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COMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS MEETS WITH CIVIL SOCIETY REPRESENTATIVES FROM SWITZERLAND, ISRAEL AND ECUADOR

30 September 2019

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights this afternoon heard from civil society organizations on the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Switzerland, Israel and Ecuador, whose reports the Committee will review this week.

Civil society organizations from Switzerland said the recommendations stemming from the Committee’s last review in 2010 had not been followed or applied. The local and federal authorities should establish a dialogue and a constant monitoring with civil society organizations, as well as name a person to act as a permanent focal point working continually on the implementation of the Convention between review cycles.

In Israel, in 2018, the World Health Organization had reported that 31 per cent of patients wishing to exit the Gaza Strip had not been able to. The Israeli authorities had taken measures that amounted to collective punishment. Israel was bound by the Convention, and should not raise any obstacles to the exercise of the rights enshrined in it.

Speaking about Ecuador, civil society organizations noted the lack of data on the effects of the agreement with the International Monetary Fund. There had been a lack of funds to finance measures related to economic, social and cultural rights. The Covenant had not been treated as an international convention by the State.

FIAN Switzerland, Observatoire romand du droit d’asile et des étrangers, ADT Quart Monde, and the Centre for International Environmental Law spoke about Switzerland.

Speaking on Israel were ASSAF-Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel, the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights, Geneva International Centre for Justice, Housing and Land Rights Network/Habitat International Coalition, Kayan Feminist Organization, Woman’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling, Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, and Coalition for Children and Families. Al Marsad/Al-Haq, Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, and Physicians for Human Rights Israel spoke by videoconference.

Coalicion Nacional de Mujeres del Ecuador, Réseau international des Droits humans Asamblea Permanente por la Participacion Ciudadana, Frente Ciudadano de estudiantes y becarios, Foro de Mujeres, Fundacion Pakta, Centro de Derechos Economicos y Sociales, Instituto de Pensamiento Politico y Economico Eloy Alfaro and FIAN Ecuador spoke about the situation in Ecuador by videoconference.

The Committee will next meet in public on Tuesday, 1 October, at 3 p.m., to consider the third periodic report of Switzerland (E/C.12/CHE/4).

Opening Remarks

RENATO ZERBINI RIBEIRO LEÃO, Committee Chairperson, welcomed representatives of civil society from Switzerland, Israel and Ecuador.

Statements by Civil Society Organizations from Switzerland

FIAN Switzerland said the recommendations stemming from the last review in 2010 had not been followed or applied. The local and federal authorities should establish a dialogue and a constant monitoring system with civil society organizations as well as name a person to act as a permanent focal point working continually on the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights between review cycles. FIAN Switzerland notably requested a comprehensive law on discrimination that would ensure that victims had real access to justice.

Observatoire romand du droit d’asile et des étrangers said many asylum-seekers had to give up their education in Switzerland and young people amongst them needed social support rather than emergency aid. Integration was extremely difficult. The new law had removed some obstacles regarding access to the labour market, but the measures it included were insufficient. The detention of minors should end. Additional efforts were needed to provide migrants with proper social care and labour training, inter alia.

ADT Quart Monde said poverty and extreme poverty should be systematically designed as discriminatory criteria. The implementation of article 10 of the Covenant should provide education support to families rather than the removal of children. It was paramount to put in place policies combatting poverty at the federal level to avoid disparities amongst cantons. Children from poor families were disproportionately channelled towards specialized classes which too often did not lead them to training or jobs.

Centre for International Environmental Law said States must adopt and implement policies that reduce emissions that reflect the highest possible ambitions. Switzerland was not doing enough in that regard. It must ensure that financial flows were compatible with an approach that would limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. Switzerland’s obligations under the Covenant required the State to regulate financial flows in that regard; it should take action to address concerns in the transportation and civil aviation sectors.

Questions by the Committee Experts and Responses by the Civil Society Organizations

An Expert asked about the measures taken by the Government of Switzerland to improve gender equality and foster work-family balance.

Another Expert asked for information on the Government’s mode of cooperation with civil society organizations. She noted that only two cantons had minimum wage and asked what obstacles were preventing the establishment of a federal minimum wage.

An Expert asked for information about the specialized classes to which poor children were reportedly referred. What had Swiss banks done so far to decarbonize investments.

FIAN Switzerland said civil society organizations had the impression that the Government was starting from scratch when it was considering the situation with regard to the implementation of the Covenant. On wages and equality, the principle of equal pay was enshrined in law, but an oversight mechanism and sanctions were lacking. There was nothing binding nor compulsory.

