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Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights hears from civil society organizations from Colombia, Republic of Korea and Republic of Moldova

Committee on Economic, Social 
and Cultural Rights  

18 September 2017

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights this afternoon heard from civil society organizations from Colombia, the Republic of Korea and the Republic of Moldova, whose reports the Committee will consider this week.

In Colombia, civil society organizations highlighted the issue of rights and access to reparations in the wake of the peace settlement recently signed to end a decades-long civil war.  They raised such topics as the denial of the right to consultation on land use now that the conflict was over, the use of genetically modified seeds and plants, and other environmental concerns arising from an economic model dependent on extracting gas, oil and minerals from the Colombian soil, which often resulted in displacement of populations.  The right of the Colombian diaspora to take part in the ongoing settlement was raised, as well as the protection of the rights of women, sexual minorities and other vulnerable groups in the context of the peace process.

On the Republic of Korea, the Committee’s attention was drawn to the failure of this country to adopt a comprehensive anti-discrimination law, gender wage gap which at 36.5 per cent was the highest in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and a lacuna in workers’ rights in face of powerful industrial conglomerates (“Chaebols”) which were traditionally hostile to unionization and the right to strike.  The problems of an aging population, including high rates of poverty and suicide among the elderly and a below-the average level of public spending for this group, were highlighted.

As for the Republic of Moldova, concerns were raised about the rights of persons with disabilities, with speakers highlighting the lack of accessibility to public building and educational institutions being at the root of their discrimination and marginalization.  The most discriminated ethnicity was Roma: discriminatory attitudes of the majority towards this group continued in the labour market, in access to education, health and other social services, while Roma women were victims of multiple discrimination.  A concern was raised about the rights of persons diagnosed with mental conditions who were at risk from unsafe and even cruel treatment such as enforced detention.

Speaking on Colombia were the Ombudsman of Colombia and the following non-governmental organizations: Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo, Corporación Desarrollo Solidario, Corporación Grupo Semillas, Campaña Colombiana Contra Minas, Consultas Populares en Colombia, Red Internacional de Derechos Humanos, Congreso de los Pueblos, Asociación Colectivo Mujeres al Derecho, Corporación por la Defensa Ambiental y el Desarrollo Sostenible, Unión de médicos yageceros de la Amazonia Colombiana, and Constituyente Exiliados Políticos.

Taking the floor on the Republic of Korea were the National Human Rights Commission of the Republic of Korea; GongGam Human Rights Foundation, Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and People’s Solidarity Participatory Democracy who spoke on behalf of 74 civil society organizations; and the Advocates for Public Interest Law, Korean House for International Solidarity and the Rainbow Action against Sexual Minority Discrimination.

The national human rights institution of the Republic of Moldova, the Council for the Prevention and Elimination of Discrimination and Ensuring Equality addressed the Committee, together with the non-governmental organizations Centre of Legal Assistance for Persons with Disabilities, Association of Women Lawyers of the Republic of Moldova, and the Moldovan Institute for Human Rights.

The most discriminated ethnicity was Roma, said Mr. Feldman, noting that discriminatory attitudes of the majority towards this group continued in the labour market, in access to education, health and other social services; Roma women were victims of double discrimination. 

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights will next meet in public on Tuesday, 19 September, at 3 p.m., to start its consideration of the sixth periodic report of Colombia (E/C.12/COL/6).

Discussion with the national human rights institutions from Colombia, Republic of Korea and Republic of Moldova

ALVARO AMAYA, Delegate Defender for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Ombudsman of Colombia, said in his statement that the Ombudsman had a specific mandate to promote economic, social and cultural rights, in cooperation with public and private bodies.   It was important for Colombia to adopt a decision to ratify the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights that Colombia had signed, unfortunately had a limited application, focused mainly on trade union rights.  The second issue of concern was the low access to education in remote and rural areas and the severe gaps in terms of not only infrastructure but also availability of teachers and school supplies and materials.   A study conducted by the Ombudsman had shown that in 2015, the national coverage in primary and secondary education was only 46 per cent, and was as low as 19 per cent in one of the remote districts . 

The Ombudsman was concerned about discrimination against students in schools, including on the grounds of race and social origin, and sexual orientation and gender identity.   On the issue of complaints, Mr. Amaya said that during the 2010-2015 period, the Ombudsman alone had filed 32,224 complaints with the authorities in the area of economic, social and cultural rights, which particularly concerned the right to healthcare.   During the same period, it had received around 100,000 petitions from the citizens which concerned chiefly the right to health, followed by housing, labour related issues and education related matters.   Finally, the Committee should urge Colombia to pay particular attention to the vulnerable groups especially women and civil victims of armed conflict in ensuring the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, including through the amendment of the law on victims on the issue of reparations.

