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COMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS CONCLUDES FORTY-EIGHTH SESSION
Issues Concluding Observations and Recommendations on Reports of Slovakia, Peru, New Zealand, Spain and Ethiopia
18 May 2012

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on 18 May concluded its three-week forty-eighth session after adopting its report and its concluding observations and recommendations on the reports of Slovakia, Peru, New Zealand, Spain and Ethiopia which were considered during the session. The Committee released the concluding observations and recommendations today.

In closing remarks, Ariranga Govindasamy Pillay, the Committee Chairperson, recalled that the session was opened on 30 April by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, on behalf of the United Nations Secretary-General.  During the session the Committee held regular meetings with United Nations bodies, national human rights institutions and civil society partners, to whom it was grateful for their contributions to its work and to the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in their areas and regions of work.  

The Chairperson addressed an open letter to all States parties on economic, social and cultural rights and the economic and financial crisis.  In the letter, which was available on the website, the Chairperson highlights requirements that States Parties must meet to uphold their obligations under the Covenant, such as identification of the minimum core content of Covenant rights when applying austerity measures.  The Committee has also issued a statement on economic, social and cultural rights in the context of the Rio+20 Conference (June 2012) titled ‘The Green Economy in the Context of Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication’, which will be available on the Committee’s webpage.

As its core activities, the Committee conducted dialogues with representatives of five States parties; Slovakia, Peru, New Zealand, Spain and Ethiopia, and adopted concluding observations.  In the course of the session the Committee also concluded the second reading of the Draft Rules of Procedures for the Optional Protocol to the Covenant, and expected to proceed with their adoption at the next session in November.  Other work included discussions with staff of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights about the ongoing Treaty Body Strengthening Process, and attendance at a meeting organized by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Foundation which focused on the links between the Covenant and Environmental Law.  The Chairperson said he was pleased to announce that subsequent to the meeting the Committee adopted a statement on the ‘Green Economy’ in light of Rio+20, the forthcoming United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, which would be available on the Committee’s webpage from Monday, 21 May.

In its concluding observations for the second periodic report of Slovakia, the Committee welcomed its ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Covenant and took note with appreciation of the adoption of the Law on Equal Treatment in Certain Areas, adoption of a law on the minimum wage, an anti-discrimination law and the creation of the Government Council for Human Rights, National Minorities and Gender Equality. The Committee expressed concern about continued discrimination suffered by Roma persons, persistent inequalities between men and women, the alarming rate of youth unemployment and reports that Roma children continue to be victims of segregation in the school system.

Regarding the second to fourth periodic reports of Peru the Committee noted with appreciation the adoption of the Equal Opportunities for Men and Women Act on 16 March 2007, the 2011-2016 National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking and the Act on the Rights of Indigenous or Aboriginal Peoples to Prior Consultation on 6 September 2011.  The Committee expressed concern regarding the use of forced labour, the extensive use of child labour, the high rate of teenage pregnancies, and the lack of adequate sexual and reproductive health services.  It also expressed concern about the serious housing deficit and insufficient provision of water and sanitation services, and recommended the State party upgrade existing housing, ensure security of tenure, and adopt legislation governing forced evictions.  

Concerning the third periodic report of New Zealand the Committee welcomed the State party’s ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as well as its endorsement of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  The Committee noted the challenges caused by the recent earthquakes on the enjoyment of Covenant rights by persons affected, especially their right to housing, and recommended that New Zealand adopted a human rights approach to reconstruction efforts.  It also expressed concern that Māori and Pasifika peoples continued to be disadvantaged in the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, in spite of measures taken by the State party, and called on New Zealand to strengthen its efforts in eliminating those disadvantages. 

Following its review of the fifth periodic report of Spain the Committee welcomed its ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Covenant and expressed satisfaction with the adoption of the 2009 law regulating the right of asylum and subsidiary protection, of the Action Plan for the Development of the Gypsy Population and the adoption of the 2007 Organic Law for Effective Equality between Men and Women. The Committee expressed concern that some 21.8 per cent of the population lived below the poverty line, and about the continued increase in unemployment rates, and that in the context of the global financial crisis the rate of people at risk of falling into poverty had dramatically increased. It recommended that Spain ensured all austerity measures were not disproportionately detrimental to the enjoyment of the rights of disadvantaged and marginalized groups and individuals, and were temporary, proportionate and without prejudice to those rights.

