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SAHRC welcomes cabinet's decision to allow for the ratification of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)

15 October 2012

ATTENTION: Editors and Reporters

The South African Human Rights Commission welcomes the decision by the South African government to set in motion the process to ratify the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Cabinet late last week finally approved that South Africa should honour its international obligations and ratify the ICESCR which is a key international treaty seeking to encourage State Parties to address the triple challenges of inequality, unemployment and poverty.

President Jacob Zuma has emphasised the importance of poverty alleviation in the poorest sections of the society. Studies have shown that a significant number of South Africans continue to live in poverty despite its depository of wealth. The country remains one of the most unequal countries in the world.

The Commission has been part of those leading the campaign for South Africa to ratify the ICESCR for some time, and we believe this is a chance for the country to consolidate its commitment to alleviate poverty and ensure social justice for all.
The Commission believes the ratification will enhance the ability of the South African government to play a meaningful role as one of the key advocates for social, economic and cultural rights in the international arena. And it will go further to prevent the country from falling behind the rest of the international community in committing to protecting basic human rights.

It’s worth noting that by doing this, South Africa will not have to pass additional legislation upon ratification since most of the socio-economic rights included in the ICESCR are already echoed in the South African Constitution.
However, the ICESCR does guarantee other rights that are not clearly protected in the Constitution, such as the right to work. The country’s unemployment rates have continued to soar, and those employed are not adequately compensated, as proven by the recent protests in the mines.

Ratification would correct any gaps that arise from South Africa’s current partial recognition of the full range of international human rights law.

It was former President Nelson Mandela who initially signed the ICESCR in 1994 on his first visit to the United Nations in New York, taking a bold step to indicate South Africa’s intention to join the rest of the world in promoting socio-economic rights.
After the recommendation from Cabinet this week, it is now left to the parliament to confirm the ratification of the ICESCR. As the Commission, we hope this process would be fast-tracked to ensure a full compliance with the Covenant.


Issued by:
Isaac Mangena
Head: Communications
South African Human Rights Commission
071 884 8273.

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