Individual Complaints Mechanism at International Level: Bex Dunn

The new mechanism allowing individuals to make complaints at the international level if their economic, social or cultural rights have been violated was introduced via the optional protocol to the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights. It will cover issues such as a lack of adequate access to housing, work or food networks if these rights are violated by a member state party to the protocol.

However the extent to which this new mechanism will be effective is questionable. It has taken 4 years for the optional protocol to gain enough support to allow it to come into force and has received only 10 ratifications which include: Argentina, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mongolia, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain and most recently Uruguay. It has not been ratified by states that are arguably the most vulnerable to complaints of this nature, for example those suffering severe poverty such as African states or various Asian states. This means that only these states are subject to the protocol and only individuals or groups from within these states can make complaints. Furthermore there has been no move as yet to define the scope of action of the optional protocol due to its limited previous support.

The basis behind this measure is an incredibly positive one. It opens up the international community to individuals and allows the people to make the international community aware of the situation in their countries if their human rights are being violated. The allowance of individuals to address the international community is a leap forward as it makes headway in overcoming the assumption that the state is the most important or most legitimate actor within the international system. However I do not really see this measure being particularly effective as few individuals will have access to the correct information or channels to make a complaint to the international community. It also is unlikely to be successful due to the fact that the individual is not currently seen as a legitimate actor within the international community just yet. That will take time and with the entrenched commitment to state sovereignty I do not see that happening anytime soon. Nevertheless it is a step forward albeit a token one.

Whilst I wholeheartedly agree with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay that the optional protocol is a good thing and that it allows a platform to expose human rights abuses related to poverty, discrimination and neglect, I do not believe that it will be effective. This is due to my reservations regarding the ability of individuals to gain access to this measure. It may indeed manage to be successful in allowing groups within states to make the international community aware of such abuses but still the scope of the protocol is limited.

Bex Dunn