Today is an exciting day for the human rights world, marking the entry into force of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (OP-ICESCR). This is an important step towards creating greater accountability for economic, social and cultural rights – including the right to food.
What is it?
The OP-ICESCR establishes an international complaints mechanism for individuals whose economic, social, or cultural rights (like the right to food) have been violated by governments (that are States Parties to both the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and also have ratified the Optional Protocol). The complaints mechanism does not take the place of national government justice systems, but provides an additional layer of protection: if individuals have not received effective remedies at the domestic level, they then can bring their complaint to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Why is it important?
The Optional Protocol is important for several reasons. Most significantly, of course, it creates an additional avenue for redress, an international platform with the explicit goal of providing effective remedies for people who can’t get them within their own countries. Additionally, because the OP-ICESCR requires exhaustion of domestic remedies, it creates an incentive for individuals to pursue these claims first within their own court systems. In theory, this could potentially lead to a more robust evaluation of human rights claims within national court systems. Finally, the OP-ICESCR helps reconcile the differences in how the UN system addresses various types of rights, by creating a mechanism similar to the Optional Protocols to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the first of which entered into force in 1976.
To date, 10 states have ratified the Protocol. Thanks for your forward thinking, Argentina, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mongolia, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, and Uruguay!
Ideally, all States Parties to the ICESCR will sign and ratify this new and important Protocol. (Also, ideally, other nations will start by simply ratifying the ICESCR. Ahem, United States.)
Interested in learning more? Check out the Campaign for the OP-ICESCR, which offers resources, tools, and more information.