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

Hears from a National Human Rights Institute and Non-Governmental Organizations on Kyrgyzstan, Venezuela, Mongolia and Thailand
1 June 2015

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights this morning opened its fifty-fifth session at the Palais Wilson in Geneva, hearing from James Heenan, Chief of the Groups in Focus Section, Human Rights Treaties Division at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  The Committee also heard from a national human rights institution and non-governmental organizations from Kyrgyzstan, Venezuela, Mongolia and Thailand, whose country reports will be considered this week.

The Committee will consider the reports of Ireland, Chile and Uganda next week, and national human rights institutes and non-governmental organizations will brief the Committee about the situation in those countries on Monday, 8 June. 

In his address, Mr. Heenan took note of the important work of the Committee in contributing to the progressive development of international law, and in particular the upcoming day of discussion on the draft general comment on article 7 of the International Covenant – the right to just and favourable conditions of work, which came at a time when workers’ rights were high on the global agenda.  In terms of the implementation of General Assembly resolution 68/268 on treaty bodies strengthening, Mr. Heenan congratulated the Committee on reducing the backlog of reports pending consideration from four to two years and encouraged it to continue to pursue the efforts on harmonization of working methods, including for example with respect to the development of the role of focal points or rapporteurs on reprisals.

Stakeholders from Kyrgyzstan drew attention to discrimination against vulnerable groups, including internal migrants, the poor, ethnic minorities, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, and persons deprived of their liberty, who had problems in accessing effective remedies, justice, and basic services.  Blatant violations existed in the area of social benefits for low income families and families with children with disabilities.  It was found that 72 per cent of children had to deal with violence and neglect; the rise of sexual violence was of particular concern, while violence in residential homes in some cases amounted to torture.

Speaking were the Ombudsman of the Kyrgyz Republic and the following non-governmental organizations: Open View Point, Bir Duino Kyrgyzstan, Netherlands Helsinki Committee, and Soros Foundation

Representatives of civil society from Venezuela spoke about vulnerability and social and economic disadvantages for women: extremely high rates of female poverty, the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in South America, and feminization of HIV/AIDS.  Militarization of public management and adoption of non-constitutional measures restricted the right and freedom to expression, association and peaceful manifestation.  All progress in fighting poverty achieved under President Chavez was now disappearing and there was an accelerated process of social exclusion.  Speakers raised concern about the situation in the sectors of education and health, and spoke about the realization of the rights of indigenous peoples.

Speaking were Provea, Frente Indigena Cacique Waikae’ puru, National Human Rights Network, Confederacion Bolivariana Indigena de Venezuela, National Council for the Defense of Human Right to Health and representatives of other non-governmental organizations.

Mongolia continued to use medical and welfare models in assessing disability and the legislation was more concentrated on welfare than on the rights of persons with disabilities.  Non-governmental organizations noted the positive engagement of the Government on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex rights and urged it to take all necessary measures to combat discrimination and violence on the basis of sexual orientation.

International Disability Alliance and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Centre took the floor in the discussion.

In Thailand, more than 60 land rights activists had been killed since 2003, and many had disappeared, making Thailand one of the most dangerous countries in Asia to defend those rights.  Non-governmental organizations spoke about the situation of the Rohingya, calling on countries in the region to put in place legislation protecting them and ending their persecution in the country of origin.  The Rohingya were at greatest risk of being trafficked and sold to the fishing industry as slaves.  Concern was raised about the new legal and institutional framework since the military coup in May 2014, and the promulgation of the interim Constitution which gave the military junta sweeping, unchecked powers contrary to the rule of law and human rights, including equality, accountability and predictability of the law. 

Speaking were Cross Cultural Foundation (joint statement), Community Resource Centre, People’s Empowerment Foundation, and the International Commission of Jurists.

The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. this afternoon to begin its consideration of the combined second and third periodic report of Kyrgyzstan (E/C.12/KGZ/2-3).

Opening Remarks

WALEED SADI, Committee Chairperson, in his opening remarks spoke about the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean and in Thailand, and about the earthquake in Nepal, which he said were issues of relevance to the work of the Committee.

JAMES HEENAN, Chief of the Groups in Focus Section, Human Rights Treaties Division at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted the important work of the Committee, notably its contribution to the progressive development of international law, including the upcoming day of discussion on the draft general comment on article 7 of the International Covenant – the right to just and favourable conditions of work, which came at a time when workers’ rights were high on the global agenda.  The consideration of communications submitted under the Optional Protocol built the jurisprudence of the Committee and brought greater clarity to the scope of application of Covenant rights, which offered guidance to States parties and national courts in devising adequate remedies for victims of violations under the Covenant. 

