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Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights meets with civil society from Argentina, Mali and Germany

GENEVA (24 September 2018) - The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights this afternoon heard from civil society organizations from Argentina, Mali and Germany, whose reports the Committee will consider this week.

On Argentina, non-governmental organizations highlighted the severe restrictions on abortion rights, and the disproportionate impact this had on young girls in the country.  They also outlined the severe economic conditions facing citizens, and highlighted the issues of agricultural and environmental degradation, low educational attainment of certain groups communities, and restrictions on the rights of indigenous peoples.  Also of concern were health impacts of the lack of regulation on high sugar drinks, and the advertising of tobacco products.

Non-governmental organizations from Mali drew the Committee’s attention to the Government’s failure to adequately protect the work of human rights defenders.  The issue of employment was a major concern for civil society groups, who highlighted the need to address structural problems in the labour market.  Education provision was another issue of concern, in particular the lack of universal education for young children.  The housing needs of Mali’s population was another key discussion point, with the lack of affordable housing undermining key rights of the population.

On Germany, civil society organizations stressed the need for high income countries to deliver on all aspects of their population’s economic, social and cultural rights, pointing to the growing poverty especially among women, the limited educational attainment of more deprived social groups, and to the much more limited education provided to asylum-seekers and refugees.  Several speakers raised concern about the human rights abuses by German companies abroad and the lack of compulsory  human rights due diligence framework, and the fact that Germany - one of the world’s leading arms exporters - had approved arms sales to countries involved in the war in Yemen.

Speaking in the discussion on Argentina were Red de Abogados de Pueblos Fumigados, Fundacion Interamericana del Corazon Argentina, Equipe Nazionale di Pastorale Aborigena, International Disability Alliance (on behalf of Red por las Personas con Discapacidad - REDI), Fundacion Plurales, Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales, Amnesty International, and Defonsoria Edmund Rice.  The Malian Coalition of Human Rights Defenders and Plateforme des Droits Economiques, Sociaux et Culturels took floor in the discussion on Mali.  On Germany, the Committee heard from the national human rights institution, German Institute for Human Rights, and from the following non-governmental organizations: German Anti Poverty Network (National Armutskonferenz), Aktion GEN-Klage, Forum Menschenrechte, Stiftung fur soziale Menschenrechte und partizipation, Forum Pflege Aktuell, Arbeitskereis Arbeit/Soziales Attac Munchen, Doctors of the World Germany, FIAN International: for the Right to Adequate Food, Wake Up Madudu Group, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (with the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights), Bundesvereinigung Trans Federal Association, and Arts Rights Justice Working Group.

The Committee will next meet in public on Tuesday, 19 September, at 10 a.m., to consider the sixth periodic report of Germany (E/C.12/DEU/6).

Discussion on Argentina

Red de Abogados de Pueblos Fumigados said that pesticide use in Argentina could be shown to had led to higher rates of abortion and cancer, and raised concern about the use of those pesticides that were prohibited in Europe and the United States.  In addition, the right to health was being violated as Argentina did not apply current environmental law to the agro-food business.  The Committee should urge Argentina to re-categorize pesticides according to the World Health Organization guidance.

Fundacion Interamericana del Corazon Argentina outlined the high incidence of diseases caused by the use of tobacco and by malnutrition: 57.8 per cent of the population was overweight and youth obesity was increasing.  Restricting the marketing of products with high fat content would help the situation.  The speaker lamented the lack of an authority that assessed the fat and sugar content of advertised products.  At present, 24.1 per cent of teenagers smoked, and the current regulation on tobacco had not lead to a reduction in smoking.  In order to fulfil the obligations under the Covenant, Argentina should abide by the framework agreement on tobacco control.

Equipe Nazionale di Pastorale Aborigena commented on the violence and discrimination faced by indigenous communities in Argentina, and highlighted the lack of resources for the Ombudsman to assess and arbitrate on those violations.  The speaker also outlined the alarming violations underway, due to the use of certain agricultural products.  In the field of land and human rights violations, there was an unequal defense of the rights of indigenous peoples, including in education and family life.

