Speech by the Secretary General
Ceremony on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the European Social Charter
Tuesday, 18 October 2011
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Dear Vice-Prime Minister,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Over the last two years, we have celebrated the 60th anniversaries of the Council of Europe and of the European Convention on Human Rights.
These anniversaries underlined man’s ability to overcome the destruction of a total war and to rebuild Europe by establishing fundamental human rights as legally-binding commitments.
The rights of the Social Charter, whose anniversary we are celebrating today – the right to housing, the right to social security, the right to a fair remuneration are all part of those fundamental rights: even though they are more difficult to achieve than civil and political rights. We all know about freedom of expression, but do we all know that we have a right to a fair remuneration?
Drawing on their experience of the pre-war years, the founders of the Council of Europe knew that the right to to a fair remuneration was as fundamental as the right to freedom of expression.
They understood that economic crisis and poverty create conditions which can foster political extremism, violence and war. They therefore considered including both sets of rights in one single treaty.
This did not happen: the Human Rights Convention was adopted in 1950, while it took more than 10 years of difficult negotiations before the Social Charter was finally signed in Turin on 18 October 1961.
Much progress has been achieved since then. The adoption in the 1990s of the Revised Charter, and the collective complaints procedure, has made the Charter a true human rights mechanism with 43 States Parties.
Many States have ratified the Revised Charter over the last decade. I am pleased to inform you that Cyprus has just notified me of their acceptance of an additional
9 provisions of the Charter, an example which I hope other States will follow.
But let’s be clear:
There is still a long way to go before social rights achieve the same recognition as civil and political rights. Social rights cannot be compared with what is afforded to civil and political rights. It is high time that States redouble their efforts to protect the rights set out in the Charter more effectively.
And it is high time that more States accept the collective complaints procedure. By doing so, we allow our social partners and civil society a role in enforcing social rights and strengthening democratic accountability.
This procedure has strengthened the rights for education for children with autism, housing rights for Roma, working time or protection against corporal punishment of children.
With more ratifications, this mechanism could be used further.
During the 50 years of the Charter’s existence, there have been poignant reminders of the transformative nature of the request for social rights:
- the emergence of Solidarnoscz in Poland in 1980,
- the collapse of the communist block a decade later,
- and recently the popular uprisings in the Arab World.
And what these three examples also illustrate is the indivisible link between the social rights and fundamental freedoms.
Social rights are crucial not only to the dignity of individuals, they are part and parcel of what democracy is about. This is what shipyard workers in Gdansk and the protesters in Tunis, Cairo and other cities in the Arab world had in common – they wanted social justice and political freedom.
At present the world faces a serious economic crisis. We see more inequality, more poverty, more discrimination, and more xenophobia.
This crisis is a real test for the rights protected by the Charter, because these are human rights which must be guaranteed independently of whether budgets are austere or not. In other words, protecting social rights is not a policy choice. It is a moral obligation.
Social justice and freedom from want are fundamental preconditions for socially cohesive and economically stable societies and, ultimately, for maintaining peace and stability. This was true fifty years ago, it is true today and will be true fifty years from now.