Event: Enforcing Economic, Social and Cultural Rights - The Hope and Challenge of the Optional Protocol

English

About the event:

On September 24th, 2009, the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights will be opened for signature at a ceremony at UN headquarters in New York. Once operational, this new international mechanism will provide victims of economic, social and cultural rights violations who are not able to get an effective remedy in their domestic legal system with tangible legal options for redress. In doing so, it will correct a historic imbalance in human rights protection, which has long marginalized economic, social and cultural rights.

On the eve of this historic occasion, CHRGJ and the NGO Coalition for an OP-ICESCR will host a discussion among three of the international human rights experts who were pivotal in moving the Optional Protocol forward. Please join us as CHRGJ’s faculty chair, Philip Alston, engages Catarina de Albuquerque and Bruce Porter in a conversation about the evolution of the Optional Protocol, its possible impacts, and the implementation challenges it is likely to face.

When: Wednesday 23 September 2009, 5:00pm-7:00pm

Where: Furman Hall 212 (245 Sullivan Street, NYU School of Law)

RSVP: to ryank@exchange.law.nyu.edu

Event to be followed by a brief reception.

Background on the Optional Protocol

Countless people around the world suffer violations of their economic, social and cultural rights, including violations of their rights to adequate housing, food, water and sanitation, health, work and education. Discrimination in accessing public services such as health, education or food distribution systems, working without any labor protections, and forced evictions are only a few examples of the abuses faced by many people. Access to justice is a right of all victims but in many parts of the world, individuals are unable to hold governments, companies, and others accountable for violating their rights. In many countries, most of the economic, social and cultural rights are not recognized or enforceable by law, leaving people with little hope of an effective remedy. Existing remedies may also be ineffective or inadequately enforced.

The United Nations has created a new international mechanism through the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to address these shortcomings. The Optional Protocol aims to enable those whose economic, social and cultural rights are violated—and who are denied a remedy in their countries—to seek justice at the international level. It also stands to influence decisions by judicial bodies at the national and regional levels and create more opportunities for people to advocate for the enforcement of economic, social and cultural rights within their own countries.

On September 24th, 2009, the Optional Protocol will be opened for signature and ratification at a ceremony at UN headquarters in New York. It will not come into force until ten states have ratified it.  Victims of violations of ESC rights can only utilize the procedure after their state has ratified the Optional Protocol.

How the Optional Protocol works

 *   States Parties to the Covenant joining the Optional Protocol recognize the competence of the UN Committee on ESCR to receive and consider communications from individuals or groups of individuals alleging violations of the economic, social and cultural rights recognized in the Covenant on ESCR.

 *   The Optional Protocol provides for the possibility of interim measures by providing that the Committee may transmit to the State Party concerned for its urgent consideration a request that the State Party take the necessary steps to avoid possible irreparable damage to the victims of the alleged violations.

 *   The Optional Protocol also creates an inquiry procedure, setting out that if the Committee receives reliable information indicating grave or systematic violations of the Covenant, the Committee shall invite that State Party to cooperate in the examination of the information and to this end to submit observations with regard to the information concerned. The inquiry may include a visit to the territory of the State Party concerned.

 *   The Optional Protocol requires that States take all appropriate measures to ensure that individuals under its jurisdiction are not subjected to any form of ill-treatment or intimidation as a consequence of communicating with the Committee pursuant to the Optional Protocol.

About the Panelists:

Philip Alston is the Faculty Director and Chair of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU School of Law, where he also serves as John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law. He is currently the Special Adviser to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Millennium Development Goals, and UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. From 1991 to 1998 Philip was Chair of the UN Committee on Economic, Social & Cultural Rights.

Catarina de Albuquerque is a Portuguese lawyer, currently working as a senior legal adviser at the Office for Documentation and Comparative Law (an independent institution under the Portuguese Prosecutor General’s Office) working in the area of human rights. She is an Invited Professor at the Universities of Lisbon and Coimbra in her country. For more than ten years she has represented her country in international negotiations and conferences in the area of human rights at the UN, Council of Europe and European Union.

From 2004-08 she was the Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on an Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In September 2008, she was appointed Independent Expert on the issue of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation by the Human Rights Council.

Bruce Porter is a human rights consultant, researcher, and well-known advocate for the rights of poor people in Canada and internationally.  He is the Director of the Social Rights Advocacy Centre and the Co-ordinator of the Charter Committee on Poverty Issues (CCPI), for which he has co-ordinated 11 interventions at the Supreme Court of Canada. He is also a member of the Steering Committee of the NGO Coalition for an Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which led the campaign for a complaints procedure under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 2008.