In its concluding observations for the initial to third periodic reports of Ethiopia the Committee welcomed in particular the significant poverty reduction achieved since 2004, the establishment of a National Steering Committee against Sexual Exploitation of Children,  the criminalization of the practice of Female Genital Mutilation; and the definition of trafficking in persons as a crime under the Criminal Code.  The Committee expressed concern about reports that the Voluntary Resettlement Program entailed the forced eviction of thousands of people in various regions of Ethiopia and urged the State party to ensure that the relocation of people was done on a voluntary basis, following prior consultation.  It noted with concern the prevalence of child labour and that primary education was neither free nor compulsory, and recommended that the State party take urgent measures to remedy that. It also recommended Ethiopia take urgent steps to decriminalize homosexuality.

You can read the concluding observations and recommendations, along with country reports and other background information, at the Committee’s webpage for this session.

The Committee’s next session will be held from 12 to 30 November 2012 in Geneva, when it will consider the reports of Bulgaria, Ecuador, Iceland, Mauritania and Tanzania, and two non-reporting States, Equatorial Guinea and Republic of Congo.

Concluding Observations and Recommendations

Slovakia

Concerning the second periodic report of Slovakia (E/C.12/SVK/2) the Committee welcomed the ratification by that country of the Optional Protocol to the Covenant and took note with appreciation of its efforts to promote the implementation of economic, social and cultural rights, particularly the adoption of the Law on Equal Treatment in Certain Areas, adoption of a law on the minimum wage, an anti-discrimination law and the creation of the Government Council for Human Rights, National Minorities and Gender Equality. However, the Committee was concerned that Roma persons continue to suffer discrimination, particularly in the areas of education, employment, health and housing. It recommended that Slovakia strengthen measures to prevent and protect against Roma social and societal discrimination in all areas, in particular by ensuring the full implementation of the anti-discrimination law. The Committee also recommended that Slovakia take measures to promote the rights of Roma in access to employment, education, housing and health. To implement its Strategy for Roma Inclusion for 2020, adopted in January 2012, Slovakia should adopt and implement legislation on marginalized communities, and inform the Committee on the outcome.

The Committee expressed concern that homosexual couples were not legally recognized and the absence of a legal framework protecting the rights of those couples. It also remained concerned about persistent inequalities between men and women in Slovakia, particularly in their representation in different levels of the public and decision-making bodies and within political parties. The Committee was further concerned about the high unemployment rate in Slovakia, especially the persistence of long-term unemployment and large disparities between regions.  It was particularly concerned about women's unemployment and the alarming rate of youth unemployment, as well as the high unemployment rates of disadvantaged and marginalized populations, particularly Roma and persons with disabilities. The Committee expressed concern about the pay gap between men and women for equal work or work of equal value that continued to increase at very high rates. The Committee was also concerned that asylum seekers must wait a year before they were eligible for a work permit.

In addition, the Committee was concerned that the minimum wage in Slovakia did not guarantee workers a decent living for themselves and their families, and that the percentage of people living below the poverty line remained significant. Access to adequate water and sanitation was not yet effective for all populations of Slovakia, especially the poorest and most marginalized and rural populations. The Committee was also concerned about the excessive restrictions of the right to strike of certain categories of state officials. Furthermore, the Committee was concerned that the new law on Social Security, adopted in September 2011, reduced coverage for sexual and reproductive health services, particularly the prescription of contraceptives, including the most modern types. The Committee expressed concern that the confidentiality of the personal data of patients undergoing elective abortion was not guaranteed, and also by the rising cost of abortion services. Finally, the Committee expressed its concern about reports that Roma children continue to be victims of segregation in the school system, which in several locations around Slovakia denied them an education in regular, mixed classes.  It also noted concern about discrimination faced by children with disabilities at school. 

Peru

Regarding the second to fourth periodic reports of Peru (E/C.12/PER/2-4) the Committee noted with appreciation significant progress made by the State party since the Committee’s previous interactive dialogue in 1997, and the State party’s commitment to place human rights and social inclusion at the centre of its policies, in particular the adoption of the Equal Opportunities for Men and Women Act on 16 March 2007; adoption of the 2011-2016 National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking; and adoption of the Act on the Right of Indigenous or Aboriginal Peoples to Prior Consultation on 6 September 2011.  However, concerning employment, the Committee noted with concern the use of forced labour, in particular in the logging sector, the extensive use of child labour in particular in mines, garbage dumps and battery recycling, and the significant wage gap between men and women.  It recommended that the State party take legislative measures to penalize forced labour, and prioritize the combating of forced labour, that it take urgent steps to enforce legislation protecting children from economic exploitation and hazardous work, and that it take measures to ensure equal remuneration for men and women for work of equal value. 