LEE KYUNGSOOK, Standing Commissioner, National Human Rights Commission of the Republic of Korea, said that the Commission protected and promoted human rights in the Republic of Korea since it had been founded in 2001.  It was an independent agency whose major functions included research, recommendations, investigations, and applying remedies against human rights abuses and discrimination.  The Republic of Korea had failed to live up to its commitments to end discrimination in many areas despite its efforts since the last review by this Committee which had urged the Government to pass a comprehensive anti-discrimination law, said the Commissioner, but the legislation had not yet been enacted to this effect. 

The gender wage gap was 35.6 percent and remained the largest in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries.  The proportion of female lawmakers stood at 17 percent.  The Commission was attempting to change this through awareness-raising and other initiatives.  Youth unemployment had worsened over the last five years and the Government had unveiled a plan to tackle this, while the attempts to revise the social security had fallen short.  The fast-aging population meant that elder abuse was becoming a notable problem, with elder suicides taking place at twice the national rate.  Child abuse was also a problem that needed to be tackled, although increased reporting rates may indicate greater awareness of it as a problem rather than greater incidence.  Foreign workers in the country were vulnerable to exploitation and even violence in the workplace. 

YAN FELDMAN, Council for the Prevention and Elimination of Discrimination and Ensuring Equality of the Republic of Moldova, started by explaining that the Council was an independent autonomous public body which could issue legally binding decisions, and had the mandate to examine complaints of discrimination and promote equality.  More than 70 per cent of its decisions concerned equality in the area of economic, social and cultural rights, while discrimination cases related to the discrimination on the grounds of sex, age, and religion.  The law in the Republic of Moldova did not criminalize all forms of discrimination, which reduced the effectiveness of the Council’s decisions, while its institutional framework – understaffing and dependence on the Ministry of Finance for budgets – impaired the effectiveness of the remedies for rights violations.  The most discriminated ethnicity was Roma, said Mr. Feldman, noting that discriminatory attitudes of the majority towards this group continued in the labour market and in access to education, health and other social services, while Roma women were victims of double discrimination.  

Mr. Feldman also drew the attention of the Committee to the discrimination against women in the labour market and in the workplace, and to the employment situation of persons with disabilities who represented only 0.9 per cent of the current workforce.  Incentives and other special measures to increase the employment of persons with disabilities should be urged.   The law on the public system of pensions had been recently changed, but benefitted only those who had reached the pensionable age on 1 January 2017; the Council considered this law discriminatory and was of the opinion that all pensioners, regardless of their age, should be able to have their pensions re-examined under this law.  Further investments into the development of the personal assistants system was needed: currently, there were only 1,800 personal assistants for the population of 27,000 persons with severe disabilities.  The right to marry was linked to the legal capacity, thus those without it could not marry and start a family – it was persons with disabilities who were most affected by this law thus the Committee should urge the Government to ensure their equal rights in this regard.

In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts asked whether the problem in Colombia was that the public policies were not in place, or that the current policies and measures were insufficient.  

The National Human Rights Commission of the Republic of Korea was asked to explain its investigative competences and their limitation to only certain articles of the Constitution, and to assess whether the available resources were sufficient to enable it to implement its mandate.

What was the situation with the actual implementation of the regulations and national action plan for Roma population in the Republic of Moldova: which practical measures were being taken to implement them and what results had been achieved?

YAN FELDMAN, Council for the Prevention and Elimination of Discrimination and Ensuring Equality of the Republic of Moldova, said in response that the investigative mandate of the Council was simple, but it did not have a firm legal foundation in all cases, and this was the key issue.

ALVARO AMAYA, Delegate Defender for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Ombudsman of Colombia, said that in Colombia, the public policies in the area of economic, social and cultural rights were in place, but their implementation was insufficient.  There were some gaps in the policies, but fundamentally the limitations in the enjoyment of rights were due to poor effectiveness of the existing policies rather than their absence.

Statements from the civil society organizations from Colombia

Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo said that poverty was rife in Colombia and that illegal employment meant that social protection was often lacking.  The extractive industries had created displacement and there had been no follow-up on recommendations that vulnerable populations should be included in these industrial processes.  Added to this was a picture of poor human rights protections for sexual, racial and other minorities.

Corporación Desarrollo Solidario said people of African descent in the Montes de María were important to the Colombian economy but the conflict in that area had left many people economically vulnerable and hungry.  The peace agreement had left them behind and industrial and agricultural activity had polluted their water in contravention of their right to food and clean water.

Corporación Grupo Semillas said the use of genetically modified crops and seeds was detrimental to the rights of indigenous people and the Government had ignored all recommendations to include indigenous people in deciding whether such technologies should be used on their lands.  A total moratorium on their use was called for, as well as the right of local people to declare their land genetically modified-free.

