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Economic, social and cultural rights reviewed at Human Rights Council

UN experts present their reports to the Human Rights Council on cultural rights, education, health and poverty.

Children in Nobouday housing slum close to Old Dhaka, Bangladesh © UN Photo/Kibae Park The report of the Independent Expert in the field of cultural rights, Farida Shaheed, analyzes the extent to which the right to access and to enjoy cultural heritage forms part of international human rights law. Stressing the need for a human rights-based approach the Independent Expert explores the concept of cultural heritage from this perspective and presents a non-exhaustive list of human rights issues related to cultural heritage.

“States should ensure that cultural heritage policies and programmes are not implemented at the expense or to the detriment of concerned communities,” Shaheed notes. “The preservation/safeguarding of cultural heritage should aim at ensuring human development, the building of peaceful and democratic societies and the promotion of cultural diversity.”

The Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Kishore Singh, notes that ensuring equality of opportunity in education is an overarching principle in core human rights treaties. The promotion of equal opportunities in education both in law and in practice is an on-going challenge for all States and one that requires not only the elimination of discriminatory practices, but also the adoption of temporary special measures to foster equality in practice.

“Given the mutually reinforcing nature of different forms of discrimination and inequality in the context of education, States should address multiple forms of inequality and discrimination through comprehensive policies,” Singh said. “Prevailing disparities in access to education – between boys and girls and between rich and poor regions – must be given special consideration, recognizing that good policies backed by a commitment to equality can make a difference. Policy measures must respond to the need for making learning accessible for the most marginalized and vulnerable.”

The Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Anand Grover, examines the ways in which human rights, and the right to health in particular, can add value to development policies and programmes. Using the example of HIV/AIDS, the Special Rapporteur considers projects in which a human rights-based approach has been utilized, and explores the value added of that approach.

“The need to incorporate human rights into development is important for the long-term sustainability and legitimacy of development as an enterprise. Many models of development failed to address basic human needs, and further, neglected the rights of people whilst pursuing development outcomes supposedly designed to benefit them,” Grover stressed. “The right to health can be a particularly powerful reference in that regard because of its close links to a full range of other rights and the crucial role that health plays in development, both human and economic.”

In her report, the Independent Expert on the question of human rights and extreme poverty, Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, sets out the parameters on how human rights-can inform plans to recover from the global economic and financial crises, with a particular focus on the most vulnerable and marginalized groups. She urges States to see recovery as an opportunity for change, a chance to rectify deeply ingrained poverty and social exclusion, restore social cohesion and lay the foundations for more equitable, sustainable societies.

“While the impact of the crises has differed markedly in each country, all States must take into account their international human rights obligations when designing policy responses. Before implementing any policy measure, States must assess its social impact, including from a gender perspective, and should only adopt policies that are compatible with their international human rights obligations,” notes Sepúlveda Carmona.

“Cuts in funding to social services that have the greatest impact on the lives of those living in poverty should be a measure of last resort, and should be taken only after serious consideration of all alternative policy options, including how funding to other areas not directly linked with the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights might be otherwise reduced,” she adds.

1 June 2011