The Committee also expressed concern about the high rate of teenage pregnancies, and the lack of adequate sexual and reproductive health services, as well as a lack of regulation for the conditions under which therapeutic abortions could be performed and penalties for abortions in cases of pregnancy resulting from rape.  The Committee recommended that the State party ensure the accessibility and availability of sexual and reproductive health services, including delivery attendance, institutional birth services and emergency contraceptives, particularly in rural areas.  It also recommended that the Criminal Code be amended so that abortion in the case of pregnancy as a result from rape wa not penalized.  The Committee was concerned that women who were subjected to forced sterilizations under the National Reproductive Health and Family Planning Programme between 1996 and 2000 had not yet received reparation and recommended that the State party effectively investigate, without further delay, all cases of forced sterilization, guarantee adequate resourcing for these criminal investigations, and ensure that victims receive adequate reparations.

The Committee was concerned about the serious housing deficit and the absence of legislation and policy to protect tenants living in poverty or to prevent forced evictions.  It also expressed concern about insufficient provision of water and sanitation services, and recommended the State party address the housing deficit by taking measures including upgrading existing housing, ensuring security of tenure, and adoption of legislation governing forced evictions.   The Committee expressed concern that there was no specific legislation prohibiting discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation, and that lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender persons faced such discrimination in employment, housing, and access to education and health care.  It recommended that the State party adopt specific legislation prohibiting discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation and take awareness-raising measures.  Discrepancies in quality and infrastructure between urban and rural schools were another concern, as were the very high drop-out rates, particularly for girls in rural areas, and the illiteracy rate among the indigenous and Afro-Peruvian communities.  The Committee recommended that the State party take steps to improve schools in rural areas and to increase attendance rates, and to address the high drop-out and repetition rates.

New Zealand

Following its review of the third periodic report of New Zealand (E/C.12/NZL/3) the Committee welcomed New Zealand’s ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. The Committee also welcomes the State party’s endorsement of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  Measures taken by New Zealand to promote realization of economic, social and cultural rights that were commended by the Committee included recognition of sign language as an official language; entitlements for refugees and asylum-seekers introduced under the Immigration Act 2009; development and implementation of the new education curriculum more responsive to the diversified student population of the State party; the adoption of the Civil Union Act 2004, the Relationships Act 2005 and the extension of the relationship property regime to de facto couples; the introduction of paid parental leave; and the adoption of the Crimes Amendment Act 2007 prohibiting corporal punishment by parents.  The Committee also noted some practical achievements in the realization of economic, social and cultural rights, in particular, the significant improvement in the immunisation rate among Māori, the low rates of hardship among older persons and the notable reduction of unemployment during the reporting period.  It commended the work undertaken by the New Zealand Human Rights Commission and noted with appreciation New Zealand’s policy of mainstreaming of human rights in its development cooperation programmes.

The Committee noted the challenges caused by the recent earthquakes on the enjoyment of Covenant rights by persons affected, especially their right to housing, and recommended that New Zealand adopted a human rights approach to reconstruction efforts, and encouraged the State party to seize the opportunity of the reconstruction efforts to apply designs which enable persons with disabilities’ access on an equal basis with others to the physical environment, facilities and services provided to the public.  The Committee remained concerned that unemployment continued to disproportionately affect young persons, and recommended that New Zealand included in its strategy for boosting skills and employment targeted measures to address the obstacles impeding young persons’ access to employment.  The Committee expressed further concern that Māori and Pasifika peoples continued to be disadvantaged in the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, in spite of measures taken by the State party and improvements in the area of health and education.  It called on New Zealand to strengthen its efforts in eliminating the disadvantages faced by Māori and Pasifika by addressing structural factors and ensuring that relevant measures effectively benefit the most disadvantaged.  The Committee also recommended that the State party set specific equality targets by year and closely monitored their achievement.

