The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) has published new interpretation and guidance on the relationship between science and the enjoyment of economic, social, and cultural rights. See CESCR, General comment No. 25 (2020) on science and economic, social and cultural rights, UN Doc. E/C.12/GC/25, 30 April 2020. In fleshing out Article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Committee defines the scope of States’ obligation to support and share scientific research and the advances it makes possible, with regard to everyday life and in crises such as pandemics. The Committee chose to focus on this topic because “science is one of the areas of the Covenant to which States parties give least attention in their reports and dialogues.” See id. at para. 2. Specifically, the General Comment outlines ICESCR States parties’ obligations with respect to the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications (Art. 15(1)(b)); the conservation, development, and diffusion of science (Art. 15(2)); freedom to engage in scientific research (Art. 15(3)); and, promotion and cooperation in the scientific field (Art. 15(4)). See id. at para. 3.
Category Archives: health
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.
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.
The European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) has held Bulgaria responsible for Roma women’s inferior access to reproductive healthcare in public hospitals, specifically during pregnancy and childbirth. [ECSR Press Release] In a unanimous merits decision, the Committee found that Bulgaria’s failure to take proactive steps—including by addressing the much lower levels of health insurance coverage among Roma women, barriers to maternal care such as a lack of translation services, and significantly higher infant and maternal mortality rates—constituted a violation of the rights to health and non-discrimination under the Revised European Social Charte (the “Charter“). See ECSR, European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) v. Bulgaria, Complaint No. 151/2017, Merits, 5 December 2018. While the complaint also alleged that Roma women are routinely segregated in maternity wards, the ECSR ultimately determined there was insufficient evidence that this is a systemic practice. See id. at para. 93. In 2008, the ECSR found Bulgaria responsible for related gaps in access to healthcare services and worse health status among the Roma population; according to the more recent decision, the situation has not seen any improvement since then. See ECSR, European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) v. Bulgaria, Complaint No. 46/2007, Merits, 3 December 2008; ERRC v. Bulgaria, 5 December 2018, paras. 56, 85.
In recent years, international advocacy has contributed to increased awareness of forced sterilization as a human rights violation, including as a result of our work at the International Justice Resource Center (IJRC). Around the world, healthcare providers and others continue to sterilize people without their informed consent, most often targeting those who are Indigenous, living with HIV, are persons with disabilities, or who experience discrimination on other grounds. Just this month, IJRC advanced our partners’ advocacy on this issue at the 63rd Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), and Human Rights Watch published a report on involuntary sterilization of transgender persons in Japan. The past three years have also seen judgments from regional human rights courts on forced sterilization and important statements from other bodies. This post details the results of advocacy before regional and United Nations human rights bodies, summarizing the growing body of recommendations, statements, and judgments that more fully define forced sterilization as a human rights violation and guide governments in addressing this harmful practice.
Two Central American governments ended their cooperation with the United Nations on specific human rights initiatives and sought to exclude UN representatives from their territories in late August 2018. In Guatemala, President Jimmy Morales announced on August 31 he would not renew the mandate of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) when it expires in 2019 and barred CICIG head Iván Velásquez from reentering the country, despite a Supreme Court order rejecting a previous attempt to expel him. [IACHR: Guatemala; NYT] Since 2007, CICIG has assisted national authorities in prosecuting corruption, and recently announced an investigation into President Morales for illegal campaign contributions. [NYT]
Also on August 31, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega rescinded an invitation to a fact-finding team from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), just after OHCHR published a report on authorities’ human rights violations against protesters since demonstrations against the Ortega government began in April 2018. [Al Jazeera; IJRC: Nicaragua] The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), OHCHR, and civil society have expressed concern at these developments. [IACHR: Guatemala; IACHR: Nicaragua; OHCHR Press Release: Concern; HRW: Nicaragua; HRW: Torture] Observers fear the crises in both countries will continue to worsen. [NYT: Authoritarianism] Read more
In the month of May, several universal and regional bodies will be in session to assess States’ compliance with their human rights obligations through interactive dialogues, the consideration of State and civil society reports, country visits, and the review of individual complaints. Four United Nations treaty bodies will meet throughout May to engage with States regarding their treaty obligations related to torture, racial discrimination, forced disappearances, and children’s rights. The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group will also be in session and will conduct interactive dialogues with representatives from 14 States. Ten UN special procedures will conduct country visits focusing on human rights defenders, contemporary forms of racism, indigenous peoples, sale and sexual exploitation of children, effects of foreign debt, countering terrorism, housing, migrants, health, and torture. Three working groups will hold sessions on enforced disappearances, transnational corporations and other business enterprises, and private military and security companies.
Regionally, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR), the African Court on Human and People’s Rights (AfCHPR), and the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) will be in session. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) will also be in session, and will hold public hearings during those sessions. Finally, the European Committee of Social Rights will be in session, and the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will hear one case related to State obligations during an armed conflict.
The UN treaty body sessions and the public hearings of the European Court, the IACHR, and IACtHR, may be watched via UN Web TV, the European Court’s website, and the Inter-American Commission’s website or Vimeo, respectively. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.
In the month of April, several universal and regional bodies will assess States’ compliance with their human rights obligations through interactive dialogues, the consideration of State and civil society reports, country visits, and the review of individual complaints. Four United Nations treaty bodies will meet throughout April to engage with States regarding their treaty obligations related to civil and political rights, economic and cultural rights, torture, racial discrimination, and migrant workers. One treaty body will meet as a pre-sessional working group to discuss economic, social, and cultural rights. Further, civil society can register this month to participate in the sessions of two treaty bodies that will meet in May on children’s rights and enforced disappearances, respectively. Eleven UN special procedures experts will conduct country visits focusing on minority issues, freedom of religion or belief, extreme poverty, torture and inhuman treatment, safe drinking water and sanitation, violence against women, the use of mercenaries, international solidarity, older persons, human rights defenders, and racial discrimination. Three working groups will hold sessions on the use of mercenaries, enforced disappearances, and arbitrary detention.
Regionally, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) will all be in session. The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will hear two cases related to the right to liberty and security and the prohibition of cruel or inhuman treatment.
The UN treaty body sessions and the public hearings of the European Court and Inter-American Court may be watched via UN Web TV, the European Court’s website, and the Inter-American Commission’s website or Vimeo, respectively. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW Committee) recently published a general recommendation on the adoption of a gender-based approach on the prevention of and response to climate change and environmental disasters. See Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, General Recommendation No. 37: Gender-related dimensions of disaster-risk reduction in the context of climate change, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/GC/37, 9 February 2018. The General Recommendation provides guidance to States on fully implementing the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in the context of climate change and disasters; under the Convention, States parties have both general obligations to ensure gender equality as well as specific obligations to guarantee rights that may be negatively affected by climate change and natural disasters. See id. at para. 10. The General Recommendation warns that pre-existing gender inequalities are aggravated following a disaster and women become more susceptible to gender-based violence, but States parties must still guarantee the rights enumerated in the Convention. See id. at paras. 3, 10. The General Recommendation is one of several recent developments on international standards at the intersection of human rights and the environment; notably the Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations related to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment recently called for the recognition of the right to a healthy environment at the universal level, and published guidance on children’s rights and the environment. [OHCHR Press Release] Read more