12 May 2014
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights this afternoon heard from representatives of non-governmental organizations on the implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in El Salvador and Uzbekistan, whose reports will be considered by the Committee this week.
On El Salvador, issues drawn to the Committee’s attention included recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples, as well as violations of women’s right to health and reproductive rights as a consequence of the total abortion ban that had been in place in El Salvador since 1998. Challenges faced by trade unions, and the lack of security for domestic workers and agricultural workers were discussed. Pollution and environmental degradation, as well as the right to food, were also raised.
On Uzbekistan, a representative of civil society organizations raised problems associated with drug-treatment and HIV-prevention programmes in the country, which fell under Article 12 of the Covenant. Uzbekistan was the only country in the world which disregarded World Health Organization recommendations on the use of opiate substitution programmes to treat drug addicts. That impacted a large group of people, numbering in the thousands, who effectively could not enter a drug rehabilitation programme but were instead criminalized and didn’t receive any treatment.
The following non-governmental organizations took the floor: FESPAD (Fundación de Estudios para la Aplicación del Derecho), Centre for Reproductive Rights and a group of civil society organizations of Uzbekistan.
The Committee will meet in private for the remainder of the day. It will next meet in public at 10 a.m. tomorrow, Tuesday, 13 May, when it will begin its consideration of the combined third to fifth periodic reports of El Salvador (E/C.12/SLV/3-5). The second periodic report of Uzbekistan (E/C.12/UZB/2) will be considered at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 14 May. The Committee will also review the second periodic report of Serbia (E/C.12/SRB/2) from 10 a.m. on Thursday, 15 May, which will be the last country report examined by the Committee this session. The session will close on Friday, 23 May.
Non-Governmental Organizations on El Salvador
A representative of FESPAD (Fundación de Estudios para la Aplicación del Derecho), spoke about challenges in the area of the implementation of economic, social and cultural rights in El Salvador. The ratification of an amendment to the Constitution to recognize indigenous peoples had been delayed, regretted the speaker, who also described a lack of health care and social security access for vulnerable groups such as domestic workers. Women who were HIV carriers faced discrimination in public hospitals when giving birth. He also spoke about high rates of pollution and environmental degradation in Latin America, which negatively affected the poor more than any other group. On illiteracy, 12.8 per cent of the population aged 10 years and older did not know how to read and write, he said. Despite constitutional reform to acknowledge the right to form trade unions in the public sector and municipalities, in practice EL Salvador was a long way from recognizing and supporting the trade union sector. Workers, especially agricultural and domestic workers, faced challenges in accessing justice for employment disputes, and El Salvador had not yet ratified International Labour Convention 189 on decent work for domestic workers. FESPAD also expressed concern about food shortages, especially for rural people, a problem which partly stemmed from insecurity of land tenancy.
A representative of the Centre for Reproductive Rights said that women’s health and reproductive rights were being severely violated as a consequence of the total abortion ban that had been in place in El Salvador since 1998. In 1997, El Salvador had adopted a new Criminal Code imposing absolute criminalization of abortion, over-turning a previous law that allowed some exceptions. Over the last 17 years, the abortion ban had resulted in the denial of adequate and essential medical care to women; reporting of women by medical professionals to criminal authorities; stigmatization and discrimination of women seeking post-abortion care; imprisonment of women who sought medical attention after suffering obstetric emergencies, with sentences of over 30 years in prison; and reluctance by women to seek care for fear of prosecution and incarceration. Between 1995 and 2000 an estimated 246,275 abortions had taken place in El Salvador, 11.1 per cent of which resulted in a maternal death. The Salvadoran Ministry of Health reported 19,290 abortions from January 2005 to December 2008, of which 27.6 per cent were minors. Suicide by pregnant women was the third leading cause of maternal death in 2011. Furthermore, suicide was the cause of 57 per cent of deaths among pregnant girls and teenagers aged 10 to 19 years. The abortion ban mostly impacted young and poor women. The Committee was urged to ask El Salvador to liberalize the total abortion ban, particularly in cases where a woman’s life was at risk, in cases of rape and in cases of foetal malformations that were incompatible with life.
