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COMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS OPENS FIFTY-EIGHTH SESSION

Hears from Civil Society Organizations Regarding the Situation in France, Sweden, Honduras and Burkina Faso
6 June 2016

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights opened its fifty-eighth session this morning, adopting its agenda and hearing from a national human rights institution and non-governmental organizations from France, Sweden, Honduras and Burkina Faso, whose reports it will consider this week.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Committee heard from Carla Edelenbos, Chief of the Petitions and Inquiries Section, Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Ms. Edelenbos remarked that the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the two major Covenants was an opportunity to assess how best to put them into practice and strengthen the protection of human rights in a world with different challenges than those that had existed when the Covenants had been adopted, and where serious and large-scale human rights violations still occurred.  She expressed the Office’s continued support for the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Covenant and noted with satisfaction that the number of registered communications had more than doubled in the last year, and then updated the Committee on the status of the process leading to the 2020 review as required by General Assembly resolution 62/268. 

The Committee discussed the situation in France with the national human rights institution and five non-governmental organizations, who spoke about barriers to the effective enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights by all, and the need for the Government to focus on real equality issues, trafficking and exploitation.  Speakers raised extraterritorial obligations of France in the protection and promotion of human rights, citing the human rights violations related to the support for private education in Haiti and arms exports to Saud Arabia, which were used in air strikes against Yemen.

Non-governmental organizations from Sweden asked the Committee to issue a number of recommendations to the Government in order to ensure the same legal protection of economic, social and cultural rights as civil and political rights, and to guarantee their enjoyment on municipal levels.  Speakers also raised the vulnerable situation of Roma with the European Union citizenship, weakening protection for asylum seekers, the neglect of the rights of indigenous Sami people, and arms sales to Saudi Arabia which were used in air attacks against Yemen, which violated numerous rights of the Yemenis.

In Honduras, three non-governmental organizations highlighted the issues of grinding poverty and growing inequality which, coupled with high levels of violence, were key drivers of large migration flows from the country, systematic and structural violence against women and girls and widespread impunity for such crimes, and high levels of violence – and impunity for such acts – against human rights defenders, particularly those active on land and natural resources issues.

One non-governmental organization from Burkina Faso raised the issue of inadequate implementation of the land reform law which led to land grabbing and difficult access to land by poor farmers.

The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. today 6 June, to start its consideration of the fourth periodic report of France under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (E/C.12/FRA/4).


Opening Statements

WALEED SADI, Chairperson of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, opened the fifty-eighth session of the Committee, and noted that the Committee would have a very busy session.

CARLA EDELENBOS, Chief of the Petitions and Inquiries Section, Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in her opening remarks said that the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the two major Covenants was an occasion for celebration of the achievements and also an opportunity to assess how best to put the two Covenants into practice and to strengthen the protection of human rights in a world with different challenges than those that had existed when the Covenants had been adopted, and where serious and large-scale human rights violations still occurred.  Ms. Edelenbos recalled the intrinsic links between the two Covenants and welcomed the upcoming joint meeting of the Committee with the Human Rights Committee during this session.  However, so many years after the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, it was still necessary to continue to emphasize the indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights, especially as economic, social and cultural rights still did not seem to enjoy full recognition as human rights on national levels.  The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights would continue to support the ratification of the Optional Protocol and Ms. Edelenbos was pleased to note that the number of registered communications had more than doubled in the last year, during which seven new communications had been registered by the Committee, compared to three in 2014; currently, eight cases were pending before the Committee. 

Turning to the 2014 Change Initiative launched by the High Commissioner, Ms. Edelenbos said that it had resulted in the new structure of his Office which was more able to support the work of the Committee and would contribute to enhanced support to the Treaty Body System throughout the process leading to the 2020 review as required by General Assembly resolution 62/268.  In her update on the status of this process, Ms. Edelenbos said that, following the call by States for an independent expert study into the options for treaty bodies reform, the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights had launched a research project entitled Academic Platform Project on the 2020 Review, to develop innovative proposals and solutions.  The first report by the Secretary-General under General Assembly resolution 68/268 was being finalized.  It would highlight the progress and challenges of the first year of the implementation of the resolution, and anticipate requirements for the next biennium 2018-2019.

Responding to the Experts’ question concerning the financing of the research project by the Geneva Academy, Ms. Edelenbos said that the funding came from the Swiss Government.

The agenda of the fifty-eighth session was adopted.

The Committee then heard from representatives of non-governmental organizations from France, Sweden, Honduras and Burkina Faso, whose reports the Committee will consider this week.



