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Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights exchanges views with Member States

Committee on Economic, Social 
  and Cultural Rights 

 23  May 2014

Committee Expresses Empathy with Flooding Victims in Serbia, Bosnia Herzegovina and Croatia, Shock at Use of Access to Drinking Water as Weapon in Aleppo, Syria
 
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights today exchanged views with Member States on the Committee’s General Comments, the backlog of reports, the simplified reporting procedure, the General Assembly’s treaty strengthening resolution and challenges or obstacles to implementing the provisions of the resolution.
 
Zdzislaw Kedzia, Committee Chairperson, said he would speak to Member States about the session of the Committee, including the implications of the entry into force of the Optional Protocol; the work of the Committee in a wider perspective; and steps taken in the context of the process of strengthening of the treaty bodies.  First, he would like to say that in the spirit of solidarity with suffering people, members of the Committee expressed in their discussions their deep empathy with the victims of the terrible flooding in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia.  Also, Members of the Committee were shocked by the fact that access to drinking water had been used on a mass scale as a weapon in the ongoing conflict against the inhabitants of Aleppo in Syria, which dramatically violated, not only their right to water but also other rights under the Covenant, including the right to health and the right to food. 
 
Poland, the Republic of Korea, Serbia and Paraguay asked about the timeline for adopting the two General Comments that the Chairperson had talked about; the implications of the outcome of the treaty body strengthening process; whether the Committee would be introducing the simplified reporting procedure; challenges or obstacles to implementing the treaty body strengthening resolution; webcasting the sessions of the Committee; and clarification of the simplified reporting procedure.
 
The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 3 p.m. this afternoon, during which the Committee will adopt its concluding observations and recommendations on the reports of Armenia, China, including the Special Autonomous Regions of Hong Kong and Macao, Czech Republic, El Salvador, Indonesia, Lithuania, Monaco, Serbia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan, before concluding its fifty-second session.
 
Statement by the Chairperson of the Committee
 
ZDZISLAW KEDZIA, Committee Chairperson, said he would speak to Member States about the session of the Committee, including the implications of the entry into force of the Optional Protocol; the work of the Committee in a wider perspective; and steps taken in the context of the process of strengthening of the treaty bodies.  First, he would like to say that in the spirit of solidarity with suffering people, members of the Committee expressed in their discussions their deep empathy with the victims of the terrible flooding in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia.  They hoped very much that this situation would ease soon and called on all stakeholders to continue their humanitarian and reconstruction aid to all those affected.  Also, Members of the Committee were shocked by the fact that access to drinking water had been used on a mass scale as a weapon in the ongoing conflict against inhabitants of Aleppo in Syria, which dramatically violated, not only their right to water but also other rights under the Covenant including the right to health and the right to food.  The Committee urged those who committed those violations in such an abhorrent way to immediately stop it and called on all relevant persons, Governments, institutions and organizations to energetically act towards the restoration of the supply of water to the inhabitants of Aleppo.
 
Mr. Kedzia said the Committee was very pleased to note that the number of States parties to the Optional Protocol had increased to 14.  So far, two communications were found to be not eligible for registration because they dealt with countries which were not States parties to the Protocol.  Two others had been sent to the State Party concerned – Spain - for its views on admissibility.  One was related to social security and pension rights and the other to the right to housing.  Depending on the responses, the Committee would consider these communications during the upcoming sessions.
 
The Chairperson said the Committee was preparing the General Comment on Article 7 of the Covenant concerning the right of everyone to the enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work; and the General Comment on sexual and reproductive health.  The Committee hoped to be able to discuss the first draft of at least one of these General Comments during the November session.  The Committee also intensively studied General Assembly Resolution A/RES/68/268 on the strengthening of human rights treaty bodies and discussed its implications for the Committee’s work.  The Committee had welcomed the additional time granted to treaty bodies that should help to ensure timely and more effective implementation of their mandates.  If the reporting rate remained stable it would not take too long to address the existing backlog of reports.  However, new tasks under the Optional Protocol could force the Committee to revisit the issue of timeframe of its work.   The Committee had extensively discussed the proposals for the next Chairpersons meeting, including the one concerning the simplified reporting procedure.  The Committee was open to applying this procedure on a trial basis in selected cases, subject to the consent of the State parties concerned.
 
