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UN General Assembly: Moves forward on access to justice on 10 December

It is great news to be able to report that the UN General Assembly adopted the Optional Protocol by concensus. It is fitting that this took place on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

'The decisive action of the General Assembly today makes it clear that economic, social and cultural rights, including the rights to adequate housing, food, health, education and work, are not a matter of charity, but rather rights that can be claimed by all without discrimination of any kind,' said a group of United Nations Human Rights Experts*.

The 36 UN Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts welcomed the adoption by the United Nations General Assembly of the Optional Protocol, which enables those suffering from violations of their economic, social and cultural rights to seek remedies and to hold those responsible to account for their actions – as is already the case for other human rights. 'Allowing individuals and groups of individuals to submit complaints on alleged violations to the Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights represents a promising tool for all victims of violations of these rights to speak out and be heard,' underlined the group.

The Experts express their sincere hope that views adopted by the Committee under the Optional Protocol procedures will be used by the human rights community to assist States in taking concrete steps to realise the rights of all and to reach out to the most marginalised and disadvantaged, who are the most likely to see their rights violated.

'This marks an essential step towards the establishment of a long-awaited mechanism that reinforces the universality, indivisibility, interdependence and inter-relatedness of all human rights, and the guarantee of dignity and justice for all,' stressed the group of Experts, calling on all States to sign and ratify the instrument swiftly, so as to secure speedy implementation and wide application.

The Experts emphasised that the new complaint and inquiry mechanism will also play a role enhancing protection of other rights. 'Widespread violations of economic, social and cultural rights are often root causes of social unrest and conflict which can lead to massive violations of civil and political rights.' By providing an additional avenue for redress these new mechanisms can thus help prevent other human rights violations. The 1993 Vienna World Conference on Human Rights reaffirmed the indivisibility of all rights when it encouraged consideration of an Optional Protocol.

'The Optional Protocol', in the Experts' view, 'provides further recognition of the inherent dignity of every human being, and of the importance of justice and accountability for all violations of human rights.'

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