Campaña Colombiana Contra Minas addressed the issue of the eradication of the coca crops and plantation and said that many peasants involved in those activities had lost limbs to landmines.  Although the Committee had already issued a recommendation to Colombia to protect the citizens and pay out the compensations to all those who were victims of landmines, none had been paid out so far.  What was more, the peasants involved in the coca eradication operations were not volunteers, as the Government claimed, but were forced to do this dangerous work because of poverty and lack of other opportunities. 

Consultas Populares en Colombia said that although Colombia recognized the right to self-determination and that sovereignty resided with people, the reality was different and the Colombian communities had to live with the imposed mining projects even when those had been refused in the popular consultations.  The Committee should encourage Colombia to improve consultations with all stakeholders before starting large mining and development projects, and above all, accept the results of popular consultations and the prior, free and informed consent.

Red Internacional de Derechos Humanos raised concern that the 15 per cent or more of the Colombian citizens living abroad were traditionally excluded from the participation in the country’s affairs.  The country did not even know how many of its migrants and citizens were abroad.  There was a lack of voluntary return policy which would guarantee the right to truth, the guarantee of non-repetition, and protection from violence.  The State should carry out a broad census of Colombians living abroad, recognize refugees and include them as victims in the single registrar and ensure the stabilization of those refugees who did not wish to return.

Congreso de los Pueblos said that the final peace settlement underway was not taking into account the fundamental economic rights, with living standards being driven down by reliance on extractive industries and the declining prices of commodities.  This model entailed the displacement of peoples and went against their constitutional rights.

Asociación Colectivo Mujeres al Derecho said the situation of rural women in Colombia was not reflected in public statistics but another look would reveal that information needed updating with a gender focus.  Gender-based indicators were needed in the agricultural and rural sectors so that the compensation for lands lost as a result of the conflict could be made now that the peace process was underway.

Corporación por la Defensa Ambiental y el Desarrollo Sostenible, speaking for more than 200 concerned groups, said the Macarena Special Management Area (AMEM) was the meeting point of the Andes, Amazonian and Orinoco ecosystems and it needed environmental assessments in order to protect it in the wake of the peace agreement.  The Government had sold lands in the wake of the agreement, said the speaker, urging the suspension of forest clearances and mining operations in the area.

Unión de médicos yageceros de la Amazonia Colombiana said that the mission of the organization was to heal individuals and communities and make peace with the land.   Colombia should suspend all mining projects where the prior, free and informed consent procedure had not been conducted in accordance with the spiritual practices of the people and the procedures of the Government.  Colombia should also support the construction of a comprehensive health care for female victims of the conflict who needed bodily and spiritual rehabilitation, ensure the collective ethnic reparations and restitution of land rights, and the compliance with the ethnic chapter of the final agreement for the end of the armed conflict.

Constituyente Exiliados Políticos said that the organization was representing Colombians forced in exile, many of whom were among the eight million persons internally displaced by the armed conflict.  The selective assassination of human rights leaders and activists continued, including after the signing of the peace accord – some 56 people had been assassinated between 2007 and 2017.  The peace agreement had established a comprehensive system of truth, justice and compensation, with the compensation to the victims being at its heart.  The exiles must be considered as victims of the conflict as well and be adequately compensated.

Statements from the civil society organizations from the Republic of Korea

GongGam Human Rights Foundation, Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and People’s Solidarity Participatory Democracy spoke on behalf of 74 civil society organizations from the Republic of Korea.

GongGam Human Rights Foundation drew the attention to the rapidly ageing population in the country, which was much above the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average, while the portion of the gross domestic product spent on the elderly remained below its average.  The Republic of Korea had not yet adopted a comprehensive anti-discrimination law despite being recommended to do so by the Committee.  The Constitution reserved economic, social and cultural rights for citizens, which meant that non-citizens were barred for bringing claims before the Constitutional Court for rights violations, and were effectively excluded from social benefits and social security schemes.  Migrant workers suffered particular restrictions and lack of legal protection as well.

Korean Confederation of Trade Unions said that conglomerates (“Chaebols”) in the Republic of Korea avoided their obligations as employers by outsourcing and were abusing the concept of the self-employed workers.  High rates of minimum wage violation and the erosion of union rights, for example among Samsung workers, made it impossible for strikes to take place legitimately.

People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy said expensive private health insurance coverage and lack of provision of public hospitals eroded citizens’ right to health.  Similar scenarios were seen in the right to housing, the right to education, gender equality, and the protection of the family, children and the elderly.  In those arenas, the Republic of Korea compared unfavourably with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development averages.

