The United Nations have applauded the upcoming availability of a new human rights instrument which, for the first time, will allow victims to file complaints at the international level about violations of their economic, social and cultural rights, placing those rights on an equal footing with all other human rights.
The new complaints mechanism, established by the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, will allow individuals or groups to file a complaint with the UN if their rights - such as inadequate access to food, housing or work - are violated by a Member State that is party to the Protocol.
"The entry into force of the Optional Protocol is a major breakthrough," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a press release.
"The Protocol will provide an important platform to expose abuses linked to poverty, discrimination and neglect, which up until now victims have had to endure without any possible recourse at the international level. It will provide a way for individuals, who may otherwise be isolated and powerless, to make the international community aware of their situation," she added.
The Protocol, adopted during the General Assembly's December 2008 meeting to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, opened for signature the following year.
On Feb 5, Uruguay became the 10th Member State to ratify the Protocol, thereby enabling it to enter into force in three months time, on May 5. Argentina, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mongolia, Portugal, Slovakia and Spain have also ratified it.
"With the entry into force of the Optional Protocol, a jurisprudence will now be developed that will help define the scope of application of economic, social and cultural rights and outline adequate remedies for victims," Pillay said.
The High Commissioner strongly encouraged other States among the 160 that are already party to the Covenant to ratify the Optional Protocol as soon as possible.
"The Protocol makes a strong and unequivocal statement about the equal value and importance of all human rights and the need for strengthened legal protection of economic, social and cultural rights in particular," Pillay said.