Statement by Luwellyn Landers MP, Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, at the National Workshop on the Domestic Implementation of the Provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Monday, 21 September 2015, Midrand Conference Centre

Programme Director;
Hon. John Jeffery, Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development;
Senior Government Officials;
Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Representatives of Academia and Research Institutions;
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Let me begin by thanking the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development for inviting me to this workshop. We are gathered here to reflect on the way forward regarding the domestic implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, following its ratification by our Parliament in November 2014.

As we all know, the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development is the custodian of South Africa’s human rights law at the national level and coordinates all human rights related issues and plays a critical role in the implementation of international human rights Instruments.

The United Nations Bill of Rights came into being at the height of the Cold War, and resulted in the artificial separation of human rights into civil and political rights, or first generation rights, on the one hand, and economic, social and cultural rights, or second generation rights, on the other. This artificial separation accounted for much of the tensions of the East-West blocs for a considerable period between 1948 and the early seventies.

The 1968 Proclamation of Teheran (which was the Outcome of the First World Conference on Human Rights celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) underlined the primacy of economic, social and cultural rights. The Proclamation stressed the fact that civil and political rights are meaningless unless underpinned by the all-empowering economic, social and cultural rights.

The 1986 Declaration on the Right to Development marked a watershed moment in a process seeking to integrate these two sets of rights, and the affirmation of their inextricability.

The 1993 World Conference on Human Rights held in Vienna also produced a monumental outcome known as the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. It confirmed the universality, indivisibility, interdependence and inter-relatedness of all human rights and fundamental freedoms. It was at this historic Conference that the member states of the United Nations unanimously recognized and acknowledged the right to development as a fundamental human right, as well as a process by which all human rights, whether civil or political, or economic, social and cultural, are progressively realized.

Paragraph-5 of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action emphasizes that all human rights must be treated in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing, and with the same emphasis.

Our own Constitution is also an affirmation of the inextricability of all human rights and fundamental freedoms. In a real sense, our Constitution enshrines all civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights in an interwoven, seamless and non-hierarchical manner.

For reasons of historical inequalities and disparities, our democratic dispensation places an emphasis on the all empowering economic, social and cultural rights in order to ensure a better life for all, while respecting the centrality of civil and political rights. This ensured, among others, that government provided essential services in the areas of economic, social and cultural rights through successive macro-economic policies.

Following ratification by our Parliament, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights came into force on 12 April 2015. In terms of compliance with the provisions of the Covenant, this has major implications for our country. There are numerous steps which have to be taken to ensure that we do not lag behind. These include:

(a) the creation of a National Coordination Mechanism (NCM) as a juristic body that has to coordinate all work undertaken by National Departments with mandates in this regard. The NCM will also have powers to pronounce and advocate for increased budgetary baselines and resources in order to fully and effectively achieve the fulfillment of the rights in their purview. Importantly, the co-coordinating role of the NCM, by design, should extend to a range of actors, including the Corporate Sector, in realizing the rights contained in the Covenant;

(b) ensure that the South African Initial Country Report is submitted to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on or before the due date of 12 April 2017; and

(c) the signing and ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as a matter of urgency.

With the accomplishment of all the steps mentioned, DIRCO should be in a better and stronger position to take a leadership role at the international level on critical areas associated with the Covenant, such as:

(i) the elaboration of an additional Protocol to the Covenant on ESC Rights, creating the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Treaty Law, and transferring the Treaty Competencies from the Economic  and Social Council (ECOSOC) to the Committee. This effectively implies the total revision of Part-4 of the Covenant, which is considered to be obsolete and defunct, especially with the advent of the Human Rights Council in 2006, which disconnected human rights from the ECOSOC and linked these with the General Assembly, in furtherance of the South African led Human Rights Resolution 4/7;

(ii) the elaboration of an Amendment Protocol to the two Covenants integrating the Right to Development into the UN Bill of Rights;

(iii) taking effective leadership in the processes of the Non-Aligned Movement at the UN level for the elaboration of a UN Convention on the Right to Development; and

(iv) the continued advocacy for the justifiability of the Economic, Social and Cultural (ESC) Rights in International Human Rights Law.

Finally, we stand ready to support all mechanisms to ensure that South Africa is among those leading countries in advocating for the practical realization of ESC Rights at the domestic level through maximum protection, adequate remedies and zero tolerance on impunity for violations of these rights.

ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION

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