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COMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS OPENS FIFTY-SECOND SESSION
28 April 2014

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights this morning opened its fifty-second session at the Palais Wilson in Geneva, hearing statements by Craig Mokhiber, Chief of the Development and Economic and Social Issues Branch of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Zdzislaw Kedzia, the Committee Chairperson.  The Committee also adopted its agenda and programme of work.

In his opening statement, Craig Mokhiber, Chief of the Development and Economic and Social Issues Branch of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the demand for the work of the Committee had never been higher, in a large part due to the global economic crisis, economic inequalities, austerity packages, and the often devastating impact of private sector use of resources on the economic rights of people.  The Committee’s work in that regard was crucial.  He also spoke about ensuring that economic, social and cultural rights were upheld in the post-2015 agenda, as well as provided an overview of the General Assembly resolution of 9 April on treaty body strengthening. 

Zdzislaw Kedzia, Committee Chairperson, in his opening statement, spoke about the adoption by the General Assembly of the resolution on ‘strengthening and enhancing the effective functioning of the human rights treaty body system’ on 9 April.  Mr. Kedzia was pleased to note that following the accession by the State of Palestine, the number of States parties to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights had increased to 162. 

In an interactive dialogue, Committee Members and Mr. Mokhiber discussed issues including possible future ratifications of the Optional Protocol by States, the inclusion of economic, social and cultural rights in the post-2015 development goals and next steps in the treaty-body strengthening process.

The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. this afternoon when it will hold a meeting with representatives from non-governmental organizations and national human rights institutions in the countries whose reports will be considered this week, namely Ukraine, Indonesia and Monaco. 

During the session, the Committee will also consider the reports of Armenia, China (including Hong Kong and Macao), Czech Republic, El Salvador, Lithuania, Serbia and Uzbekistan.  Links to the reports are available in the background press release

Opening Statements

ZDZISLAW KEDZIA, Committee Chairperson, in his opening statement, congratulated those of his colleagues who had been re-elected for a four-year term beginning in January 2015, as well as two new members elected to the Committee.  (List of Committee Members available here).  He spoke about the adoption by the General Assembly of the resolution on ‘strengthening and enhancing the effective functioning of the human rights treaty body system’ on 9 April and spoke about its impact on the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  The Chairperson said he was pleased to note that following the accession by the State of Palestine the number of States parties to the Covenant had increased to 162.  He said the Committee should work to gain further ratifications so that all States entered the legal commitments under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and its Optional Protocol. 

CRAIG MOKHIBER, Chief of the Development and Economic and Social Issues Branch of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in his opening statement, said the demand for the work of the Committee had never been higher, in a large part due to the global economic crisis, economic inequalities, austerity packages, and the often devastating impact of private sector use of resources on the economic rights of people.  The Committee’s work in that regard was crucial.  In a few days they would witness the first anniversary of the entry into force of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  Mr. Mokhiber spoke about the work of the Development and Economic and Social Issues Branch, especially in assisting field offices of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in promoting the Optional Protocol.  Other inputs by the Branch to the Committee’s work included wider efforts to extend ratification, provision of training to raise awareness about the potential use of the Optional Protocol in ratifying countries, giving advice on the rules of procedure and especially the dissemination of the Committee’s doctrine, and promoting compliance with the Committee’s concluding observations. 

The Development and Economic and Social Issues Branch was also involved in ensuring that a strong human rights perspective was integrated in the post-2015 agenda, Mr. Mokhiber said.  The Office’s strategic engagement had not only raised the visibility of human rights in the post-2015 discussions within the United Nations, but had also been instrumental for shifting Member States’ discussions from whether to how human rights should be integrated in the post-2015 development agenda.  The doctrine of the Committee was critical in that regard, especially the use in discussions on the new development goals of the Committee’s economic, social and cultural rights standards. 

Mr. Mokhiber provided an overview of the positive outcomes of the treaty body strengthening process, and said on 9 April 2014 the General Assembly adopted a historic resolution titled ‘strengthening and enhancing the effective functioning of the human rights treaty body system’.  The resolution addressed the triple challenges of a significant backlog, chronic under-resourcing and insufficient compliance by States parties with their reporting obligations.  The resolution granted more meeting time and human and financial resources from the regular budget to the treaty bodies, from 2015.  It also reaffirmed the independence of members, increased the visibility and accessibility of the treaty body system and established a capacity-building package to help States parties report.  The next step was for treaty bodies to align and harmonize their working methods, and Mr. Mokhiber referred to the ‘Poznan Formula’ which captured the right balance between autonomy and unity within the treaty body system. 

Interactive Dialogue

In the ensuing dialogue between Committee Members and Mr. Mokhiber, a question was asked about the modalities of engagement with countries that could or had ratified the Optional Protocol.  Mr. Mokhiber replied that his department worked with multi-stakeholder constituencies, from the Government to national institutions to civil society. Even though resources were limited his team sought to send staff to the field to engage with people on the ground. 

The ratification and engagement with the International Covenant, and human rights instruments in general, by the most developed, and European, States was also discussed.  Mr. Mokhiber said although the current time was not one of acceleration when it came to ratifying human rights treaties, it was difficult to be depressed when there were over 160 ratifications of this Covenant, and more broadly a global human rights system in place. 

The treaty-body strengthening process was not over, but there was no doubt that the adoption of the resolution by the General Assembly – and that it included resources – was a major milestone.  The next step was a period of consolidating and implementing, Mr. Mokhiber said.

Regarding possible ratifications of the Optional Protocol by States, Mr. Mokhiber said he had no list of States that may be in the pipeline to ratify it, but he could advise informally.  He answered another question about Palestine, saying that it had acceded to most of the core national human rights and humanitarian law treaties in exercise of its sovereignty and recognition of its status as a United Nations Observer State. 

In closing remarks about his aim for the inclusion of economic, social and cultural rights in the post-2015 development goals, Mr. Mokhiber said he and his team were working with the following slogan: “freedom from want, freedom from fear and freedom for all persons and without discrimination.” 


For use of the information media; not an official record

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