UNITED NATIONS

Press Release



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Closing a historic gap in human rights



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The UN General Assembly has achieved an important goal to strengthen international protection of human rights as it celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration

NEW YORK – The United Nations General Assembly adopted an important new human rights instrument to strengthen the protection of economic, social and cultural rights during its plenary sessions commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, on 10 December.

“The approval of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is of singular importance by closing a historic gap,” stated the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, in her address to the General Assembly

Under the Protocol, individuals will be able to complain to an independent human rights body at the international level about violations of rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Apart from providing a voice to victims of human rights violations, the Protocol also “makes them better equipped to enlist the international community’s help to address their plight”, Pillay said.

The Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights represents a milestone in the history of universal human rights, making a strong and unequivocal statement about the equal value and importance of all human rights and the need for strengthened legal protection of economic, social and cultural rights.

“The Universal Declaration wisely chose not to rank rights. On the contrary, it recognized the equal status of political and civil rights with economic, social and cultural rights, and underlined that all rights are inextricably linked,” Pillay added. “Violations of a set of rights reverberate on other rights and enfeeble them all.”

As the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted, the recent food emergencies, the degradation of the natural environment, the current financial crisis and the unrest that they engender all underscore that those who are at the frontlines of hardship are also likely to be the victims of the ripple effects of human rights violations.

The Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is a key step forward towards a unified vision of human rights of the Universal Declaration. Importantly, it will enable victims to seek justice for violations of their economic, social and cultural rights at the international level for the first time.

The Protocol adopted by the General Assembly on 10 December, had been approved by the Human Rights Council in June and by the Third Committee last month. It will now be opened for signature during 2009 and enter into force once it has been ratified by ten States.