International Disability Alliance, speaking on behalf of Red por las Personas con Discapacidad (REDI), spoke on the rights of people with disabilities, noting that the majority of Argentinians with a disability did not have those disabilities officially recognized by the State.  There had been cut backs for programs helping people with disabilities into work, as well as cut backs in pension rights for people with disabilities.  Conditions for those with mental health problems were poor, with many sufferers locked up in psychiatric units.  All of those policies exacerbated the link between disability and poverty.

Fundacion Plurales highlighted how poverty in Argentina was on the rise, with rural and female communities especially affected.  Laws that slowed down evictions of indigenous communities were not being applied, and access to justice was made harder for indigenous peoples.  Contamination of agricultural lands and exploitation of land for mining affected land access and food security for indigenous peoples unfairly.  Women in rural areas had suffered disproportionately, with Argentina’s actions forcing vulnerable people, especially women, to flee their lands.

Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales said in their statement that Argentina had structural limitations that had gotten worse in the past two years, while the increased public debt led to a loss of housing subsidies and increased the price of public services for the population.  Unemployment had risen, and reforms of pensions and social security had led to a ten per cent real terms increase for citizens, whilst the currency crisis has led to considerable hardships for the population.  The non-governmental organization had sent seven reports to the Committee on, amongst other issues, the situation of migrants, farmers and users of mental health services, as well as on abortion.

Amnesty International said that the review occurred as Argentina was in a huge economic crisis, and asked the Committee to send a strong message to the Government, and a message of support to those seeking the decriminalization of abortion.  The issue was especially acute for girls aged 14-17, where abortion rates are the highest.  They also presented their concerns regarding the agro-farming business, as well as the environmental degradation caused by lithium mining and oil extraction.  In addition, a regressive reform to the migration law associated migration with crime and made it harder for migrants to enter the country.  Amnesty International also highlighted the repression of demonstrations by indigenous peoples and cuts to education and health programs, and asked the Committee to remind Argentina of its overarching commitment to economic and social rights.

Defonsoria Edmund Rice outlined their concerns on the education system in Argentina and in particular the provision of secondary school education.  The country saw a repeat rate of 10.1 per cent last year, with a wide discrepancy between public and private schools.  There was also a wide regional disparity across the country, with some districts seeing as much as one third repeat rates.  A similar pattern could be seen in school drop-out rates.  The Committee should urge Argentina to meet its commitment to send every child to secondary school.

In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts asked what actions would be useful for the Committee to follow up with Argentina, in respect of decriminalizing abortion; the main risks to migrant rights; the main way to improve access to education in the country; the disparity in access to the Internet in rural areas; and whether there was a lack of indigenous programming in rural areas.

A speaker from a non-governmental organization said that Argentina’s legislative chambers had carried out reforms to grant access to abortion in the first 14 weeks, and stressed the critical importance of decriminalizing the work of healthcare professionals, in order to allow them to work with women who seek abortions.  It was also important to limit activism within Argentina from anti-abortion groups to obstruct access to legal abortion, as well as to limit access to comprehensive sex education.
 
It was a matter of concern that the new decree would criminalize migrants, prevent them from gaining entry to Argentina if they had a criminal record, and family unification was no longer allowed under this decree.  Minimum standards of education should be implemented centrally across all regions, despite Argentina’s federal structure, another speaker said. Indigenous communities did not have access to equal licenses for broadcast as other groups.

Discussion on Mali

Malian Coalition of Human Rights Defenders denounced the denounced the infringements of the rights to freedom of expression and demonstration, meant that human rights defenders could not effectively mobilize.  The Committee should urge Mali to domesticate already ratified international instruments, including the Rome Statute, and rehabilitate cultural sites that had been destroyed.