Last month had marked the second anniversary of the entry into force of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant, which reaffirmed the indivisibility and interrelatedness of all human rights by bridging a gap between the two Covenants.  The implementation of General Assembly resolution 68/268 on treaty bodies strengthening was in its first year, said Mr. Heenan and congratulated the Committee on reducing the backlog of reports pending consideration from four to two years.  The Committee should continue to pursue efforts on harmonization of working methods, including for example with respect to the development of the role of focal points or rapporteurs on reprisals.
 
Agenda and Organizational Matters

WALEED SADI, Committee Chairperson, paid tribute to Yuri Kolosov, a former member of the Committee who had passed away last week, and another Committee Expert suggested that the Committee adopt a statement on the earthquake in Nepal and on the current migrant crisis. 

The Committee then adopted its agenda.

Discussion with a National Human Rights Institute and Non-Governmental Organizations

Statements on Kyrgyzstan

BAKTYBEK AMANBAEV, Ombudsman of the Kyrgyz Republic, presented the report on the execution of human rights under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, saying that the functional and financial independence of the Institution of the Ombudsman was still not complete.  A draft law on the Ombudsman had been presented to Parliament in January 2014, but had not yet been considered.  The situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the country had deteriorated.  The Ombudsmen drew attention to discrimination against most vulnerable groups, including internal migrants, the poor, ethnic minorities, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, and persons deprived of their liberty, who all had problems in accessing effective remedies, justice, and basic services.  The draft law currently being discussed in Parliament on foreign agents introduced excessive restrictions on civil society organizations.  Other issues of concern in Kyrgyzstan included criminal neglect on the part of health workers, actions of private industrial companies which posed threats to the health and safety of residents of entire areas, the right to adequate housing, and access to State guaranteed social services such as health, education and safe drinking water.  It was estimated that 39 per cent of the population was employed in the informal sector and were particularly vulnerable to the violation of their labour rights.

Open View Point took up the right to freedom of religion or belief and said that the Law on Religion restricted the right of parents to educate their children in the religion or belief of their choice, which violated the obligations of Kyrgyzstan under several international human rights instruments.  A draft law on Foreign Agents, together with new legal amendments which were currently being discussed, put human rights at risk in Kyrgyzstan.

Bir Duino Kyrgyzstan spoke about the situation of internal migrants, whose access to basic services such as education, health and social care was denied because of lack of access to registration and identity documents.  Kyrgyzstan should bring its action concerning labour migrants from Kyrgyzstan in line with its obligations under the International Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Their Families.

Netherlands Helsinki Committee recommended that the policies and laws affecting those most vulnerable be developed using a human rights based approach, and in cooperation with civil society.  There were several problems and blatant violations of rights of specific groups, including in the area of social benefits for low income families and families with children with disabilities, as a result of which the number of children in residential homes was on the increase.  Another problem was that of child labour, including in child care institutions.  According to data by the United Nations Children Fund, 72 per cent of children had to deal with violence and neglect; the rise of sexual violence was of particular concern, while violence in residential homes in some cases amounted to torture.

Soros Foundation said that the right to adequate housing was an acute problem in Kyrgyzstan.  The Government should bring its legislation on the matter in line with the Constitution, develop a programme of affordable housing, develop a new programme of management of public utilities, create a system of housing cooperatives and resolve the problem of mass settlement on agricultural land.

Statements on Venezuela

A representative of four civil society organizations, said that the low level of formal employment led to vulnerability and social and economic disadvantages for women, causing extremely high rates of female poverty.  Venezuela had the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in South America, and feminization of HIV/AIDS was an acute problem among the youth.  The State should adopt progressive measures to bring about economic recovery and remove gender gaps and gender based inequality.  

Provea said that the situation in Venezuela was unfavourable for the realization of social rights, with militarization of public management and adoption of non-constitutional measures restricting the rights to expression, association and peaceful manifestation.  All progress in fighting poverty achieved under President Chavez was now disappearing and there was an accelerated process of social exclusion.  Harassment campaigns against civil society organizations, including those engaging with the Committee, were an issue of great concern.

A representative of three civil society organizations said that the current State policy violated the Constitution and aimed to implement the single thought, which deeply affected the nature of democratic society.  There were serious restrictions on the autonomy of the University.  Venezuela should prohibit political partisan activities in  basic education, and eliminate political partisan reform of textbooks and curriculum which favoured the hegemony of a single stream of thought.

