On September 21, 2015, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR) commenced its 56th session in Geneva, Switzerland. During the session, which ended October 9, the Committee considered the reports of Burundi, Greece, Guyana, Iraq, Italy, Morocco, and Sudan regarding their implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). [OHCHR Press Release: CESCR 56th Session] The Committee also reviewed reports by civil society organizations and national human rights institutions (NHRIs) concerning these States’ implementation of the Convention and optional protocols.
According to the agenda and programme of work, the CESCR also considered individual communications under the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (OP-ICESCR), prepared general comments on provisions of the ICESCR to assist States in implementing them, and discussed its role in cooperation with other United Nation bodies.
States parties to the ICESCR are required to submit an initial report to the Committee within two years of ratifying the ICESCR, and every five years thereafter. See IJRC, Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In its reporting guidelines, the CESCR asks States to provide specific information about the enjoyment and protection of economic, social, and cultural rights in its territory. After receiving each State’s report, the Committee prepares a list of issues for the State to address in writing. The report, reply to list of issues, and submissions from civil society organizations and national human rights institutions (NHRIs) form the basis of the CESCR’s in-person dialogue with State representatives in Geneva during its sessions. In addition to hearing from each government, the Committee also met with civil society representatives at the start of this session. [OHCHR Press Release: CESCR 56th Session]
The CESCR’s review concerned Burundi’s initial report to the Committee, which was due in 1992 but not submitted until 2013. In its list of issues, the Committee asked Burundi to provide statistical information on poverty levels, unemployment, access to health care, and other issues, in relation to specific demographic groups. The Committee requested information on measures taken to adopt a general anti-discrimination act incorporating all groups protected under the ICESCR and other measures it has taken to combat discrimination, particularly of the Batwa indigenous community and albinos. The CESCR requested impact reports on a number of policy initiatives, including the 2014 National Employment Policy, the 2010-2015 National Action Plan to Eliminate the Worst Forms of Child Labour, the 2008-2015 National Agricultural Strategy and the 2012-2017 National Agricultural Investment Plan and their impact on malnutrition and food insecurity, and the 2011-2015 Health Care Development Plan and how it addressed access to adequate health care. The Committee also asked whether Burundi had taken measures to establish a national minimum wage and regulate working conditions, particularly forced labor of children belonging to the Batwa community. See CESCR, List of issues in relation to the initial report of Burundi, UN Doc. E/C.12/BDI/Q/1, 31 March 2015. Burundi submitted its written replies to the list of issues in August 2015.
Albinos sans frontiers, Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, Human Dignity and Human Rights Law Association Burundi, and Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre submitted civil society organization reports to the CESCR regarding the list of issues. Several civil society organizations also wrote shadow reports to the initial report, including Action Aid, Association for Peace and Human Rights, and Human Rights Law Association.
The Committee reviewed Greece’s second periodic report, which was due in 2009 and submitted in 2012. In its list of issues, the CESCR requested additional information about how the economic and financial crisis has affected access to economic, social, and cultural rights in Greece; steps taken to prevent discrimination, particularly against the Roma population, in areas such as access to housing, education, health care, and employment; and measures to address equality between men and women. The CESCR asked for information on the framework for collective bargaining and whether Greece’s recent legislation will restrict the use of collective bargaining. The Committee also asked for information on why young workers’ salaries were disproportionately reduced. See CESCR, List of issues in relation to the second periodic report of Greece, UN Doc. E/C.12/GRC/Q/2/, 1 April 2015.
Three civil society organizations Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Greek Council for Refugees, and Greek Helsinki Monitor and others, submitted reports for the Committee’s consideration with regard to the list of issues. The Greek National Commission for Human Rights, Greece’s NHRI also submitted a report. Organizations including the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), The Greek Helsinki Monitor, The Human Rights and Tobacco Control Network, and Human Rights Watch submitted shadow reports to supplement Greece’s report with their views on the State’s implementation of the ICESCR.
