Celebrating the second anniversary of the entry into force of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

New York, 11 May 2015

Mr. High Commissioner,
Your Excellencies,
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to start by welcoming you, Mr. High Commissioner, to this side-event, and to thank you for accepting to participate in this discussion. I take this opportunity to acknowledge and appreciate your own, and your Offices’, commitment to the protection and promotion of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Allow me to underline that we value this partnership very much.

I would also like to extend my appreciation to my co-chair and colleague Ambassador Koncke and to the Member States of the Group of Friends of the Optional Protocol to the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

We believe that the Group of Friends of the Optional Protocol created two years ago here in New York, in continuous expansion, is a good tool to promote ratifications but also to promote Economic, Social and Cultural rights in general. Portugal stands ready to cooperate not only with the other countries that have already ratified the Optional Protocol, but also with all those who are working to become State Parties and would like to contribute to the advocacy efforts for the importance of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in ensuring human dignity for all.

As a country profoundly committed to deepening the protection and promotion of all human rights we are particularly happy to mark here, in New York, together with the Group of Friends of the Optional Protocol, and with your presence Mr. High Commissioner, the second anniversary of the entry into force of this important instrument.

164 States are now party to the Convention and already have international obligations under this treaty.  Ratifying the Optional Protocol demonstrates a commitment to progressively realize the rights outlined in the Convention, honoring obligations that have already been made.  The Optional Protocol does not create or add any new right; instead it reinforces the basic concept that every meaningful right requires a remedy in the case of its violation. 

It is interesting to note that the international community has accepted, for several years now, the existence of several legal possibilities, at the international level, to present communications related to cases of torture, arbitrary detention, violation of freedom of expression or religion. However, in certain other cases, where the person is exposed to lack of adequate housing, seriously inadequate health services, inexistence of educational opportunities or even a combination of all these phenomena, it was - until recently - impossible for individuals whose socio-economic rights had been violated to submit formal complaints before the United Nations human rights system. We have, thus, closed a gap and accomplished a crucial step in reinforcing the equal value of all human rights by enabling victims to seek justice for violations of their economic, social and cultural rights.

However this process didn’t finish with the entry into force of the Optional Protocol on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. There is a need to continue working towards universal ratification of this instrument, increase access to information, through appropriate campaigns and raise awareness on these rights and available mechanisms at the disposal of all.

Governments must respect, protect and fulfil all human rights. Governments must also implement economic, social and cultural rights through concrete strategies for social and economic development. Finally, governments are required to monitor the realization of these rights.

Allow me to share with you some concrete ideas related to Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: More than 1.2 billion people continue to live in extreme poverty without access to food, water, education, work or health care. Their situation denies them the full enjoyment of their human rights: they have little if any access to opportunities and basic services - they are vulnerable to all forms of violence and abuse of their human rights and fundamental freedoms. Frequently, people living on extreme poverty have neither the political power nor the material and educational conditions to take their destiny in their own hands. In this sense, the realization of human rights is an important step towards change, empowerment, development and human dignity.

In another words, we have now to move on to implementation. Respecting and enforcing Economic, Social and Cultural rights requires governments to take positive action. The challenge in the field of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is to guarantee national compliance with obligations emanating from international commitments.

This is why civil society actors are so important in this process. We want to highlight the legitimate and vital role played by civil society groups in promoting human rights and specifically the OP-ICESCR ratification, particularly through the NGO Coalition for the OP-ICESCR, and we encourage them to keep pushing us, as States, to live up to our obligations.

Civil society organizations can raise awareness, both among national stakeholders and the general public, about the content of not only the Optional Protocol on Economic, Social and Cultural Right, but also of all UN instruments and the possibilities that they open. They can play a key role in identifying and assisting victims in their submission of individual communications, or requests for inquiries, to the Committee.

Let me end by saying that I very much hope that States, civil society and national institutions will not miss the momentum created two years ago with the entry into force of the Optional Protocol, and we can all join efforts towards change, empowerment and human dignity for all.

Attaining development is a work in progress everywhere and demands a collective commitment from all of us. In the year that international community will decide upon its development agenda for the next decade, Portugal will continue being a strong advocate for the promotion and protection of all human rights and for the universal ratification of the Optional Protocol.

Thank you.

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