In a controversial new judgment, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has found that Slovenia did not violate its positive obligation to provide access to drinking water and sanitation for Roma communities living in informal settlements. [ECtHR Press Release] In Hudorovič and Others v. Slovenia, a group of Slovenian nationals of Roma origin alleged that the Slovenian government failed to provide adequate access to drinking water and sanitation to the Roma community. See ECtHR, Hudorovič and Others v. Slovenia, nos. 24816/14 and 25140/14, Judgment of 10 March 2020. While the Court acknowledged that it is “necessary to take into account the vulnerable and disadvantaged position of the Roma population” in Slovenia, it clarified that in “socio-economic matters” a State enjoys a wide margin of appreciation. See id. at paras. 131-142, 144. In this case, the Court considered whether Slovenia had met its positive obligation to provide access to basic utilities (such as safe drinking water) within the meaning of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and concluded that the State had not violated the Convention given that the applicants failed to demonstrate that the State’s “alleged failure” to provide safe drinking water “resulted in adverse consequences for [their] health and human dignity.” See id. at paras. 158-159. In 2016, Slovenia became the first European country to make access to drinking water a fundamental right, but human rights groups argue that Roma communities in Slovenia continue to lack access and consider this “evidence of the discrimination that Roma continue to experience.” [ERRC; Amnesty International]
Category Archives: economic, social & cultural rights
In its first decision regarding obstetric violence, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) has found that Spain violated the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) when domestic courts did not adequately assess a woman’s claims that she had been subjected to excessive and unnecessary exams, medication, and other interventions without her consent during labor, resulting in “lasting physical and mental trauma.” [OHCHR Press Release] The CEDAW Committee concluded that the domestic courts deferred to the hospital instead of respecting the principle of informed consent, relied on gender stereotypes, and did not fairly evaluate her claims, in violation of CEDAW articles 2(b), (c), (d), and (f), 3, 5 and 12. See CEDAW Committee, S.F.M. v. Spain, Communication No. 138/2018, Views of 28 February 2020, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/75/D/138/2018 (Spanish only). The Committee urged Spain to provide appropriate reparations to the applicant, including financial compensation, and take specific steps to ensure respect for women’s human rights in the context of pregnancy and reproductive health care. See id. at paras. 7.2, 8.
Various supranational human rights bodies have cancelled or limited meetings in response to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) assessment of the global risk posed by the coronavirus (COVID-19) and the increasing number of travel restrictions imposed by national governments. [NGO CSW; HRC Bureau Meeting; WHO Press Release: Feb 28] Civil society’s participation has been hardest hit, most notably by the decisions to reduce the 64th session of Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) from two weeks to one day, and to cancel all side events at the United Nations Human Rights Council’s ongoing session. [NGO CSW; France24; VOA] Some human rights monitoring bodies and civil society organizations have also reminded States of their human rights obligations in the context of preventing the spread of coronavirus. [ACHPR Press Release; OHCHR Press Release; Amnesty International] On its webpage, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, for one, encouraged participants in its March session to use videoconferencing to participate remotely. The human rights bodies’ decisions to cancel or modify meetings come after a February 28 letter from the United Nations Secretary General António Guterres.
A new United Nations report on the right to education in Iraq concludes that, two years after the defeat of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), many children and young adults remain unable to access secondary education because of difficulties obtaining the necessary documents, restrictions on travel within the country, and limited or inadequate educational programs. [UN News Press Release] The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released the joint report, titled The Right to Education in Iraq: Part One – The legacy of ISIL territorial control on access to education, on February 17, 2020. The short text focuses on children 12 and older who live in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) or in former ISIL-controlled areas; it identifies key challenges, provides an overview of the legal framework to the right to education, and presents recommendations to the Iraqi government. See OHCHR & UNAMI, The Right to Education in Iraq: Part One – The legacy of ISIL territorial control on access to education (2020), 6, 9-12, 14. The report is the first in a series that will examine access to post-primary education in Iraq’s post-conflict context, taking into account the different circumstances that prevent children from Iraq’s various ethnic, religious, and social groups from accessing education. See id., p. 4.
