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Civil Society Groups Want SA to Ratify Key Human Rights Treaty



Leading civil society organisations have signed an open letter to President Jacob Zuma and the Speaker of the National Assembly, calling on government to ratify two landmark international human rights agreements. The Community Law Centre, Black Sash, People’s Health Movement South Africa, National Welfare Forum and ‘Global Call to Action against Poverty South Africa’ say it would be an appropriate way to mark the 62nd anniversary of the ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ on Friday, 10 December 2010. Nelson Mandela signed the ‘International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’ (ICESCR) 16 years ago but South Africa remains one of the few countries in the world yet to ratify the treaty. 
Black Sash Advocacy Programme Manager Phelisa Nkomo says the ICESCR is the principal UN human rights treaty that protects economic, social and cultural rights. “It will help advance rights like housing, water, health and education - rights that the South African people have consistently demanded from government. We believe human rights must be central to efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals aimed at reducing poverty. The agreements would also provide a legal obligation and accountability framework for ensuring that development needs and goals are fully realised,” explains Nkomo.
160 states around the world have ratified the ICESCR and 35 countries have signed the Optional Protocol to this treaty, which provides an important platform to expose abuses that are linked to poverty, discrimination and neglect. Ironically, South Africa played a very active role in the negotiation and adoption of the Optional Protocol but cannot ratify it, as it is not a party to the main treaty.
Dr Lilian Chenwi, senior researcher at Community Law Centre, says by ratifying the Covenant and the Protocol, the government would show its willingness to empower people living in poverty by enabling them to hold their elected leaders accountable. “It would also send a strong signal to other African countries not to be complacent about marginalisation or neglect those living in poverty,” says Dr Chenwi.
Convenor of Global Call to Action against Poverty South Africa, Rajesh Latchman, believes ratification would give life to the rights enshrined in the Constitution. “It would give us an opportunity to create a people-centred development agenda. It could be used as a nation building tool, with involvement from civil society, business and labour, to ensure that while we follow a new growth path, there will be real benefits for poor and marginalised people in our country,” says Latchman.
Brian Moody, Community Development Worker for the People’s Movement for Health South Africa, says ratifying ICESCR and adopting the Optional Protocol would finally fulfil the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, affirming that all human rights violations should be effectively remedied. “Government told Parliament back in 2007 that the time between signing and ratification shouldn’t be prolonged. But 16 years later, we are still waiting for this promise to be fulfilled,” says Moody. 

Click here to download and read the letter sent to President Jacob Zuma

Click here to download and read the letter sent to the Speaker of the National Assembly


Please note that the attached letters to government and parliament are open letters and may be published or quoted by the media. 
The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was signed by South Africa on 3 October 1994, thereby committing government to act within the spirit and purpose of the treaty, and to ratify it without delay. It provides for rights such as the right to water, food, work, housing, education, health, and an adequate standard living.  South Africa has still not ratified the Covenant.
The Optional Protocol to the Covenant will give people the right, if they cannot secure justice in their country, to have a violation of these rights investigated by an independent, international panel of experts. Ecuador, Mongolia and Spain have ratified the Protocol. 
The States that have signed the Protocol, thereby indicating their intention to ratify it, include: Argentina, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Chile, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, El Salvador, Finland, Gabon, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea-Bissau, Italy, Luxembourg, Kazakhstan, Madagascar, Mali, Montenegro, Netherlands, Paraguay, Portugal, Senegal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Spain, Timor-Leste, Togo, Ukraine and Uruguay.   South Africa may not ratify the Optional Protocol as it has not yet ratified the Covenant.

Find out more about the ICESCER and our campaign to have it ratified

For interview requests, please contact:
Phelisa Nkomo
Black Sash
072 613 3577
Dr. Lilian Chenwi
Community Law Centre
072 172 6346
Rajesh Latchman
National Welfare Forum /GCAP SA
083 443 0227
Brian Moody 
Peoples Health Movement
021 447 2024
For more information, please contact:
Sarah Nicklin
Black Sash Media Officer
073 150 9525