Statements and Discussion on France


National Human Rights Institution

Commission Nationale Consultative des Droits de l’Homme (CNCDH), said that its written submission focused on the effective enjoyment of the rights enshrined in the Covenant, particularly on the barriers, the need for the Government to focus on real equality issues, and trafficking and exploitation.  There was a very real gap between the legal framework in France, which was quite satisfactory, and the effective enjoyment of rights, hampered by administrative and policy requirements.  One such administrative barrier to the effective and non-discriminatory access to housing was the requirement to have a permanent address, which many of the people in need of the housing did not have.  The situation of Roma and Travellers was a particularly visible example of this.  The Commission was very concerned about policies which were guided by prejudices and fear, leading to suspicions vis-a-vis migrants, Roma, travellers, and others.  Administrative practices and political statements were often discriminatory against people living in poverty, and the Commission stressed the urgent need for the Government to focus on creating an inclusive society.  Education was the responsibility of the State, and local authorities in particular; Roma children or those who newly arrived to slums in the French territory were socially excluded, and there was still much progress to be made to foster the inclusion of children with disabilities into mainstream schools.  There was a lack of political will to develop a view on disability in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  The inclusive society must grant an equal place to women and men, and tackle gender-based violence, and stigmatization of certain populations, especially following the Paris attack last year.

Non-governmental Organizations

Global Initiative on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights said that, following the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010, France had been one of the main donors that supported the educational sector and stressed that, through its promotion and support of private schooling through the World Bank’s project, France had violated the right to education.  France had always been a dedicated supporter of the public education system in Haiti, but it did not use its influential position within the World Bank to change the premise of the large programme Education for All that they were implementing in Haiti.

Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom said that exports of arms could give rise to an extraterritorial responsibility for human rights violations.  The obligation of States to refuse arms exports if such violations could be foreseen had been recognized by the Arms Trade Treaty, to which both France and Sweden were parties.  Both Sweden and France had contributed to human rights violations in Yemen by exporting arms to Saudi Arabia and its allies, which had been used in the air strikes: Sweden had exported its airborne surveillance systems, while France was the biggest weapon exporter to Saudi Arabia in the European Union, including missiles and helicopters.

International Baby Food Network said that women in France faced many obstacles to breastfeed and that only 1.5 per cent of babies were exclusively breastfed until six months of age, while less than one child in ten was still breastfed at the age of one.  France failed to fulfil its obligations to fully implement the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, paid maternity leave was only ten weeks, and women were not given paid breaks to breastfeed. 

Confédération Génerale du Travail said that criminalization of trade union action was becoming increasingly prevalent over the last 10 years; several trade union officials had been imprisoned, and the rights to free assembly and the right to strike were under attack.  The ongoing labour reform, or the El Khomri Law, was controversial as it gave primacy to companies based on their sector agreement, which would allow each company to have their own labour code, which would lead to social dumping, firing, salary reduction and other backward provisions for employees.

European Language Equality Network said that in France there was inequality in languages and that France needed to amend its Penal Code to also recognize linguistic discrimination, which existed throughout the society, particularly in relation to regional languages.

In their questions, Committee Experts recognized that education was indeed a right and that it was the duty of States to ensure that children were enrolled in school.  In France, some municipal authorities refused to enrol Roma children, even those who had lived in the area for a long time, or Muslim children.  What were the reasons that drove suspicion and mistrust toward certain population groups in official State policy?

Committee Experts noted that France considered the collection of data on ethnicity unconstitutional and asked about alternatives in place.  The concept of social cohesion was linked to the French concept of unity of the society in ethnic terms, but since data on ethnicity were not available, it was very difficult to understand the role of ethnicity in discrimination.  What was the role of the national human rights institution in addressing multiple and cross-cutting discrimination.

Responding to Experts’ questions, Commission Nationale Consultative des Droits de l’Homme, with regards to the right to education, said that the people whose children were not admitted to school could contact prefects, or directly the director of schools who would admit children temporarily while the official procedure was ongoing.  The Commission was opposed to the collection of ethnic data, and said that a lot of data could be gotten from objective criteria, such as the place of birth or the nationality of parents.  On suspicion to some population groups, the Commission said that the state of emergency had caused misuse of power by the police, and also added that there was a prevailing opinion that poor people abused the system, which was far from true.  The Commission’s study on tolerance and prejudice demonstrated a significant incidence of multiple discrimination against certain population groups, but multiple discrimination was not a recognized category in the criminal law.

Confédération Génerale du Travail said that 90 per cent of new jobs in France were considered precarious and insecure; there were social demonstrations, but more needed to be done to strengthen the position of trade unions.  The Government had slammed the door on a debate with social partners on the new labour law, using as an excuse emergency procedures.

