JOINT MEDIA STATEMENT - Black Sash; Community Law Centre; National Welfare Forum and People’s Health Movement South Africa.
For Immediate Release – Monday, 17 August 2009
A group of prominent civil society organisations is calling on government to urgently ratify the principal UN human rights treaty that protects economic, social and cultural rights. Nelson Mandela signed the ‘International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’ or ICESCR 15 years ago but South Africa remains one of the few countries in the world that has yet to ratify the treaty.
Civil Society groups – including Community Law Centre, Black Sash; National Welfare Forum and People’s Health Movement South Africa – are warning that unless the government does so within the next 30 days, South Africa won't be eligible to ratify the 'Optional Protocol' to the Covenant which opens for signature and ratification on the 24th of September (2009). The Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, SANGOCO Western Cape and the South African Council of Churches have added their voices to the campaign to persuade government to ratify the Covenant (on which South Africa's 'Bill of Rights' was modeled) before the deadline.
Black Sash Advocacy Programme Manager, Elroy Paulus, says the “repeated failure by government to provide an explanation as to why it hasn’t ratified the ICESCR is completely unacceptable. Their inaction is troubling as the rights in the Covenant - such as the right to social security, social protection and social services - are the basic rights we know they support. The government’s continued failure to demonstrate this commitment to socio-economic rights has become an embarrassment within Africa and around the world”.
Dr Lilian Chenwi, Senior Researcher at the Community Law Centre, agrees that it would be “very unfortunate if South Africa disassociates itself from ratifying the Optional Protocol. It is an historic achievement for human rights and the fight against poverty, discrimination and neglect. It is also an instrument that promotes a culture of accountability and will help empower vulnerable and marginal groups – both of which are encouraged in our Constitution”.
The ICESCR is one of the six key, binding UN human rights treaties. South Africa has ratified all of them except the ICESCR. Together with the ‘International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights’ and the ‘Universal Declaration on Human Rights’, the ICESCR constitutes the ‘International Bill of Rights’. Rajesh Latchman, Coordinator of the National Welfare Forum says, “It’s about the basic human rights such as the right to food, housing and education but most importantly it is about showing that we, as a nation, are serious about enabling poor and marginalised people to realise their human dignity. The Covenant would also provide us with the opportunity to engage in a national dialogue with government around creating a roadmap for the realisation of these rights”.
Damaris Fritz, Coordinator of the People’s Health Movement South Africa, says the broad coalition of organisations supporting the ratification “demonstrates how the rights contained in the Covenant affect all the people of South Africa. Ratification would send an unambiguous signal that South Africa is committed to the effective realisation of socio-economic rights and the development of effective remedies for those whose rights are violated”.
For interview requests or additional information, please contact:
Elroy Paulus Advocacy - Programme Manager, Black Sash
Ratula Beukman - Advocacy Programme Manager, Black Sash
Dr Lilian Chenwi - Senior Researcher, Community Law Centre
Rajesh Latchman - Coordinator, National Welfare Forum