An Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESC) was adopted by the United Nations in 2008. A longstanding demand of civil society, it completes the international human rights protection that began with the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Symbolically, the adoption of this new instrument was celebrated by the United Nations on 10 December 2008, the sixtieth anniversary to the day of the Universal Declaration.
Although the two international human rights covenants were adopted the same day, 16 December 1966, two very different monitoring systems were then created. A protocol providing for a complaints mechanism was immediately put in place for civil and political rights, but there was no such procedure set up for economic, social and cultural rights. Until now, there has been no possibility of lodging a complaint at the international level in case of a violation of economic, social and cultural rights. In spite of renewed interest in these rights recently, they have never really been considered as being on an equal footing with civil and political rights.In 1993, during the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, the governments unanimously proclaimed, “All human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated,” and they committed themselves to drafting an optional protocol to the ICESCR. In spite of this solemn commitment, it took fifteen years more for it to become reality through the adoption of the Protocol, which – finally – formally established the equality of all human rights.
In February 2006, the CETIM published a brochure on the Optional Protocol to the ICESCR. Beyond its information value for the general public as well as for militants of all stripes, the brochure had two purposes: advocate for an improvement in the situation of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’ 1996 Draft Protocol , and encourage the adoption, as fast as possible, of an optional protocol by the United Nations. These two goals were largely realized in 2008. Although it is not perfect, the protocol adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in November 2008 marks significant advances compared with the 1996 draft.
The purpose of this critical report is to present this new international instrument. In its first part, it will describe the recent history leading to the adoption of the Optional Protocol to the ICESCR. The Protocol’s contents will then be discussed. Finally, the challenges to its implementation will be discussed, in particular those faced by victims of violations of economic, social and cultural rights and by the NGOs wishing to support them in their efforts to obtain justice.