The Committee expressed concern that, in spite of the measures taken by the State party, family violence and sexual violence continue to be a problem, affecting in particular Māori women.  It recommended that the State intensified its measures to combat family violence and also adopted, as a priority, a framework for the implementation of the recommendations of the Taskforce for Action on Sexual Violence.   The Committee noted with concern that violence and bullying in schools were widespread in the State party and recommended that the State party (a) systematically collect data on violence and bullying in schools; (b) monitor the impact of the student mental health and wellbeing initiatives recently introduced in schools on the reduction of the incidence of violence and bullying; and (c) assess the effectiveness of measures, legislative or otherwise, in countering violence and bullying.  The Committee expressed concern that, in spite of measures taken such as the ban on tobacco advertisement, tobacco consumption remained widespread, particularly among Māori and Pasifika and recommended that the State party strengthened its measures to counter tobacco consumption, particularly among Māori and Pasifika and improve access to smoking cessation programmes.

Spain

Concerning the fifth periodic report of Spain (E/C.12/ESP/5) the Committee welcomed the ratification by the country of a number of international instruments, including the Optional Protocol to the Covenant in September 2010. It also expressed its satisfaction with a series of measures adopted by Spain to improve the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, particularly with regard to the adoption of the 2009 law regulating the right of asylum and subsidiary protection, the adoption of the Action Plan for the Development of the Gypsy Population (2010-2012) and the National Strategy for Social Integration and the Gypsy (2012-2020); and the adoption of the 2007 Organic Law for Effective Equality between Men and Women. However, the Committee expressed concern that outside of the right to education, which was included in the fundamental rights protected by the Constitution, economic, social and cultural rights were only considered as guiding principles of social and economic policy and of law and judicial practice. The Committee was also concerned that the decentralization of competencies relating to economic, social and cultural rights had been translated into a patchwork enjoyment of those rights in the country's 17 autonomous communities.  It was further concerned that the provisions of the Covenant had been invoked and applied only a few times before the Spanish courts. Spain was therefore urged to take appropriate legislative measures to ensure the economic, social and cultural level of protection similar to that applied to civil and political rights.

The continued increase in unemployment rates was identified as a concern by the Committee, which recommended that Spain strengthened its programmes and adopted effective strategies to reduce those rates and progressively achieve full realization of the right to work.  The Committee noted with concern that, according to statistics, some 21.8 per cent of the population still lived below the poverty line and that in the context of the global financial crisis the rate of people at risk of falling into poverty had dramatically increased. The Committee strongly recommended that Spain adopted and implemented a new comprehensive national programme to prevent poverty. The Committee recommended that Spain reviewed reforms adopted in the context of the current financial and economic crisis to ensure that all austerity measures maintained and protected economic, social and cultural rights and were temporary, proportionate and without prejudice to those rights. Furthermore, the Committee expressed its concern that austerity measures were disproportionately detrimental to the enjoyment of the rights of individuals and disadvantaged and marginalized groups, especially the poor, women, children, disabled people, unemployed adults and young people, the elderly, gypsies, migrants and asylum seekers. It was recommended that Spain ensured that austerity measures identified the minimum essential content of all Covenant rights, by taking appropriate steps to protect that core at all times, especially for disadvantaged groups, individuals and marginalized sectors of society.

The Committee expressed concern that despite measures adopted by the State party, immigrants and gypsies continued to be discriminated against in their enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, particularly in respect to employment, housing, health and education.  It was further concerned by the persistence of hostile and intolerant attitudes towards those groups, particularly from law-enforcement officers. The State party was urged to fully implement new rules to improve living conditions in detention centres for foreigners awaiting deportation. The Committee was also concerned over the changes made - especially in the Aliens Act - by the Royal Decree Law of 20 April 2012, which reduced the rights of illegal immigrants to access public health services. It further recommended that Spain should adopt a common procedure to ensure equal access to abortion. The Committee was further concerned that, despite progress, the rate of early school leavers in Spain was still double the European Union average and was concerned that education was one of the sectors most affected by budget cuts. The Committee was also concerned about the regressive measures adopted by Spain that increased university fees, jeopardizing access to university education for the most disadvantaged and marginalized individuals and groups.   The Committee expressed concern that the minimum wage had been frozen since 2011 to an amount which did not allow a dignified standard of living. It noted with concern that pension levels were often below the minimum subsistence level, exposing beneficiaries to poverty, and expressed concern that forced evictions continued to occur.