The CESCR considered Guyana’s combined second through fourth periodic report, which was due in 2002 and submitted in 2012. In the CESCR’s list of issues, it requested additional information on the use of natural wealth and resources in the context of free, informed consent of indigenous communities. It asked for details on the cases tried by the Ethnic Relations Commission and any cases of racial and ethnic discrimination before other domestic courts and tribunals. The Committee requested status updates on Guyana’s efforts to establish a national minimum wage, to limit “brain drain” because of its lack of skilled workers, and to reduce the number of school age children not attending school. It also asked for information on legal frameworks to ensure non-discrimination between sexes, against sexual and gender minorities, and against disabled people. See CESCR, List of issues in relation to the combined second, third, and fourth periodic reports of Guyana, UN Doc. E/C.12/GUY/Q/2-4, 11 September 2015.
Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, a civil society organization, submitted a report to the CESCR regarding the list of issues. Equal Rights Trust, Cultural Survival, and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination submitted parallel reports for the session.
The CESCR reviewed Iraq’s implementation of the ICESCR based on its fourth periodic report, which it submitted in 2013. In its list of issues, the CESCR asked Iraq to provide statistical information on the gross domestic product (GDP); public spending in sectors relevant to economic, social, and cultural rights, poverty; unemployment, particularly among Black Iraqis and Roma; and health care coverage. It asked what measures Iraq has taken to prevent and investigate actions of the Islamic State with respect to the forced displacement of Kurds, Turkmen, Shia Muslims, and other groups; use of children in conflict; and attacks on schools. The Committee asked whether Iraq has taken steps toward establishing a comprehensive anti-discrimination law and the level of compliance of the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights with NHRI standards. It requested status updates on legislation and policies, including: a draft labor law, removing restrictions on trade unions and strikes; a draft pensions and social security act; and a draft law on protection of ethnic and religious minorities. It also asked whether Iraq had amended Law No. 104 in accordance with its previous recommendations to prohibit forced labor in prisons. The Committee requested an update on the impact of the National Strategy to Eradicate Illiteracy in Iraq (2011-2015) and other measures aimed at illiteracy, particularly for girls and rural areas. With regard to access to cultural rights, the Committee asked whether schools were available for Kurdish students, among others, to be taught in their mother tongue. See CESCR, List of issues in relation to the fourth periodic report of Iraq, UN Doc. E/C.12/IRQ/Q/4, 24 March 2015.
Iraq’s replies to the list of issues were considered by the CESCR on September 29 and 30. Three civil society organizations submitted reports to the Committee relating to the list of issues: Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, Human Rights and Tobacco Control Network, and Minority Rights Group International, in addition to Iraq’s NHRI, High Commission for Human Rights – Iraq. The Geneva International Centre for Justice, Save the Tigris and Iraqi Marshes Campaign, MADRE, and the International Women’s Human Rights Clinic at City University of New York submitted shadow reports for consideration at the session.
The Committee reviewed Italy on the basis of its fifth periodic report, which was due in 2009 and submitted in 2013. The CESCR’s list of issues requested additional information from the State regarding austerity measures, anti-discrimination legislation, measures taken to improve protection of the rights of vulnerable groups, unemployment, and public spending on education, among other matters.
In its reply to the list of issues, Italy noted its efforts to establish a NHRI in accord with the Paris Principles; to that end six draft laws were submitted to the Chamber of Deputies and Senate and under examination. The Italian government reported that it has adopted a Plan of Action for and with Roma, Sinti, and Travellers Communities under the EU directive to facilitate access to training and health care for the communities. The State informed the Committee that, since the 2011 entry into force of Law No. 120 on equal access to boards of directors, the percentage of female directors has risen nearly 20 percent. Italy has established initiatives to address the wage cap, particularly in female achievement in the sciences; and it established the Councillor for Equality, which requires companies with over 100 employees to submit a report every 2 years on staff, including gender disparity. Under the European Strategy EU 2020, Italy has made three labor market reforms to address unemployment, particularly of youth and women. Italy reported that it has addressed regional disparities in access to health care through “Rules for the revision of the accreditation system,” which also provides for a national discussion group. See CESCR Replies of Italy to the list of issues, UN Doc. E/C.12/ITA/Q/5/Add.1, 17 September 2015.
