After the National Assembly of Ecuador approved the ratification on March 30, Ecuador this week became the first country in the world to ratify the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This is a momentous development for the Optional Protocol (OP), as it needs 10 ratifications before it can be legally enforced. The OP provides a UN complaints mechanism for victims of violations of all economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights. This means the Covenant now has a complaints mechanism of equal status to that of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Thus, the OP is also considered to be a historic milestone for human rights as a whole, and its adoption will represent a huge advancement for economic, social and cultural rights.
The OP ensures victims of ESC rights violations their right to effective remedy, by being given the possibility to have their case reviewed by the Committee on Economic, Social & Cultural Rights, where no effective means of redress are available at the national level. It is a tool that will not only affect the lives of individual complainants suffering from infringements of ESC rights, but will be likely to offer positive guidance to domestic and regional judiciary in relation to the enforcement of ESC rights in general. In addition, the conclusions reached by the Committee will lead to further clarification for the content of and obligations arising from ESC rights.
After the adoption of the OP on Dec 10, 2008, many groups and individuals have been urging their countries to sign and ratify the historical document. At the moment, 31 states have signed it, but a further nine ratifications are needed to bring it into force. The lobbying of governments is being primarily coordinated by the NGO Coalition for an Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The Coalition brings together national, regional and international NGOs, individuals, social movements and community based organisations to join forces to help ensure ratification by countries, so that the Optional Protocol can become enforceable as soon as possible.
CESR applauds Ecuador for this inaugural ratification and we urge other countries to follow Ecuador’s footsteps, to help make the OP a reality for all victims of ESC rights who are seeking redress.