through petitions, global appeals, media attention and lobbying governments, Amnesty International members helped to win international support for the Protocol and its adoption by the UN General Assembly on 10 December 2008. Moreover, over the course of five years of difficult negotiations, Amnesty International and its partners successfully opposed attempts by some governments to limit the scope of the Protocol, for example by allowing each state to pick and choose the rights covered.  

In Ireland, activists met with government officials and built a coalition of NGOs to publicly pressure the authorities, which convinced the Irish Government to refrain from opposing a strong Protocol. In Mongolia, activists raised awareness on poverty and human rights through training and media broadcasts. And in Spain, Amnesty International held events in 50 cities, collecting over 20,000 signatures to encourage the Spanish Government to sign and ratify the Protocol. In all, Amnesty International activists in over 40 countries were involved in the campaign and continue to press for all states to become party to the Protocol.

The former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, said that the Protocol “will provide an important platform to expose abuses that are often linked to poverty, discrimination and neglect, and that victims frequently endure in silence and helplessness. It will provide a way for individuals, who may otherwise be isolated and powerless, to make the international community aware of their situation.” Ecuador, Mongolia and Spain have ratified the Protocol. As of September 2010, 32 other states have signed the Protocol, thereby indicating their intention to ratify it. Amnesty International and its partners are campaigning for all states to become party to the Protocol in order to allow their people to claim these rights.

For more information: https://projects.amnesty.org/projects/1604; https://dignity.amnesty.org/en/node/781

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