HUMAN RIGHTS

Welcoming the ICESCR ratification

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South Africa’s Ratification Campaign of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and its Optional Protocol welcomes South Africa’s ratification of the ICESCR on 12 January 2015. As stipulated in section 27(2) of the ICESCR, it will come into force for South Africa on 12 April 2015, which is three months after the deposit of the instrument of ratification.

The Campaign for South Africa’s Ratification of the ICESCR has followed with keen interest unfolding events since Cabinet’s announcement in October 2012 to ratify the ICESCR, and National Assembly’s approval of its ratification inNovember 2013. The Campaign was organised in response to the failure of the South African government to ratify the ICESCR, despite having signed it on 3 October 1994.

The Campaign believes this ICESCR will help advance social and economic rights like housing, water, health and education – rights that the South African people have consistently demanded from the government. The ICESCR is important for enforcing the rights of those living in poverty; it has particular relevance to the majority of communities in South Africa, who do not have access to some of the most basic human rights.

By virtue of the Bill of Rights and national legal frameworks on socio-economic rights, South Africa has already assumed the obligations to respect, protect and fulfil these rights. This is an obligation that is required under the ICESCR. States that have ratified the ICESCR have a legal obligation to work progressively towards realising economic, social and cultural rights, including the rights to social security (for example through social grants), adequate food and housing, healthcare and education.

The ICESCR, which was adopted 1966, and came into force 1976, forms the cornerstone of international human rights law and has been ratified by over 160 states around the world. Until 12 January 2015, South Africa was one of only a handful of countries around the world that had not ratified the ICESCR. The ICESCR sets an internationally agreed framework to assess the commitments of countries towards fulfilling the realisation of rights guaranteed under the treaty.

However, the Campaign is disappointed that the government has decided to enter a declaration stating that it is unable to agree to immediately implement the right to free primary education for all, but has instead agreed only to the progressive realisation of this right ‘as provided for within the framework of its National Education Policy and available resources.’

While we commend the ratification of the ICESCR by the South African government, we use this opportunity to urge the government to ratify the Optional Protocol (OP-ICESCR.) The OP-ICESCR came into force on 3 May 2013. TheOP-ICESCR creates a mechanism through which individuals and groups, whose human rights such as the rights to adequate housing, food, water, health, work, social security and education have been violated, and who have not been able to achieve justice in their own countries, can present a case before a UN body and seek justice. The entry into force of the OP-ICESCR therefore presents an opportunity for individuals and civil society groups to further ensure the realisation of socio-economic rights. It is an important tool to strengthen the promotion and protection of socio-economic rights worldwide and should be ratified by the South African government.

Jacob Nthoiwa

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