12 November 2012
Dear Committee Members, Dear Colleagues,
I am honoured to open this session of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This is an opportunity to share information on the work of OHCHR and the Division I lead – the Research and Right to Development Division – on economic, social and cultural rights with a view to better building on the work of your Committee. To date, we have worked together closely and many of you are familiar with RRDD’s work. In fact, this Committee has a great advantage as Prof. Kedzia formerly led this work in the office and helped create some of the directions which have been sustained until today.
Overall, the work of the Division informs the policy and advocacy positions of the High Commissioner and the Office on a broad range of human rights issues, including economic, social and cultural rights and the right to development. Within OHCHR, the Division also plays an important role in the management of knowledge and lessons learned on human rights. It produces many of the thematic human rights reports mandated by the Secretary General, the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council. And we offer technical cooperation on human rights themes to interested partners be they governments, civil society or UN agencies.
Many of OHCHR’s activities on economic, social and cultural rights and the right to development have links with the work of the treaty bodies in general, and with your work in particular. Let me highlight a few key examples of these activities as they relate to yours.
The Office has regularly participated in days of general discussion and contributed to the discussion of general comments and statements. For instance, inputs were submitted by RRDD colleagues for the discussion of general comment no. 19 on the right to social security, general comment no. 20 on non-discrimination in the field of economic, social and cultural rights and general comment no. 21 on the right of everyone to take part in cultural life. Input was provided as well, on the Committee’s statements on the obligations of States Parties regarding the corporate sector and economic, social and cultural rights, the right to development, and Rio+20. Further, in suggesting ideas for the draft general comments touching on economic, social and cultural rights prepared by other treaty bodies, we have stressed the need for consistency with the doctrine adopted by your Committee in interpreting the relevant rights.
The Office has been active in promoting the judicial protection of economic, social and cultural rights and promoting the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the ICESCR. Some of you will remember the seminar organised in October 2009, which focused on comparative experiences in the adjudication of economic, social and cultural rights. To further this objective, OHCHR field presences – now numbering almost 60 - have been encouraged to step up their advocacy for signature and ratification of the Optional Protocol. This year, the Office organised activities to promote ratification in Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Costa Rica, Mali, Mexico, Moldova, Senegal and Uruguay.
The Office’s work has played a role in contributing to the ratification of the Optional Protocol by Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador and El Salvador, and to its signature by Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Costa Rica and Kazakhstan. I should note that the support of members of the Committee in these efforts was invaluable. I understand that you have almost finalized your rules of procedure for the Optional Protocol and expect to adopt them during the coming weeks. We look forward to further ratifications and the entry into force of this Optional Protocol.
As the Division responsible for knowledge management in the Office, that is, identifying lessons learned and facilitating their systematic application in the work of the Office, we have organised regular consultations on emerging issues in order to develop guidance materials. Consultations have been held on a number of key issues including on economic, social and cultural rights in transitional justice processes; women and economic, social and cultural rights, and the human rights of older persons. Members and former members of CESCR have participated in some of these consultations, and this has greatly enriched the discussions as well as the articulation of important questions, and I wish to thank those of you who made these substantive contributions.
In the process of selecting or developing areas of focus, we have drawn to a large extent on the work of the Committee to frame the issues and to structure the development of guidance materials. In this regard, I would like to briefly mention of a few of these evolving issues.
The Committee has highlighted the important linkages between land and the realisation of economic, social and cultural rights, on many occasions. Our Office has worked fairly extensively on this issue in recent past, and I am pleased to announce that we will launch a website featuring a number of tools on land and human rights before the end of the year. We will provide you with this material at your next session, and hope that it will be of assistance.
The Office’s work on the right to adequate housing and on forced eviction has also advanced over the past years including through our partnership with UN-Habitat. You may already be familiar with OHCHR’s online Right to Adequate Housing Toolkit, which summarises this work and refers to relevant standards, general comments, reports and tools. You may also have seen our recently released publication on Women’s Right to Adequate Housing.
Allow me also to mention the recent Expert Group Meeting on the Security of Tenure which the Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing convened last month, with the participation of CESCR member Ms. Shin. We look forward to further engagement with the Committee in this area.
Our close collaboration with members of your Committee has also seen in the production of a comprehensive methodology on the use of indicators and benchmarks to help measure the implementation of human rights standards. The methodology seeks, among other goals, to facilitate the assessment of the progressive realization of economic, social and cultural rights and provides practical guidance to States Parties in their implementation and in following up on concluding observations. OHCHR will soon publish a guide to assist entrusted government agencies, national human rights institutions and other partners to use this tool. The office looks forward to presenting you with this publication and to discussing possible follow-up work.
These are a few examples of the progress we have made together to spark greater attention to economic, social and cultural rights. These examples also demonstrate ways our work can be mutually reinforcing. The Office looks forward to continuing and expanding what has already been very effective collaboration.
Turning now to your work during this session, allow me to say some words about the busy weeks ahead. In addition to the State party reports being considered and thematic discussions and briefings you will have with a wide variety of stakeholders, you will be discussing the treaty body strengthening process.
You and we are all too well aware of the strains the system is under and the challenges it faces. While a longer term solution is sought, we welcome the approval by ECOSOC of additional resources for this Committee. The Office has been providing further information to the “budget” Committee in New York, as the ECOSOC decision is now awaiting approval by the General Assembly. You will be informed of all the details by HRTD, as colleagues here have been following these developments closely. However, regarding a longer term sustainable solution for the Treaty Body System, I would, in particular, like to refer to the report of the High Commissioner on the strengthening of the human rights treaty bodies, which draws on the three-year consultation process in which you were so closely involved. The report makes a series of recommendations which seek to address many of the challenges facing the treaty body system – to ensure greater predictability, independence, harmonization, and to maximise the impact of the work of treaty bodies. I understand that you will discuss these recommendations in light of your own methods of work. I note with satisfaction that, subsequent to the publication of the High Commissioner’s report, the annual meeting of Chairpersons examined and endorsed the “Addis Ababa Guidelines” on the independence and impartiality of treaty body experts. I am sure your Chair, who was present in Addis Ababa, will brief you on this.
My colleague Ibrahim Salama will also brief you on the newest developments in this process, and other issues which are of particular relevance to the Division he leads and your work, and he will be happy to respond to any questions you may have in this regard.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the outgoing members of the Committee, Ms. Barahona, Mr. Riedel and Mr. Texier for their extremely dedicated work over many years with this Committee and for the cooperation and support lent to activities organised by OHCHR. We certainly hope to be able to count on you for continued cooperation in the future.
Finally, allow me finally to wish you all the very best for a fruitful session.