Statements and Discussion on Sweden

Swedish Foundation for Human Rights, speaking on behalf of 17 civil society organizations, said that economic, social and cultural rights did not enjoy the same legal protection in Sweden as civil and political rights.  They did not have the same constitutional protection and their justiciability was weak.  The realization and protection of many of the rights under the Covenant were dealt with mainly at the municipality level and there was a need for the Swedish Government to guarantee compliance and awareness of those rights on the municipality level.  The Committee was asked to request Sweden to ensure that vulnerable citizens of the European Union were granted their economic, social and cultural rights and that all Roma in Sweden were granted protection against hate crime and discrimination.  In 2015, Sweden had adopted a set of measures aiming to reduce the number of refugees applying for asylum, which would replace permanent residence permits with temporary ones and restrict the right to family reunification.  Another neglected group in Sweden were the indigenous Sami people; exploitation of their land and water for mining purposes was widespread, threatening their culture, environment, health and food supply, while their right to free, prior and informed consent was constantly ignored.

FIAN Sweden, speaking in a joint statement, said that many States interpreted their human rights obligations as being applicable only within their own borders, creating a gap in the extraterritorial protection of human rights.  One such example was the Swedish National Pension Funds which invested in different sectors such as mining, agricultural land and the fossil fuel industry, which contributed to breaches of the right to adequate food and nutrition, water, health and healthy environment, free priori and informed consent and other rights.

A Committee Expert asked for other examples of investments by the Swedish National Pension Funds which would further illustrate a problem of extraterritorial application of human rights and were detrimental to the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights in countries concerned.

FIAN Sweden said that one such investment was the case of the Marlin mine in Guatemala, which should be held accountable for breaches of the right to adequate food and nutrition

Statements and Discussion on Honduras

Forum of Women for Life said that, with 70 per cent of the population living in poverty, Honduras was one of the countries with the highest levels of poverty and inequality in Latin America.  Together with high levels of violence, those were the main drivers of large flows of migration out of the country.  Honduras was one of the most dangerous countries for human rights defenders in the world.

FIAN Honduras said that violence against women and girls was systematic and structural and hampered the enjoyment of their rights.  Lack of accountability for violence against women was widespread.  Between 2003 and 2015, more than 5,000 women had died violent deaths, and hundreds disappeared every year.  Between 2010 and 2014, some 16,000 cases of sexual violence had been reported, but 94 per cent enjoyed impunity.  FIAN Honduras also raised the issue of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons by the State and society, particularly in the area of the right to health and education.

Platform against Impunity, in a joint statement, noted the high levels of violence and impunity in Honduras and said that the 2015 law on the protection of human rights defenders was weak, as the State had not provided adequate environment for human rights defenders to work in.  Honduras should create the office for the protection of human rights defenders to pay special attention to issues of land and natural resources, to publicly issue a Presidential decree that recognized the work of human rights defenders, and to call upon all public authorities not to tolerate attacks, violence and threats against human rights defenders.

Committee Experts asked for further explanation of how privatization threatened the right to education and the right to health, and for examples of how the process was harmful.

Another Expert asked about an update on the investigations into the murder of two human rights defenders, including the indigenous leader Berta Cásares.

Forum of Women for Life said that the ongoing privatization of health and education was related to budget issues; people were dying from preventable illnesses because the State did not earmark sufficient resources for health.  Corruption was rampant, wages were falling, and people were falling into poverty.  It was increasingly difficult to access the services which were being privatized, such as health or education, because of very high quotas.

Another speaker expressed suspicion into how the Office of the Prosecutor was dealing with the investigations, saying that non-governmental organizations and even families were not allowed access to files.  Five people were implicated in the murder of Berta Cásares, and it was clear that there were some powerful families and companies involved.  Civil society did not trust any investigation conducted by the Office of the Prosecutor.

Statements and Discussion on Burkina Faso

FIAN Burkina Faso said that the food security policies of the Government did not allow for the enjoyment of the right to food, and that the right of the poor to land had been weakened by the 2009 law, which led to land grabbing by non-farming actors, particularly in the provinces of Ziro, Sissili and Houet.  In Kounkoufauanou, a 7,000-strong farming community had been forcefully evicted by the police, without any right to compensation. 

A Committee Expert asked how the land reform accelerated land grabbing and what measures could slow this down.


Responding, a representative of FIAN said that the 2007 law in itself was not bad, particularly because it established institutions for food security monitoring, but the problem was that those institutions had not been established across the country, because of the significant funds required for the project.  The problem was in rural areas where monitoring institutions were absent and where the land grabbing had started.


For use of the information media; not an official record

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