Terry Rockefeller (left) with her sister Laura. Photo courtesy of September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows and Terry Rockefeller.
It has now been eleven years since the September 11 attacks. I still think about that morning every day. I could see the Towers from my living room, and from my walk to the subway. In my mind, I see the first Tower on fire. I see the second fall.
I think about all the people who lost their lives, all the survivors and all those who lost loved ones. Will their rights to justice, truth and redress ever be fulfilled?
I also think about all those who have suffered from the U.S. government’s response to the attacks. Will indefinite detention, unlawful drone killings and impunity for torture ever end?
Yesterday, the U.N. General Assembly marked Human Rights Day by unanimously adopting the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (OP-ICESCR). This historic step fills in a crucial gap in the human rights framework; former High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour has described the OP-ICESCR as making human rights whole.
But to the media this looks like U.N. inside baseball, and they haven’t so much as mentioned it. (ReliefWeb, a U.N. humanitarian information portal, covered it; and here’s AI’s press release.)
So what’s it all about? In a word, it provides a means for redress for violations of economic, social and cultural rights.
One way of dividing up human rights obligations is like this:
To prevent human rights violations from happening.
To stop human rights violations that are currently happening.
To offer redress for human rights violations that have already happened.
issue an executive order to ban torture and other ill-treatment, as defined under international law;
ensure that an independent commission to investigate abuses committed by the U.S. government in its “war on terror” is set up.
That is, the call is to stop (close Guantanamo), prevent (ban torture), and begin to redress (set up an independent commission) human rights violations committed by the U.S. government in the “war on terror”. (You should, of course, sign the 100 days petition!)
Anyone who’s suffered a violation of his or her civil and political rights — like freedom of expression, freedom from torture, and the right to a fair trial — can file for redress with the United Nations. This is a matter of international law, and it empowers people in countries whose domestic courts won’t recognize their civil and political rights. That mechanism was established by the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1966.
But there’s never been an analogous system for economic, social and cultural rights – until yesterday. The OP-ICESCR finally provides a means for redress, under international law, for violations of the rights to water, food, health, housing, education and decent work.