Discussion
 
Poland asked about the timeline for adopting the two General Comments that the Chairperson had talked about and requested further information on the implications of the outcome of the treaty body strengthening process; whether the Committee would be introducing the simplified reporting procedure; and what other issues the Committee would be able to consider once the backlog was finished.
 
The Republic of Korea asked the Committee if it saw any challenges or obstacles to implementing the treaty body strengthening resolution and requested more information about webcasting and archiving the webcast. 
 
Serbia thanked the Committee for its words of solidarity and encouragement following the floods, and also thanked the Committee for its consideration of the report of Serbia during this session.  The Committee’s concluding observations would be taken into account by the Government.  Serbia was synchronizing its human rights and economic, social and cultural rights with European Union standards.  Serbia’s strong tradition of supporting economic, social and cultural rights would continue. 
 
In response to these questions and comments, the Committee Rapporteur on the General Comment on the right to sexual and reproductive health said the first draft would be ready by the end of September and would then be translated and tabled in the November session for discussion.  Hopefully in the May 2015 session, following the second round of discussion, they might be able to adopt the General Comment.  A Day of General Discussion on this topic had been held in 2010, at which time numerous submissions were provided by Member States.   
 
The two Committee Rapporteurs on the General Comment of the right of everyone to the enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work said the Committee had had an initial discussion on it this week.  This General Comment had distinctive feature and they had had an initial discussion on how to look at the core and legal obligations.  A more complete draft would be available for the Committee to discuss in the November session.  Then they would have a Day of General Discussion sometime in 2015 when the draft would be discussed further. 
 
Mr. Kedzia, answering a question on the simplified reporting procedure, said it had been discussed and should be applied with the consent of States parties.  The Committee would like to go through a trial procedure with regard to selective countries first and hoped to be able to arrive to some important conclusions on its usefulness.  The Committee stressed this because due to the nature of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights, it included a broad range of rights, the implementation of which involved policy making and legal steps covering all areas of social life.  They needed to reflect on how to benefit from any new concepts.  The Committee preferred to start as soon as possible with some countries on a trial basis.  At present, the Committee had a backlog of 35 reports, which would be tackled according to the old system and present rules.  Once countries started presenting reports under the simplified reporting procedure, the Committee expected to be able to reduce the backlog by five reports a year, so it would take four years to eliminate the backlog.  There would be other issues to tackle once the backlog was eliminated, including considering communications under the Optional Protocol, new General Comments, Days of General Discussion to help with General Comments, and further advancing their rules of work. 
 
On webcasting, the Chairperson said the sessions were presently being webcast thanks to the efforts of a non-governmental organization; however this was still not at the level of regular webcasts provided by the United Nations, so this would be a step forward. 
 
Mr. Kedzia thanked Serbia for its kind words.  The Committee appreciated all the work carried out by States parties and regional organizations that contributed to the implementation of the Covenant, but he wished to note that the Committee’s point of reference was the Covenant. 
 
A Committee Expert noted that the backlog could be reduced in a limited amount of time because of limited resources.  He also pointed out preambular paragraph nine of the General Assembly resolution which affirmed the importance of the independence of the treaty bodies, and the specifics of each treaty body. 
 
Paraguay asked for clarification on the simplified reporting procedure.  In response, the President said there would be a list of issues prepared prior to reporting in which the Committee would ask questions and the State party would respond to them according to the guidelines.  So there would be the list of procedures, the report, and then the discussion. 
 
The President, returning to a question from the Republic of Korea about challenges and obstacles in implementing the resolution on the strengthening of treaty bodies, said there were some problems that could only be tackled with the assistance of Member States, like the capacity of the institutions around the Committee that supported its work.  The translation issue was also important as access to translation was not always available and this situation could not continue in the future.  Another important issue was the importance of States parties presenting their reports regularly; otherwise the productivity of the dialogue was affected.  He thanked all the Member States that had participated in the briefing and hoped for good cooperation in the future. 
 
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