Update on 59th session of Committee on Economic, Social & Cultural Rights

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) held its 59th session from 19 September to 7 October 2016. Immediately following the session, a Working Group of the Committee held the ‘pre-session’ from 10 – 14 October. This Update provides a summary of the meetings and key developments:

Sustainable Development Goals
During the opening of the session on 19 September, Ms Peggy Hicks, Director of the ‘Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures and Right to Development Division’ of OHCHR gave an address focusing on the sustainable development agenda and goals (SDGs). Ms Hicks acknowledged input by the treaty body Chairs into the High Level Political Forum and encouraged the Committee to continue to consider ways to engage with the SDGs process. She underlined the importance of ensuring that the collection and analysis of data on the implementation of the SDGs, respects human rights principles and drew attention to the OHCHR Guidance Note on the topic. She noted the many links between the SDGs and the Covenant and said:

‘Human rights mechanisms, including treaty bodies, offer the opportunity of promoting accountability of those responsible for implementing the agenda, and ensuring that they do so in full conformity with human rights law. Building strong links between the Agenda, the Covenant and the High Level Political Forum and your monitoring work will be crucial to this, and to helping ensure the voices of the most marginalized are heard.’
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It is interesting to note also that the Committee appears to have added to its Concluding Observations a standard paragraph addressing the SDGs:

‘The Committee recommends that the State party take fully into account its obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and ensure the full enjoyment of these rights in the implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda at national level, with the support of international assistance and cooperation when needed. Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals shall be significantly facilitated by the State party establishing independent mechanisms to monitor progress, and by treating beneficiaries of public programs as rights-holders who can claim entitlements. Building the implementation of the SDGs on participation, accountability and non-discrimination shall ensure that no one is left behind in the process.’ (note this is the advance unedited version)

This is a welcome development and hopefully the beginning of a deeper engagement by the Committee with the SDGs process. This paragraph highlights the importance of ensuring that implementation of the SDGs occurs in a manner compliant with ICESCR and that it has as its foundation the human rights principles of participation, accountability and non-discrimination. Given the strong resistance by States to independent monitoring and any true accountability mechanism within the 2030 Agenda, CESCR can play a significant role in emphasising the importance and benefits of these elements. It might also be interesting for CESCR to develop some more specific guidance to States on how to do these things, including perhaps through States aligning or integrating their SDGs and CESCR reporting processes.

State Reporting Procedure
The following States were reviewed during the session:
Costa Rica, Cyprus, Dominican Republic, Lebanon, Philippines, Poland, Tunisia

The Committee has published its Concluding Observations for these countries HERE.

During the ‘pre-session’ the Committee considered Lists of Issues for the following States:
Australia, Liechtenstein, Netherlands, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Uruguay

The Committee has published Lists of Issues for these States HERE.  The State dialogue for each of these States will be held in May/June 2017.

Overdue and non-reporting States
The Secretariat has published a summary of the reporting status of all State Parties to the Covenant. It shows which States are overdue in reporting, including some States that have never reported. Civil society organisations may wish to use the report to identify when a State is due to submit its report, whether it is overdue and to encourage the State to engage in the reporting process.

Another useful resource which provides the reporting status for each State for all treaties can be found HERE.

Communications under the OP-ICESCR
The Committee considered 1 Communication during this session and found it inadmissible.  The documentation is being finalised and the decision will be published HERE in approximately 3 weeks.

Guidance for third party interventions
The Committee also discussed and adopted ‘guidance on third-party interventions, which would regulate the intervention of individuals and entities which might wish to file an amicus brief in an individual communication procedure’ (Guidance).  The Guidance is a welcome clarification of the Committee’s practice with respect to third party interventions.  It confirms that the Committee can ‘accept relevant information and documentation submitted by third-parties when necessary for the proper determination of the case’ and that it can also request such third party information. Intervenors must observe the requirements set out in the Guidance, including for instance:

  • Interventions can only be submitted after making a written request to intervene and receiving the Committee’s authorization;
  • The authorization will indicate the dead-line, word limit, the issues which the intervention is permitted to address and any confidentiality requirements;
  • All third party interventions will be provided to the parties for comment; and
  • Third parties will not be considered parties to the Communication and will not have access to the case file or documentation.

The Guidance is available HERE.

Thematic areas of work

ESC Rights in the context of Business Activities 
The Committee will hold a ‘Day of Discussion’ on ‘the Draft General Comment on State Obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in the Context of Business Activities’ on 21 February 2017, during its next session.