Ethiopia

In its concluding observations following review of the initial to third periodic reports of Ethiopia (E/C.12/ETH/1-3) the Committee welcomed in particular the following positive measures: the significant poverty reduction achieved since 2004, as a result of the prioritization of poverty reduction in the State party’s development policies, strategies and programmes; the establishment of a National Steering Committee against Sexual Exploitation of Children and the formulation of an Action Plan on Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children 2006-2010; the criminalization under national legislation of the practice of Female Genital Mutilation; and the definition of trafficking in persons as a crime under the Criminal Code.  However the Committee expressed concern about reports that the Voluntary Resettlement Programme entailed the forced eviction of thousands of people in various regions of Ethiopia, who were relocated to villages that lacked basic infrastructure, such as health clinics, clean water supplies and schools, as well as agricultural and food assistance.  The Committee urged the State party to ensure that the relocation of people was done on a voluntary basis, following prior consultation, to provide adequate compensation or alternative accommodation to people who had been forcibly evicted, and to guarantee that people living in relocation sites were provided with basic services and adequate facilities. 
Concerning employment rights, the Committee was concerned that the right to form and/or join trade unions was not fully guaranteed in law and practice, that public sector workers, in particular teachers, had allegedly experienced dismissals in connection with trade union activity, and that the Criminal Code provided for imprisonment for public servants who went on strike.  The Committee recommended that Ethiopia guaranteed the right to form and/or join trade unions, in particular by civil servants, including teachers, judges, prosecutors and security service workers, and an amendment to the Criminal Code.  The Committee noted with concern the prevalence of child labour, with a large percentage of children under the age of 14 engaged in economic activity who did not attend school, and recommended the State party adopt measures to combat, prevent and eliminate the practice It also expressed concern that primary education was neither free nor compulsory, notwithstanding of efforts made by the State party, and concern about low primary school enrolment and attendance rates, high drop-out rates, the gender gap in enrolment, the insufficient number of trained teachers, and the poor quality of education.  The Committee recommended that the State party take urgent measures to ensure that primary education was free and compulsory for all children, in line with articles 13 and 14 of the Covenant, and that school was compulsory until 14 years of age.
The Committee was concerned that the Penal Code criminalized homosexuality.  To that end it recommended that Ethiopia take urgent steps to decriminalize homosexuality.  It noted with concern that, in spite of the criminalization of the practice of female genital mutilation, it remained highly prevalent in rural areas, and also that marital rape had not yet been criminalized under the Criminal Code.  The Committee recommended that the State party ensured effective enforcement of the Criminal Code provisions criminalizing female genital mutilation and domestic violence and amend its Criminal Code to criminalize marital rape.  The acute housing shortage in Ethiopia was another concern noted, as well as the high percentage of the urban population living in slums.  The Committee recommended that the State party take urgent measures to ensure access to adequate and affordable housing.  Finally, the Committee was concerned that the construction and operation of the Gilgel Gibe III hydro-electric dam would have a significant negative impact on the traditional practices and means of subsistence of indigenous peoples who relied on the Omo river, potentially endangering local food security.  It urged the State party to initiate, prior to construction of hydro-electric projects, comprehensive impact assessments as well as extensive consultations with affected communities, involving genuine opportunities to present views and influence decision-making. 

Membership of the Committee

The Committee is composed of the following 18 Experts: Aslan Khuseinovich Abashidze (Russian Federation); Mohamed Ezzeldin Adel-Moneim (Egypt); Clement Atangana (Cameroon); Rocio Barahona Riera (Costa Rica); Jun Cong (China); Chandrashekhar Dasgupta (India); Zdzislaw Kedzia (Poland); Azzouz Kerdoun (Algeria); Jaime Marchan Romero (Ecuador); Sergei Martynov (Belarus); Ariranga Govindasamy Pillay (Mauritius); Renato Zerbini Ribeiro Leao (Brazil); Eibe Riedel (Germany); Waleed Sadi (Jordan); Nikolaas Jan Schrijver (Netherlands); Heisoo Shin (Republic of Korea); Philippe Texier (France); and Alvaro Tirado Mejia (Colombia).  

Ariranga Govindasamy Pillay is the Committee Chairperson; Nikolaas Jan Schrijver, Alvaro Tirado Mejia and Aslan Khuseinovich Abashidze are the Vice-Chairpersons; and Waleed Sadi is the Rapporteur.    


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ESC12/009E