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U.N. Human Rights Council: Milestone Optional Protocol Adopted

(July 2, 2008) On June 18, 2008, the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC), by consensus rather than a vote, adopted the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which “would allow persons to petition an international human rights body about the violation of their rights under the Covenant.” (Optional Protocol to ESC Covenant Adopted by Human Rights Council, 5:8 IJCSL NEWSLETTER 14 (July 2008), available at It was reported that “[s]ome States [UK, Germany, Switzerland, China, Japan, Turkey] voiced concerns about amendments made outside of the Working Group to Articles 2 and 11, … which, in the latest version of the text, effectively expanded the scope of the optional protocol to cover the right to self-determination (Part I of ICESCR),” and “[s]everal States [The United Kingdom, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Switzerland] placed on record their interpretation that the right to self-determination could not be invoked to trigger a complaint under a future complaints mechanism.” (International Service for Human Rights, COUNCIL MONITOR DAILY UPDATE 3 (June 18, 2008), available at

Aside from permitting the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to receive and consider communications alleging violations of the rights set forth in the Covenant, the Protocol:

• allows for the possibility of requesting a State Party to take 'interim measures' to preclude 'possible irreparable damage to the victims of the alleged violations'

• creates an inquiry procedure for handling 'reliable information indicating grave or systematic violations of the Covenant,' whereby the Committee will invite the State Party concerned to engage in a cooperative examination of the information through submission of its observations on the information and a visit to the State Party's territory may be included as part of the inquiry; and

• requires that all appropriate measures be taken by a state 'to ensure that individuals under its jurisdiction are not subjected to any form of ill-treatment or intimidation as a consequence of communicating with the Committee pursuant to the Protocol.'

(NGO Coalition Welcomes Historic Decision: Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on Track to Have Equal Footing with Other International Human Rights Law, FIDH [International Federation for Human Rights], June 19, 2008, available at

Portugal introduced the draft resolution putting forward the Optional Protocol, but its formulation dates back to the 1993 Vienna World Conference on Human Rights and a first draft prepared in 1996, with intergovernmental negotiations commencing in 2004. (COUNCIL MONITOR DAILY UPDATE, id.) The HRC recommended, in the resolution to which the new instrument is annexed (A/HRC/8/L.2/Rev.1/Corr.1), that the U.N. General Assembly adopt and open the Optional Protocol for signature, ratification, and accession at a signing ceremony inGeneva in March 2009. (Press Release, HRC, Human Rights Council Adopts 13 Resolutions, Appoints 13 New Mandate Holders and Extends Eight Mandates (June 18, 2008, available at