On 28 March 2014, the Community Law Centre hosted a seminar on states’ obligations in relation to implementation and reporting under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and its Optional Protocol. Since the announcement in October 2012 that South Africa would ratify the ICESCR, which it signed on 3 October 1994, civil society has followed with interest the events that have unfolded. In this regard, the seminar had two main objective was to discuss the ICESCR and OP-ICESCR with stakeholders who would enrich the policy debates at parliamentary and political party levels and at the community level. In his opening remarks the director of the Community Law Centre, Prof Jaap de Visser, recalled how the civil society campaign to advocate for the ratification of the ICESCR was ‘born’ in response to government’s failure to do so, despite having signed it in 1994. The campaign engages in several activities, including holding strategy meetings and engaging with Parliament, government and state institutions (through letters and meetings). He highlighted the importance of state accountability, especially by office bearers.
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
The campaign has been organised in response to the failure of the South African government to ratify the ICESCR, despite having signed it October 1994. South Africa is one of only a handful of countries around the world that have not yet ratified the ICESCR. As this treaty 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. It was thus critical that South African Civil Society advanced the call for the State to ratify the ICESCR and its Optional Protocol.
The Drivers of the campaign are the Community Law Centre (CLC); the Black Sash; People’s Health Movement South Africa (PHMSA); National Welfare, Social Service and Development Forum (NWF);and the Global Call to Action against Poverty, South Africa (GCAP SA), Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI) and Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute (SPII).
The South African Human Rights Commission supports the campaign to ensure the ratification of the ICESCR and assists the campaign through the facilitation of and contribution to campaign meetings and events.
Subsequent to Cabinet’s announcement in October 2012, Parliament extended an invitation to the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DOJ& CD) to make a presentation on 20 August 2013, as part of the formalities required for the final approval of government’s decision to ratify the ICESCR. In its presentation DOJ& CD reaffirmed South Africa’s commitment to ending poverty and social inequality. Parliament will now have to deliberate on Cabinet’s proposal to ratify and make the necessary approval as provided for by the Constitution.
The coming into force today of the OP-ICESCR marks the beginning of a new dawn in the enforcement of socio-economic rights at the international level, with consequential positive impacts at the national level. According to Prof. Lilian Chenwi, Associate Professor at the Wits School of Law, the OP-ICESCR “would encourage State parties to ensure more effective local remedies for socio-economic rights violations”. The Campaign for South Africa’s Ratification of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, joins other civil society groups and human rights advocates across the world in celebrating the entry into force of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social Cultural Rights (OP-ICESCR).
South African Human Rights Groups welcome Cabinet’s approval of South Africa’s ratification of the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Almost eighteen years after the South African government signed the ICESCR, Cabinet has approved that South Africa will ratify the ICESCR. This important decision to ratify, which means that the ICESCR will be legally binding, was included in a statement issued yesterday on Cabinet’s ordinary meeting held in Pretoria on 10 October 2012. The Cabinet statement describes how the ICESCR is a “key international treaty which seeks to encourage State Parties to address challenges of inequality, unemployment and poverty, which are critical to the strategic goals of governments.”
The Campaign Group for South Africa’s ratification of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and its Optional Protocol (OP-ESCR) applauds the South African Human Rights Commission on its initiative to hold public hearings on the right to adequate water and sanitation in commemoration of Human Rights month. Recent events across the country including incidents in Makhaza (Khayelitsha, Cape Town) and Rammulotsi Township (Viljoenskroon, Free State) have emphasized the need for government to reassess its commitments towards the promotion and protection of socio-economic rights guaranteed under the Constitution. These incidents are a reminder that despite the constitutional provisions and rich jurisprudence in relation to socioeconomic rights, and the relative wealth of a minority, a significant number of South Africans continue to be denied access to the basic needs of life.
In commemoration of the Mandela Day on 18 July 2011, several organisations including the National Welfare Forum (NWF), Global Call to Action against Poverty South Africa (GCAP-SA), Black Sash, Amnesty International South Africa, People's Health Movement - South-Africa (PHMSA) and the Community Law Centre (CLC) at the University of the Western Cape, held a seminar to advocate for the ratification for the ICESCR and its Optional Protocol. It is clear from the discussions that South Africa needs to urgently ratify the ICESCR. The ratification would strengthen the domestic protection of economic, social and cultural rights in South Africa through policy, legislation (laws) and jurisprudence (decisions of court). It was acknowledged that poverty remains a huge challenge in South Africa. The ratification of the ICESCR and its Optional Protocol would contribute substantively to the shifting of poverty and inequality in South Africa
On 15 September 2010 civil society organisations and human rights institutions participated in a seminar to discuss South Africa’s 2010 Draft Report on the status of its progress towards achieving the United Nations (UN) Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The seminar took place against the backdrop of the MDG Review Summit that will take place at the United Nations in New York from 20-22 September 2010 as well as the UN’s annual treaty signing event also taking place from 21 to 23 and 27 to 28 September 2010 in New York.