Another representative of civil society said that the situation in the health sector was critical and the State was unable to protect the lives of people and stop imminent public health risks.  Thousands of people were dying simply because health services were not available to them.

Frente Indigena Cacique Waikae’ puru aimed to strengthen and promote rights and comprehensive development of indigenous communities.  The promotion of equal rights in Venezuela was unquestionable and it was worth mentioning increasing participation of indigenous peoples in the design of policies.  Housing in indigenous communities was a priority for the State which ensured better life for indigenous peoples.

National Human Rights Network recognized the efforts of the State to increase inclusion in basic education, and urged the Committee to call upon Venezuela to increase its school feeding programmes.  Venezuela should strengthen citizen participation in health care centres and update its organic law on health care from 1998 which did not guarantee the right to free health care as was stipulated by the Constitution. 

Confederacion Bolivariana Indigena de Venezuela said that the Government led by President Chavez had recognized indigenous peoples of Venezuela and granted a whole chapter in the Constitution to settling the historical debt.  The Government guaranteed the right to land and habitats, and had built homes in line with natural conditions. 

National Council for the Defense of Human Right to Health said that Venezuela had moved from malnutrition to obesity; this trend must be reversed and advertising of junk food must be regulated.  The leading causes of mortality were high blood pressure and diabetes.  Maternal health must be addressed and laws and policies must be put in place to honour ancestral ways of giving birth.  The State must be more rigorous in fighting contraband medication which undermined the quality of health.

A representative of civil society said that Venezuela was not living up to its obligations in ensuring the right to health, noting the serious lack of medication and medical materials; 44 per cent of surgical wards were not functional, and hospitals were dirty.   

Statements on Mongolia

International Disability Alliance said that Mongolia continued to use medical and welfare models in assessing disability and legislation was more concentrated on welfare than on rights of persons with disabilities.  Only 18.9 per cent of persons with disabilities of working age were employed.  The six schools for persons with disabilities were located in the area of Ulan Bator.  The budgets for the community-based disability welfare services were being cut, and it was estimated that persons with disabilities suffered very high rates of violence, including sexual violence.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Centre noted the positive engagement of the Government on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex rights and urged it to take all necessary measures to combat discrimination and violence on the basis of sexual orientation, including in access to employment, housing and education.  It should also introduce legislation recognizing the rights of same sex parents and combat bullying of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons’ children in the educational environment.

Statements on Thailand

A representative of Cross Cultural Foundation, speaking in a joint statement, said that more than 60 land rights activists had been killed since 2003, and many had disappeared, making Thailand one of the most dangerous countries in Asia to defend those rights.  The military Government had introduced the law prohibiting the work of human rights defenders.  Another issue of concern was the treatment of migrants from Myanmar, and trafficking in persons.  The military Government reform was removing institutions granting human rights protection and southern provinces of Thailand were still under martial law.

Community Resource Centre said that most of development projects did not include the right to self-determination, natural resources management and public and political participation of people.  There were no efforts to adopt any regulations on human rights and businesses, such as corporate social responsibility.

People’s Empowerment Foundation said that the countries in the region should put in place legislation protecting the Rohignya and discuss how regional action led by Thailand could put an end to the prosecution of Rohingya in their country of origin.  The Rohingya were at greatest risk of being trafficked and sold to fishing industry as slaves.  

International Commission of Jurists shared deep concern about the new legal and institutional framework since the military coup in May 2014, and the promulgation of interim Constitution which gave the military junta sweeping, unchecked powers contrary to rule of law and human rights, including equality, accountability and predictability of the law.  Another source of concern was normative gaps in the effective protection against gender discrimination and the situation of migrant women, including those working as domestic workers.

Questions by the Committee Experts

On Venezuela, a Committee Expert asked representatives of civil society to provide further information about the increase in poverty rates, realization of indigenous rights, military training of children, and to provide specific data on access to health and to education to enable the Committee to better understand the situation in those areas.

On Kyrgyzstan, another Expert asked about financial and functional shortcomings of the Institution of Ombudsman which brought it to status B, and additional information on the draft law on Foreign Agents.

Members of the Committee inquired about the changes in the legislation on reserved forest areas in Thailand and how it led to forced expulsion of people who lived in forests and depended on it for sustenance, and about the ways in which Thailand could take better care of its extra-territorial obligations as a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.  


For use of the information media; not an official record

ESC15/008E