Comitato per la promozione e protezione dei diritti umani, Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, and Human Rights and Tobacco Control Network submitted reports to the CESCR in their capacity as civil society organizations.
The Commission reviewed Morocco’s fourth periodic report, which was due in 2009 and submitted in 2013. In its list of issues, the Committee focused on the equal application of economic and social rights for the Sahouris of Western Sahara, particularly access to mineral resources and the effect of the initiative for the expanded autonomy of the local populations with regard to self-determination. The CESCR also requested status updates on a bill relating to rights of persons with disabilities as it impacts the right to work, a bill strengthening trade unions, and enactment of a decree decreasing medicinal costs. The Committee asked the State to provide details regarding the effects of the Tamkine-Migrants project, initiated in 2011 to improve economic and social rights for migrant women and children. It requested information regarding gender equality, including whether the State had met its goal of 22 percent female holders of posts of responsibility. Morocco was asked to describe efforts to raise the minimum wage, especially in agriculture sectors, and reduce urban and rural disparities. The Committee requested information about use of Amazigh languages in television, registration of Amazigh first names, and whether Amazigh people had a role in implementing the National Action Plan for Democracy and Human Rights (2011-2016). See CESCR, List of issues in relation to the fourth periodic report of Morocco, UN Doc. E/C.12/MAR/Q/4, 19 March 2015.
The CESCR considered Morocco’s replies on September 30 and October 1. Several civil society organizations submitted reports to coincide with Morocco’s replies to the list of issues, including the International Commission of Jurists, La Coalition Marocaine pour l’Education pour tous, and Western Sahara Resource Watch. Morocco’s NHRI, Conseil national des droits de l’Homme, also submitted a report to the Committee. The Robert F. Kennedy Foundation, Amazigh World Assembly, National Federation for Amazigh Association, among others, submitted parallel reports to Morocco’s periodic report.
The CESCR reviewed Sudan on the basis of its second periodic report, which was due in 2003 and submitted in 2012. In its list of issues, the Committee requested Sudan to provide information on prosecutions, decisions, and reparations made under recent anti-corruption measures. It requested general information on the legal framework and statistics on poverty, unemployment, homelessness, and trade union activity. The Committee asked Sudan to report on the impact of the 2007-2031 quarter-century growth-oriented strategic plan, particularly in reducing disparity between urban and rural populations and on the public service placement scheme and other measures affecting unemployment of the young urban population. It requested details on measures being taken to ensure enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights of street children, including humanitarian care, integration in school systems, and protection from economic and sexual exploitation. The Committee also asked whether the National Housing and Reconstruction Project had affected the rate of homelessness including among internally displaced persons and what efforts had been made to address urban slums living conditions, sanitation, and access to water. See CESCR, List of issues in relation to the second periodic report of the Sudan, UN Doc. E/C.12/SDN/Q/2, 12 December 2014.
Sudan’s replies to the Committee’s list of issues were considered on October 1 and 2. REDRESS and the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies, Equality Now, and Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, were among the civil society organizations who submitted reports on their observations of Sudan’s implementation of the Covenant.
The CESCR is one of 10 committees of experts established to assess States’ implementation of specific UN human rights treaties.
The CESCR consists of 18 independent experts who are nationals of State parties to the Convention elected to four-year terms. It reviews State parties’ implementation of the Convention through the State reporting process. States may ratify the OP-ICESCR, authorizing the CESCR to consider individual complaints of human rights violations against the State.
To learn more about the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights or the other UN treaty bodies, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub. For an understanding of economic, social, and cultural rights, read IJRC’s thematic research guide on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.