Human Rights Made Whole

For more than 60 years, one category of human rights – civil and political – has taken priority over economic, social, and cultural rights. But that is about to change, as the UN will soon adopt a new Protocol for the Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights as a vehicle – similar to those created for other core human rights treaties – to expose abuse.

On June 18, the United Nations’ intergovernmental Human Rights Council took an important step toward eliminating the artificial divide between freedom from fear and freedom from want that has characterized the human rights system since its inception.  By giving the green light to the Optional Protocol to the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, the Council has established an important mechanism to expose abuses that are typically linked to poverty, discrimination, and neglect, and that victims frequently endure in silence and helplessness.

It will now be up to the UN General Assembly to provide final approval of the Protocol. If adopted, this instrument can make a real difference in the lives of those who are often left to languish at the margins of society, and are denied their economic, social, and cultural rights, such as access to adequate nutrition, health services, housing, and education.  

Sixty years ago, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognized that both freedom from want and freedom from fear are indispensable preconditions for a dignified life. The Declaration unequivocally linked destitution and exclusion with discrimination and unequal access to resources and opportunities. Its framers understood that social and cultural stigmatization precludes full participation in public life and the ability to influence policies and obtain justice.

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