Advocates for Public Interest Law said that Samsung was operating huge palm oil plantations in Indonesia which threatened indigenous peoples and children’s health there.  In Uzbekistan, the Republic of Korea continued to purchase cotton said to have been produced with forced labour to make banknotes.  The Government also gave huge subsidies to fishing companies said to operate with poor working conditions.

Korean House for International Solidarity said that the Republic of Korea was preparing the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights, but it had not made clear whether it would accept the recommendations made by the Working Group on Business and Human Rights following its visit to the country.  The civil society was not involved in the drafting of the national action plan and there was a concern that it would not meet the expectations of the international community, including in the aspect of extraterritorial obligations of the State.

Rainbow Action against Sexual Minority Discrimination, a coalition of 27 non-governmental organizations on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, said that in the Republic of Korea, this group was subject to discrimination, violence and widespread hate speech in daily life.  The Military Criminal Act still viewed consensual sexual relations between same sex adults as a criminal offence, while the conversion therapy was imposed under the pretext that “homosexuality can be cured”.

Statements from the civil society organizations from the Republic of Moldova

Centre of Legal Assistance for Persons with Disabilities said that the lack of accessibility was among the major factors that caused discrimination against persons with disabilities and undermined their right to access education, health and work.  The capital city was almost entirely inaccessible for wheelchair users, and most public buildings lacked even most basic accessibility, such as ramps.  The Committee should urge the Republic of Moldova to adopt time-bound accessibility plan of action, especially for the newly constructed buildings and for public institutions, and also adopt a plan to ensure reasonable accommodation in educational institutions.

Association of Women Lawyers of the Republic of Moldova said that the judicial system was stacked against class actions in human rights cases, and even lawyers were unwilling to take the State to court.  The Government had not made any effort to protect lawyers’ employment rights, such as sick leave or maternity cover, which lead to the “deprofessionalisation” of legal practices.  The Government must adjust its normative framework to ensure that lawyers, especially female lawyers, were protected from employment-based discrimination.

Moldovan Institute for Human Rights said that access to medical treatment for people with mental illnesses was severely restricted and under-resourced.  Patients were not aware of their rights and were sometimes involuntarily detained in psychiatric facilities, which were less than adequate for the task.  This lead to an estimate five percent death rate in such facilities.  People with HIV were singled out for discrimination, against the global norm.

Discussion on Colombia

Committee Experts questioned whether there really was a case for Colombia to answer in the specific targeting of indigenous land rights, and expressed concern about the low levels of school attendance in rural areas, asking if children’s employment in mines could be a cause.  What consideration had been given to children’s rights in the outcome of the peace settlement?  Furthermore, what was the security of union leaders in rural Colombia?  What was the picture with regard to housing rights?

Responding, the civil society organizations said there was no “space for them to bring up non-compliance and data gathering with the Government.  A law on consultation was not being upheld and cases tended to arise only after the planning for land use had taken place, with authorities ignoring representations by indigenous people.  In addition, the results of popular consultations were routinely ignored and bills were being proposed to water them down further.

The gender-based focus of the peace process had been unique but nonetheless there remained a blind-spot with respect to historically marginalized parts of the population, including rural women.  With respect to the right to housing, responsibilities were allocated to private providers which lead to a deficit of housing stock and thousands of forced evictions against all rights norms.

Rural farming methods were ignored and marginalised in favour of industrialized models of agriculture.  A policy was in place that seemingly “criminalised” the use of native seeds and prioritised the use of genetically modified ones.

Discussion on the Republic of Korea

Committee Experts inquired about the availability of disaggregated data on suicide, and remarked that the hostility of “Chaebols” to trade unions was well-known.  To what extent this impacted the union-employer relations more widely in the economy of the country and what could be done to enhance the right for workers to take industrial action?  Experts inquired if the Government was sufficiently following-up on its commitments under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and about the level of social spending compared to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development averages.

Non-governmental organizations’ representatives said that the economic development of the Republic of Korea had been a joint industrial-military project under the historical military dictatorship and in some ways this had cast a long shadow on the structure of the economy today. 

The major responsibility of the “Chaebols” was job creation not workers’ protection so it was inevitable that the standard of workers protection was low.  Industrial action was nearly always declared illegal.  The tenuous web of sub-contracted work and other factors militated against organized industrial action and the terms on which it could legally take place were very narrow. 

Discussion on the Republic of Moldova

Committee Experts asked whether or not discrimination against female lawyers in the Republic of Moldova was a specific restriction on lawyers or simply all female employees;
The process of disability certification in the country; and about the changes in the measuring of poverty in the country.

Moldovan civil society representatives said women lawyers were discriminated against because they were obliged to suspend their work to get medical assistance or childcare.  Meanwhile, support for care with children with disabilities was not taken into account in the normal pension system.  Certification of disability was based on medical factors.

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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