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Statement by IWRAW Asia Pacific on the question of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)

The following statement was read out by Maria Herminia Graterol, on behalf of the IWRAW Asia Pacific Team, at the Commission on Human Rights 59th Session (Agenda item 10), 18 April 2003.

Thank you madam chair. My name is Maria Herminia Graterol and I speak on behalf of International Women's Rights Action Watch Asia-Pacific, an organisation committed to working for effective implementation of human rights norms.

In our view, the resolution on the mandate of the open ended group for the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), is of critical importance as it will acknowledge the struggles of individual victims and survivors. The Optional Protocol is a means for recognising violations of human rights that, until now, have remained unnoticed and will provide states with tools to end this impunity.

We support the Commission in its effort to move closer to the actual and practical recognition that all our human rights are indeed, indivisible. As your citizens, we are here to support the setting up of the Open-Ended Working Group for the creation of an Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights. We welcome the joint statement made by the International Commission of Jurists and Amnesty International as well as the statements made by OMCT and the Colombian Commission of Jurists.

As the global community moves towards the realisation of the principle of indivisibility of all human rights, the initiation of a process for the formulation of an Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural indicates the commitment of member states of the UN to actualise the principle of equal protection in a way that encompasses all dimensions of human rights.

In our view the drafting of the present Optional Protocol process must be informed by the discussions that took place during the drafting of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (OP-CEDAW), which raised and resolved concerns regarding justiciability and indivisibility of human rights. As such, this process is a continuation of a commitment that started with the OP-CEDAW.

Given the commitment to indivisibility of rights made in Vienna in 1993, the global community cannot, at present, claim hierarchy of rights in the context of mechanisms for protection. States must acknowledge that the protection and promotion of the rights of all people are interlinked to upholding the principles of non-discrimination and equality already contained in most Constitutions. The Optional Protocol will be a clear contribution by the international community to the process of ensuring that domestic mechanisms live up to this promise.

IWRAW Asia Pacific is based in the South and works mainly with partners from the South. We strongly believe that the Optional Protocols are mechanisms for the implementation of human rights which facilitate constructive dialogue not only between states and the UN Treaty bodies but also between citizens and their states. The critical value of the optional protocols is that these are mechanisms for ensuring access to justice to the marginalised and thereby contribute to meaningful changes that translate into meaningful changes at the national level.

We are hopeful the Commission will decide to establish an Open-Ended Working Group which is inclusive and transparent and gives space to addressing actual obstacles faced by individuals unable to access remedies. More specifically we would like to make the following recommendations to the open-ended working group:

1. That in terms of the process it should bear in mind the discussions and the principles that went into the drafting of the Optional Protocol to the CEDAW Convention, specifically recalling that violations of economic, social and cultural rights have dimensions that often intersect with race, gender, class and other status.

2. That the Optional Protocol must enable the Committee to respond to the experiences of violations faced by the marginalised. In order to do so, it must bring together procedures that provide for communications and enables the Committee to conduct inquiry into grave and systematic violations.

And finally

3. The Open-Ended Working Group must also bear in mind that procedures must be means for providing tools for the Committee to review and asses situations in enhance the capacity of the states to provide redress and respond to claims and needs through domestic mechanisms, thereby ensuring justice for all.

Thank you Madam Chair.

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