Questions from Committee Experts on El Salvador
Committee Experts asked about social security for domestic workers, and about the realization of the right to food. An Expert asked about the still unratified constitutional amendment which would recognize the rights of indigenous persons, and whether it would also recognize their right to land. The recognition of trade unions in the public sector was commendable, but in practice was it harder to form a trade union in the public than the private sector, and if so why, an Expert asked. Was the Covenant directly applicable in domestic courts, another Expert asked.
The absolute prohibition of abortion, which amended a previous law that allowed exceptions in certain cases, was a concern, an Expert said. He asked about the social situation in El Salvador pertaining to abortion; what was the common thinking of the majority of the El Salvador people? The Expert also enquired about the provision of sexual and reproductive rights education for children and young people.
Response from non-governmental organizations
The representative of FESPAD (Fundación de Estudios para la Aplicación del Derecho), replied that there was no legislation to guarantee the rights of domestic workers and those working in the informal sector. Although the Government had made significant efforts to include domestic workers into the social security system, it was left to the discretion of employers. The same barriers for trade unions still existed despite reforms, he said, highlighting a case study about the lack of legal protection in practice for dismissed workers.
Nobody knew how many indigenous persons there were in El Salvador as no recent and comprehensive census had been conducted, he said. That lack of knowledge about indigenous communities led to a lack of recognition of their rights. A 1993 census had found that indigenous people amounted to 26 per cent of the population, but strangely that figure dropped significantly in the 2007 census to less than one per cent. The constitution set out the principle that indigenous persons could own land, but in practice that right, as well as the rights to food security and clean drinking water, was not realized.
The representative of the Centre for Reproductive Rights recalled that before 1997 there had been three exceptions: if a woman’s life was at risk, in rape cases and in cases of foetal malformations that were incompatible with life. As to the common thinking on abortion in El Salvador, the representative said she believed that communities were in general against the law. El Salvador had the highest mortality rates in the region. Most official figures on maternal mortality rates dated back to 2008 and were not accurate, she said. There was some knowledge of contraception, and the male condom was used, but real access to contraception vastly depended on the area in the country. The teenage pregnancy rate in El Salvador was one of the highest, and stood at 81 for every 1,000 women. The most recent 2007 census stated that most teenagers had at least one child, and did not receive any Governmental support. Access to sexual education was very limited, which was reflected in the high school drop-out rates, she concluded.
Non-Governmental Organization on Uzbekistan
MIKHAÏL GOLICHENKO, representing a group of civil society organizations of Uzbekistan raised the issue of drug-treatment and HIV-prevention programmes, which he said came under Article 12 of the Covenant. Uzbekistan was the only country in the world which disregarded World Health Organization recommendations made in 2009 on the use of opiate substitution programmes to treat drug addicts. Consequently, patients who entered drug-use rehabilitation programmes were expected to quit using the drugs immediately, which for those with the strongest addictions was an impossible request. That impacted a large group of people, numbering in the thousands, who effectively could not enter a drug rehabilitation programme. Instead they were criminalized, received severe penalties, often contracted HIV and usually died very quickly. The non-governmental organization community echoed the World Health Organization’s recommendation that Uzbekistan resume the opiate substitution programme and asked the Committee to make the same recommendations, as a measure for the prevention of opiate abuse and HIV, under the right to health.
Questions from Committee Experts on Uzbekistan
Why was the Government against a programme of treatment for drug addicts which was endorsed by the World Health Organization and the entire United Nations system, an Expert asked, choosing to rely on punishment and criminalization instead? Opiate substitution programmes were proven to be the most effective form of treatment, but some countries persisted in using the old methods. Could the representative try to explain why that was the case?
Response from non-governmental organization on Uzbekistan
MIKHAÏL GOLICHENKO, representing a group of civil society organizations of Uzbekistan, answered that in general people were unwilling to register as drug addicts with the authorities because they were afraid that their names and addresses could be used for law enforcement purposes. Statistics showed that one to five per cent of the Uzbekistan population were drug users, in various age groups. The phenomenon affected all parts of society and was a serious problem. It should not be forgotten that Uzbekistan was part of Central Asia which had historically been very much affected by opiate/heroin addiction, and was situated close to Afghanistan, the main source of opiates in the world. The reason some Governments might be reluctant to use opiate substitution treatments were mainly because of old fashioned ideologies; the Governments did not want to send message to society that it tolerated drug use and drug dependency, they wanted society to be as abstinent from drug use as possible. Drug dependency was a strong and chronic disease and special measures had to be taken to help the most vulnerable sectors of society.
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