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UN Complaints Mechanism on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Enters into Force

OHCHR 26 May 2013: The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has welcomed the entry into force of a new human rights mechanism that will permit individuals to seek justice in relation to economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR).

The Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights permits UN independent experts that monitor the Covenant to examine complaints from individuals or groups in countries that have ratified the Protocol, and to conduct inquiries regarding “grave or systematic violations” in areas such as food, housing, education and health. The Optional Protocol entered into force on 5 May 2013, three months after Uruguay became the tenth nation to ratify it, joining Argentina, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mongolia, Portugal, Slovakia and Spain. While ten countries have ratified the Protocol to date, a total of 42 countries have signed it.

In a press release, High Commissioner Navi Pillay said egregious ESCR violations, if occurring in the area of civil and political rights, would have been immediately condemned, and that the new Protocol will help to address the imbalance.

Upon the tenth ratification of the Protocol, in February 2013, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) noted that the Protocol strengthens the “justiciability” or possibility of jurisdiction over right to food issues. FAO's March 2013 publication, 'Guidance Note: Integrating the Right to Adequate Food into food and nutrition security programmes,' promotes the right to food as a tool for achieving food security as well as an objective in its own right.

UN independent expert on Human Rights and the Environment John Knox highlighted the effects of environmental degradation on the enjoyment of a range of human rights, including rights to life, health, food and water, in his December 2012 report to the UN Human Rights Council (A/HRC/22/43). The Council agreed in March 2012 (resolution 19/10) to appoint an Independent Expert who would, inter alia, make recommendations that could help achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), especially Goal 7 on environmental sustainability, taking into account the results of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio+20). [Optional Protocol] [OHCHR press release] [FAO Press Release, 14 February 2013] [Guidance Note: Integrating the right to adequate food in to food and nutrition security programs] [A/HRC/22/43]