Message from the Co-Executive Directors
Advocates for economic, social and cultural human rights (ESC rights) have a lot to be proud of. More than any other area of human rights, these rights have advanced markedly over the past two decades. International human rights bodies are increasingly developing the content of these rights; legal advocates and social activists are working diligently to enforce these rights at national as well as international levels; and some of the largest and most influential human rights organizations in the world – organizations like Amnesty International which used to be solely focused on protecting civil and political rights – have begun to embrace the ‘full spectrum of human rights,’ recognizing that violations of ESC rights represent some of the worst human rights crises of our time. These have all been substantial transformations which have moved ESC rights from the margins toward the fore of the human rights movement.
Yet, despite these advances, the reality for billions of people around the world is a continuing and systematic lack of access to basic rights, with devastating consequences day in and day out for the world’s poor. The truth is that all of us today live in an era of unprecedented inequality, and of unprecedented levels of global poverty. Sadly, there remains a stark chasm between the standards which exist protecting ESC rights, and their actual enjoyment on the ground.
In order to find solutions aimed at closing the gap and to discuss unmet needs in the field, in late 2011 the GI-ESCR convened a small brain trust of experts, advocates and leaders working across the human rights, development, women’s rights and the environmental justice sector. This strategy meeting allowed us to think collectively about some of the most pressing challenges facing the global movement for ESC rights, as well as how the GI-ESCR as a new organization seeking to engage in new ways, can work in concert with our partners to help overcome those challenges. The activities carried out over the course of 2012, and reported here, reflect those discussions and have continued to deepen collaborations with our partners.
The meeting identified critical tasks for the ESC Rights movement, including: (1) building and deepening cross-sector alliances (particularly with respect to the development, women’s rights, and the environmental sectors); (2) ensuring that poor and marginalized communities are well equipped with knowledge of their rights, and well positioned to claim them; (3) developing and sharing tools which demonstrate how ESC rights can be respected, protected and fulfilled in practice; and (4) braving new frontiers in standard-setting and enforcement. These are the threads that bind together our advocacy, and which set the stage for our achievements in 2012.
With these broader tasks in mind, in 2012 the GI-ESCR embarked upon its first full year of operations, and we are proud to say that we have achieved significant outcomes from our work – outcomes we see laying the foundation for transformative impact on the ground. These outcomes were realized across all three of our strategic priorities – namely strategic litigation and legal advocacy; advancing women’s and ESC rights; and human rights and development. While details of this work are listed below under the respective strategic priorities, there is overlap as the GI-ESCR strives for work at the intersection of these priorities. The GI-ESCR also works to incorporate advocacy in the area of environmental rights within all three priorities, particularly when the environment has an impact on human dignity.
Results in the area of strategic litigation include the first ever recognition by the UN Human Rights Committee of extra-territorial obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) as well as the issuance of the first ever permanent injunction under the ICCPR preventing a threatened forced eviction and the first ever order for positive obligations related to connection of water services. These achievements have changed the landscape of ESC rights protection at the international level by using the principle of indivisibility of all human rights. These results are part of our continued efforts to ensure that those that violate housing rights – as well as the rights related to access to water and sanitation –are held accountable by the UN Human Rights Committee as violations under ICCPR. These successes before the UN Human Rights Committee have ensured that the principle of indivisibility of rights has real meaning and has expanded avenues for social rights enforcement under the ICCPR. A range of human rights advocates have already begun to use this expanded space for human rights accountability and remedies in their own respective advocacy, and we are proud to have helped pave the way.
In the area of women’s ESC rights, the GI-ESCR has played a vital role in the advancement of women’s land, housing and property rights at both international and regional levels. We believe that these rights are fundamental to improving women’s lives and to ensuring gender equality, and they cut across many of the sectors we seek to engage through the GI-ESCR. Here, we have sought to create and strengthen a coherent set of progressive norms and standards which can be used by advocates to orchestrate change on behalf of women’s rights to housing, land and other productive resources at various levels. In 2012, the GI-ESCR convened various panel discussions and strategic meetings on these issues, and engaged extensively with the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and UN-Women on these issues, including by preparing a background paper on women’s land rights for an Expert Group Meeting convened in 2012 by these two agencies which serves as the basis of a forthcoming UN Handbook. The GI-ESCR also stepped up advocacy efforts with the UN Human Rights Committee and the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) on these issues, including by facilitating access for grassroots women, with very positive results and strong Concluding Observations from both Committees on women’s right related to housing, land and other productive resources.
In the area of human rights and development, we have continued to advocate for a post-2015 development paradigm that fully incorporates the human rights framework, and ESC rights in particular. For instance, working with the Landesa Center for Women’s Land Rights, the GI-ESCR contributed to consultations around the post-2015 Millennium Development Goal agenda through publication of a paper on women and land rights. The paper pointed out that just as “discrimination against women and girls impairs progress in all other areas of development,” gender inequality in secure rights to land and property impedes progress in achieving inclusive economic and social development, environmental sustainability, and peace and security – dimensions the UN System Task Team on the Post-2015 UN Development Agenda identified as requiring progress to build an equitable, secure, and sustainable world. The GI-ESCR also produced the first of its Briefing Papers on the human rights-based approach to development in the areas of water, participation, land, women migrant workers, and family planning. These papers not only discuss the rights-based approach with respect to these areas, but offer real world examples of how governments and other actors can best implement development plans within the human rights framework and the value of doing so.
Lastly, during 2012, the GI-ESCR also continued to carry forward the housing rights expertise that formally was housed at the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE). Work related to housing rights included drafting a paper on the legal and jurisprudential aspects of security of tenure for the Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, participating in an Expert Group Meeting on security of tenure convened by the Special Rapporteur, moderating the Gender Assembly at UN Habitat’s Sixth World Urban Forum, participating at the Gender Round Table at the World Urban Forum, and participating at the African Union – European Union Civil Society Human Rights Seminar. The GI-ESCR has also continued with the ongoing strategic litigation for which COHRE had been responsible, including cases before the UN Human Rights Committee and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
We are also happy to report that we have ended the 2012 fiscal year on a sound financial footing which lays the foundation for organizational growth in 2013 and beyond. We look forward to the GI-ESCR’s continued work and engagement with our partners worldwide to ensure that all of the gains we have achieve so far continue to move us toward the transformative impact we seek.
Mayra Gomez and Bret Thiele
Global Initiative – ESCR
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