ADT Quart Monde said that for 10 years, there had been a specialized schools system functioning in parallel to normal schools. Children from families that lived in extreme poverty were often quickly put in these specialized schools; a lot of them ended up dropping out. The inter-canton agreement on specialized schools had to be reviewed so that poor children were not left on the side lines.

Centre for International Environmental Law said the Government of Switzerland had recognized the climate change issues related to financial flows. Some of the largest Swiss banks had a carbon footprint that was twice the size of the carbon footprint of the entire Swiss population. Pension funds disproportionately invested in fossil fuels.

Observatoire romand du droit d’asile et des étrangers highlighted the situation of unaccompanied minors who lost a lot of rights when they turned 18. Many people who needed emergency aid received just that and nothing more, even though they also needed training. Civil society organizations had sounded the alarm but their warnings had fallen on deaf ears.

Statements by Civil Society Organizations from Israel

Palestinian Centre for Human Rights said in 2018, the World Health Organization had reported that 31 per cent of patients wishing to exit the Gaza Strip had not been able to. The Israeli authorities had also taken measures that amounted to collective punishment. Israel was bound by the Covenant, and should not raise any obstacles to the exercise of the rights enshrined in it. Israel should stop distinguishing between cases that were threatening and those that affected the quality of life.

Physicians for Human Rights Israel said two specific violations had significantly worsened since Israel’s last review in 2011: the denial of medical treatment to undocumented migrant children, and the denial of access to medical care for medical patients from Gaza, including particularly vulnerable communities, such as women and children. Israel should abolish the current medical exit permit mechanism. The impact of the blockade on Gaza women must be examined.

Al Marsad/Al-Haq highlighted Israel’s organized, systematic and illegal exploitation of natural energy resources in the occupied Golan, which violated the Covenant. Syrians living in the Golan had a right to self-determination and sovereignty over their natural resources. Israel’s exploitation of energy resources in the Golan restricted Syrians’ right to work; it was by nature exclusionary. The Committee should condemn Israel’s actions in advancing its own energy interests at the expense of indigenous Syrians’ rights under the Covenant.

ASSAF-Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel said there were about 30,000 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers in Israel. While the Israeli authorities had periodically announced various plans to reform services of refugees and asylum seekers, it usually amounted to little more than a bureaucratic smokescreen. Asylum seekers, many of them victims of torture, received no mental health related support. They were becoming poorer, more marginalized and more vulnerable. “The restriction of social and economic rights cannot be used as a way to push refugees out,” said the speaker.

The Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel said Bedouins formed 34 per cent of the population in the Naqab. A third of them lived in villages that Israel refused to recognize. Its policy was guided by the false depiction of the area as a vast empty space. Using different policies, laws and planning mechanisms, Israel was displacing the Bedouins to assert State control over the land. It had recently promoted huge infrastructure projects in Naqab. Evictions were also carried out to build Jewish-only towns.

Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights said Gaza’s fishermen continued to endure constant harassment, arrest and detention, inter alia, by the Israeli navy. The attacks were unwarranted and violated the fishermen’s rights. The Committee had failed to identify the closure of Gaza as the root cause of the violations in its 2011 concluding observations. In the absence of accountability and justice, there was no effective deterrent against the continued perpetration of violations.

Geneva International Centre for Justice said that while Israel maintained that it was not responsible for the application of the Covenant in the occupied Palestinian territories due to the armed conflict, whether or not such a conflict was taking place was immaterial to Israel’s responsibilities under the Covenant.

Housing and Land Rights Network/Habitat International Coalition highlighted the discrimination inflicted by institutions that operated under the Israeli State. They carried out development projects and controlled water resources with discriminatory purposes and effects. Since Israel’s latest review, State agencies had destroyed 540 homes in East Jerusalem, rendering Palestinians homeless. Over 8,000 homes in the southern Naqab had been destroyed according to the organizations’ own statistics.

Kayan Feminist Organization said Palestinian women could not exercise their full rights and this problem required immediate attention. In 2018 alone, 15 Arab women had been killed. Often, victims had sought the help of the police prior to their murder, to no avail. On sexual harassment, the State did not provide data about Arab women specifically, nor did it provide accurate data. Israel had failed to fulfil its obligations under the Covenant.

Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling recalled that the Covenant applied in all territories under the effective control of the State party. Israel was using the occupied Palestinian territories as a dumping site for hazardous and industrial waste. Palestinian women living in polluted surroundings also suffered from psychological impacts. The Committee should ask Israel to stop illegal hazardous waste dumping; practices infringing on access to natural resources; and collective punishments, such as house demolitions. All of these had direct and indirect impacts on women.

Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality said Israel was denying the Bedouins’ historical rights. They faced constant harassment and fear of being relocated to urban areas against their will. The Bedouins found themselves in a situation where they had to ask the oppressor for permission to stay on their own ancestral lands. In 2018, the Bedouins had experienced over 2,000 house demolitions. The entire community was being criminalized and persecuted.

Al-Huq said Israel continued to restrict movement and demolish houses, and had, along with private actors, continued to illegally exploit resources. It had denied the occupied population the right to use it natural resources and its right to economic development. It had facilitated the unlawful exploitation of natural resources. It must stop all discriminatory policies and cease encouraging businesses to carry out activities that violated the rights of the population.

Questions by the Committee Experts

An Expert noted that Israel was a complicated case. What had been the involvement of civil society organizations in the preparation of the report?

Another Expert asked about the “Basic Law” adopted in 2018. Did civil society organizations agree with the Government that it had not had any discriminatory effect?
An Expert, turning to the blockade of Gaza, asked what intermediary measures could be adopted to alleviate the situation.

Statements by Civil Society Organizations from Ecuador

A non-governmental organization coalition pointed out the lack of data on the effects of the agreement with the International Monetary Fund, including the tax harmonization measures and the law on the gross domestic product. There had been a lack of funds to finance measures related to economic, social and cultural rights. The Covenant had not been treated as an international convention by the State.

Centro de Derechos Económicos y Sociales said the prosperity plan signed with the International Monetary Fund had caused employment in Ecuador to be precarious, driven down salaries in both the private and public sector, and reduced the State’s capacities. The impact had been notably felt in the health sector; there had been an increase in the prevalence of dengue fever. Austerity measures should be examined ex ante and ex post, notably as regarded their impact on the rights enshrined in the Covenant.

Another non-governmental organization drew the Committee’s attention to the persistence of contemporary forms of slavery and forced labour of people of African descendant, i.e. the people working on the plantation of the transnational company Furukawa Plantaciones. The relevant authorities had taken no action to provide reparations. Administrative penalties had been handed down against the company, which had had to pay a $ 130,000 fine and had had to close down for a month. The State should provide comprehensive reparations; administrative sanctions were not sufficient.

Another non-governmental organization said 93 per cent of complaints related to violence against children did not lead to a conviction.

Coalición Nacional de Mujeres del Ecuador said six out of 10 women in the State party had been subjected to psychological, physical, sexual or patrimonial violence. Amongst the victims, indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorian women were disproportionately represented. Every year in Ecuador around 2,500 girls under the age of 14 gave birth to children after having become pregnant as a result of sexual violence. On 17 September, despite popular outcry, a vote on the depenalization of abortion in cases of rape had failed. Various treaty bodies had recommended that the Penal Code be reformed, but had been ignored by the Committee.

Another non-governmental organization said the expenses classification system made it difficult to know how much money had been spent on child-related measures. In a climate of austerity and taking into account the effects of the agreement entered into with the International Monetary Fund, this was noteworthy. There was a decrease in social investments. As for child labour, the Government had no national policy to eradicate it.

Another non-governmental organization expressed concern about the situation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. The intersectionality of recommendations made by the Committee on this matter had been ignored. There was a criminalization of women who aborted. There were 435 such women who had been imprisoned, some of whom were very vulnerable - they were pregnant or had had miscarriages.

A non-governmental organization coalition said that over 10 years, there had been a fourfold increase of the carceral population. The number of inmates had gone from 9,000 to 40,000 this year. And yet, the number of prisons now stood at 35, compared to 30 prisons 10 years earlier. There was an overcrowding problem.

A non-governmental organization coalition said that the State must take measures to organize a debate on economic measures that impacted the rights covered by the Covenant. Ecuador should refrain from using the judiciary to retaliate against human rights defenders, notably those who defended the rights covered by the Covenant in the context of austerity.

A non-governmental organization coalition said the State did not have policies to protect indigenous peoples who lived in isolation. There were only guidelines. This amounted to a legal void. Furthermore, there had been a regression: a body responsible for these issues had been disbanded, and the new governmental body that replaced it did not guarantee the rights of indigenous peoples.

A non-governmental organization coalition said the current mining law, which had been adopted in 2019, had given rise to mining disasters on lands occupied by indigenous peoples and peasants. In Rio Blanco, for instance, there were huge swathes of land exploited by private companies, in a manner which was problematic.


For use of the information media; not an official record

CESCR19.11E