Access to justice is an essential right for victims of all human rights violations. Today, Ecuador became the first country to ratify the new UN mechanism that will enable people denied their human rights to have their complaints heard in front of an independent, international panel of experts.
The Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights allows individuals and groups within the country to seek justice from the UN should these rights – which include the rights to adequate housing, food, water, health, work, social security and education – be violated by their government.
Civil and political rights often take center stage when talking about human rights, leaving economic, social and cultural rights to be historically neglected from the human rights discourse. Although States agreed at the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights that “the international community must treat human rights globally in a fair an equal manner, on the same footing, and with the same emphasis,” the Optional Protocol is a real, tangible development towards this end. We are hopeful that other countries will follow Ecuador’s lead and sign and ratify the Protocol.
The Optional Protocol that Ecuador ratified will enable people, particularly those living in poverty, to hold their government accountable. It will allow those who have been denied their human rights to voice their concerns in front of an independent, international panel of experts. Decisions made here, through this new mechanism, will likely influence decisions of national and regional courts around the world.
This complaint mechanism will become operational after 10 countries have ratified the Optional Protocol. 31 countries, in addition to Ecuador, have signed the protocol, noting their intention to ratify it and make it legally binding.
The United States is not among the 32 countries that have signed the Optional Protocol. In fact, though the U.S. signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1992 (26 years after it opened for signatures), it still has not yet ratified the covenant.
Nick Janizeh contributed to this post.