The Day of Discussion will be open to all stakeholders and written submissions in advance of the Day of Discussion are invited.  More information about the Day of Discussion is available HERE, including:

  • the draft of the proposed General Comment (only in English at this stage, but French and Spanish versions to be available before the Day of Discussion);
  • details on how to make written submissions; and
  • details on how to register to attend the Day of Discussion.

A programme of the Day of Discussion will be made available on the same webpage in the coming months.

Human Rights Defenders of Economic, Social & Cultural Rights
On 7 October 2016 the Committee adopted a STATEMENT on ‘human rights defenders of economic, social and cultural rights’ (E/C.12/2016/2).

The statement was made by the Committee following a briefing and discussion paper prepared jointly by GIESCR, the International Service for Human Rights and the International Platform Against Impunity. A coalition of over 300 civil society organisations coordinated by these NGOs also wrote to the Committee in May 2016 urging it to take action.

This is the first comprehensive public Statement by a UN human rights treaty body specifically addressing human rights defenders.  It provides a clear articulation of the Committee’s views on this topic and strong guidance to States on the protection of defenders of ESC rights. Importantly, the Statement commences by recognising the essential contribution of civil society to the effective promotion, protection and realization of ESC rights, especially in monitoring and evaluating States’ compliance with the Covenant and dissemination of information about the ICESCR and the Committee’s work.

The Committee notes its ‘alarm’ at ‘past and present incidences …. regarding the situation of human rights defenders working in the field of economic, social and cultural rights’ and underlines the importance of human rights defenders ‘being able to work freely without any threat or fear’.  It ‘reminds States parties of their responsibility to ensure that human rights defenders are effectively protected against any and all forms of abuse, violence and reprisal which they might experience while carrying out their work to promote the realization of these rights’ and urges compliance with the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. It also outlines specific measures that States should adopt to safeguard defenders of ESC rights.

A key advance in the Statement is the confirmation that it considers ‘any threat or violence against human rights defenders to constitute violations of States’ obligations towards the realization of Covenant rights’.

Committee membership
This was the final Committee session for 3 members of the Committee who will be stepping down from 31 December 2016: Mr Ariranga Pillay (Mauritius); Mr Nicolaas Schrijver (Netherlands); and Mr Sergei Martynov (Belarus). The chairmanship of Mr Waleed Sadi will also come to an end on the first day of the next session. The Committee will elect a new Chair at the beginning of its first session in 2017.

At the first session in 2017, three new Committee members will commence their terms on the Committee:

  • Ms Laura-Maria Craciunean                                Romania
  • Ms Sandra Leibenberg                                        South Africa
  • Mr Michael Windfuhr                                           Germany
Practical matters

  • The process for accreditation for CESCR sessions is likely to change.  We recommend you consult the CESCR website for further information when preparing for accreditation.
  • During the June 2017 session there will be a change of practice in respect of the time for NGOs to brief the Committee.  The convention has been for this briefing to occur on the Monday morning of the week during which the relevant State dialogue is scheduled.  However, instead, the NGO briefings will be distributed differently over the first three weeks of the session.  Check the website for details of the program and the time and date for the NGO briefings.
  • It is expected that both the February and June sessions in 2017 will be at Palais Wilson.
Next session
The next session will be held from 20 – 24 February 2017.  Unusually, no States will be reviewed at the next session.

The Committee intends to use the session time for General Comment development, addressing Communications and addressing the issue of non-reporting States and long overdue State reports.

Immediately after the February session, a Working Group of the Committee will hold a ‘pre-session’ (27 February – 3 March) during which it will consider the Lists of Issues for:

Colombia, Mexico, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Russian Federation

The deadline for civil society reports/submissions in respect of the List of Issues for these countries is 13 January 2017 (preferable), but 30 January at the latest.

The State review for each of these States will be held in September/October 2017.  The Committee also plans to review the first two reports to be submitted under the simplified reporting procedure (Spain and New Zealand) at the September/October 2017 session.

The sixty-first session of the Committee will be held from 29 May to 23 June 2017 during which the Committee will consider the reports of:

Australia, Liechtenstein, Netherlands, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Uruguay

The deadline for civil society reports/submissions in respect of the review of these countries is 18 April 2017 (preferable), but 5 May at the latest.

Categories Uncategorized | Tags: | Posted on October 24, 2016

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