In a new decision, the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) assessed Finland’s lower level of childcare coverage for families with one parent who is unemployed or on parental leave, and found that the difference in treatment was discriminatory and violated the children’s and parents’ rights to social protection under the Revised European Social Charter. [ECSR Press Release] Finland’s 2016 amendments to the Act on Early Childhood Education and Care limited early childhood education and care to 20 hours per week (rather than full-time) depending on the employment or parental leave status of a child’s parent. See ECSR, Central Union for Child Welfare (CUCW) v. Finland, Complaint No. 139/2016, Merits, 4 February 2020, paras. 11, 14, 115. In its decision, the ECSR noted that the Finnish government had already introduced new amendments to the law, reinstating the right to full-time early childhood education and care for all children, and that those amendments would bring Finland into compliance with the Charter when they become law. [ECSR Press Release] The 2019 amendments to the Act on Early Childhood Education and Care are part of a broader effort by the government of Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin to “better equality between parents and diversity among families,” which includes a new law increasing parental leave to a total of 164 days for all new parents, regardless of parents’ gender or form of family. [Reuters; Ministry of Social Affairs and Health: Press Release]
A new report synthesizes and elaborates on Organization of American States (OAS) Member States’ obligations with regard to human rights affected by business activity, and assesses their current status in the Americas. See IACHR, Empresas y Derechos Humanos: Estándares Interamericanos (2020) [Spanish only]. The Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights (known by its Spanish acronym REDESCA) of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) prepared the report in response to a 2016 OAS General Assembly resolution calling for “a study on the inter-American standards on business and human rights.” [IACHR Press Release] The report builds on international human rights standards, including those of the Inter-American system, to cover topics from climate change to privatization of public services, information technologies, and corruption, among others. The opening page features a quote from Indigenous Honduran environmental activist Berta Cáceres, who was assassinated in connection with her organized opposition to a hydroelectric dam and despite precautionary measures in her favor from the IACHR.
While the report focuses on State obligations to respect and guarantee human rights in this area, it also addresses the role of businesses in guaranteeing and protecting human rights, and in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. [IACHR Press Release] Drawing on Inter-American human rights standards and jurisprudence as well as the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, among other international advances on this issue, the IACHR and REDESCA make a series of recommendations to States, businesses, and various OAS actors to clarify their obligations and ensure compliance with these standards. [IACHR Press Release] According to the Special Rapporteur, Soledad García Muñoz, the report “constitutes a tool with enormous potential for improving and strengthening legislation, practices and public policies that seek to address human rights violations and abuses in the context of business operations.” [IACHR Press Release]
In February, universal and regional human rights bodies and experts will assess States’ compliance with their human rights obligations through the consideration of State and civil society reports and country visits. Four United Nations treaty bodies and one pre-sessional working group will be in session to assess States’ progress regarding children’s rights, women’s rights, the prevention of torture, and economic, social and cultural rights. The Human Rights Council will hold its first of three regular sessions. Eight UN special procedures will conduct country visits in February. Additionally, two UN Working Groups will hold sessions in Geneva, Switzerland. Regionally, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) will hold public sessions, and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will hold two Grand Chamber hearings.
The UN treaty body sessions and the ECtHR’s Grand Chamber hearings may be watched via UN Web TV and the ECtHR’s website, respectively. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has published a report on corruption and human rights with the goal of analyzing corruption in the Americas from a human rights perspective, and highlighting the relevant human rights standards at play. [IACHR Press Release (Spanish)] The report from the region’s principal human rights oversight body examines the factual situation and provides an overview of corruption’s multidimensional impact on democracy, the rule of law, inequality, impunity, and the enjoyment of human rights. See IACHR, Corrupción y derechos humanos: Estándares interamericanos (2019) [Spanish only]. In particular, the report analyzes how corruption relates to specific thematic areas that are of interest to the Commission, such as the right to freedom of expression and economic, social, cultural and environmental rights, as well as its impact on vulnerable groups. See id. at para. 6. In addition to identifying key recommendations in which the IACHR calls on States to investigate acts of corruption and implement protection mechanisms for members of the press and individuals who denounce and report acts of corruption, among others, the report proposes a roadmap for the development and implementation of comprehensive public policies to address corruption in all levels of government. See id. at paras. 7-11.
In a new report, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances has laid out 15 principles to guide States and businesses in preventing and remedying workers’ exposure to toxics. [OHCHR Press Release] In September 2019, the Special Rapporteur, Baskut Tuncak, presented the principles to the UN Human Rights Council, which adopted a resolution calling on States and non-State actors to implement them. See UN Human Rights Council, Resolution 42/21, Protection of the rights of workers exposed to hazardous substances and wastes, UN Doc. A/HRC/RES/42/21, 8 October 2019. The principles center workers’ human rights, and emphasize that both States and employers must act to prevent workers’ exposure to toxic substances, that these obligations extend beyond national borders, and that workers’ access to information and to effective remedies are critically important. See Report of the Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes, UN Doc. A/HRC/42/41, 17 July 2019. The report, which is the culmination of 25 years of work under the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, is grounded in and builds on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, International Labour Organization conventions, and multilateral agreements on toxic wastes. See id. at paras. 8, 12.
In a landmark decision, the United Nations Human Rights Committee has found Paraguay responsible for failing to protect individuals from severe environmental contamination by large-scale farms’ use of illegal chemicals, in violation of the State’s international obligations to protect the rights to life and respect for private and family life and the home. [OHCHR Press Release: Paraguay] While regional human rights bodies have recognized the link between pollution and enjoyment of human rights, this decision marks a first for the Human Right Committee, which oversees implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which 173 States are party. [OHCHR Press Release: Paraguay] Other relevant developments include a new partnership between the UN Environmental Programme and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights seeking to strengthen global environmental protection efforts and increase protections for environmental activists. [NYTimes; OHCHR Press Release: UNEP]