Plateforme des Droits Economiques, Sociaux et Culturels highlighted three major challenges that were regularly flouted in Mali, namely food, labour, and housing, and asked the Committee to recommend Mali to making youth employment a priority of any Government in Mali, and to provide unemployment benefits to out-of-work graduates.  In order to strengthen the right to food, there must be support for local food production in Mali.  With respect to land, a housing guarantee fund should be created to ensure adequate housing.  The cost of essential medicines should be limited, and malaria prevention should be a focus.  All children should receive free primary schooling, and food canteens for these children and boarding schools where necessary, should be funded.  It was important to have a strategy to better manage Koranic schools, in order to minimize that they were targeted for recruitment by terrorist organizations.

In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts asked about the core issues on land management, the speed of privatization of the health service, and whether the housing issues raised were more acute in rural or urban areas.  They also inquired about the impact of tax changes on sugary drinks and tobacco, and remarked that, whilst the Committee was concerned by the risk to health caused by high sugar intake, it did not have the medical competence to make a judgment on the health implications of sugary drinks.

Speakers from the non-governmental organizations indicated that privatization was increasing in speed, and also that the housing issue was more acute in terms of the cost of upkeep for social housing, which should be limited.  Tax changes on sugary drinks and tobacco had had no effect in reducing the consumption of cigarettes.

Discussion on Germany

Statement from the national human rights institution

CLAUDIA MAHLER, German Institute for Human Rights, said that Germany had not been successful in breaking the link between social deprivation and educational attainment, and human rights education was not sufficiently taken into account in the education system.  The protection against discrimination remained insufficient, particularly with regard to young migrants and persons with disabilities, who were prevented to enter the labour market by equal treatment and equal opportunities laws, which must be broadened in scope.  Asylum seekers' children did not currently have access to education, the benefits for asylum seekers had been switched from cash to in-kind, while family reunification was effectively suspended.  Finally, intersexed children were still victims of often irreversible surgery, Ms. Mahler said.

Statements from the non-governmental organizations

German Anti Poverty Network (National Armutskonferenz) outlined the increase in poverty amongst the employed in Germany, despite the increase in employment rates over the past year, noting that it was often women who worked in marginal employment, which was rarely a bridge into fulltime work.  The Government should contain the low wage sector, the speaker said, and asked for an end to sanctions against recipients of benefits, of which 950,000 had been imposed in 2017.  Those increased poverty, and forced recipients into relying on more precarious work.

Aktion GEN-Klage said that genetic engineering was being outsourced to other countries where regulations on this industry could be circumvented, or where rigorous labelling was not required.  Once in use, the genetically engineered organisms could not be removed from the ecosystem.  The German Government was obliged to protect farmers and consumers from the risks posed by such genetically engineered products, the speaker said and called for the promotion of non-genetically modified seeds.

Forum Menschenrechte said that Germany was still to ratify the Optional Protocol on a communications procedure, and said that asylum seekers should leave reception centres as soon as possible and be granted access to the German health service.  Asylum-seekers who were victims of crime, especially women, should be allowed to report crimes against them without fear of prosecution from any immigration infringements.  The right to adequate housing and shelter was acutely limited in Germany due to high rents and inadequate social housing provision by the State.  Germany had not enacted laws on due diligence for corporate entities, preferring a voluntary framework, and urged Germany to implement a framework requiring German companies to carry out a human rights due diligence and provide victims with access to justice and remedies, where crimes were committed.

Stiftung fur soziale Menschenrechte und partizipation demanded that Germany signed and ratified the Optional Protocol on a communications procedure and called for the incorporation of social and human rights, going beyond the basic welfare principle.  Housing shortage and violent attacks on homeless people had increased in recent years.

Forum Pflege Aktuell called for an end to the inhumane conditions of nursing homes in Germany, asking for immediate measures to improve the situation.  Lack of food and drink, infrequent care, and cases of assault were all infringements on the economic and social rights of residents of nursing homes.

Arbeitskereis Arbeit/Soziales Attac Munchen said many students were at risk of malnutrition as schools did not provide breakfast. Lunch was also not provided in all schools.  Poor students were on many occasions not able to participate in the social life of a school due to hunger and neglect.

Doctors of the World Germany mentioned the inadequacy, and even the lack of health care, not only for asylum-seekers but also for nationals of other European Union countries, explained by the fact that one had to stay in the country for at least five years to be able to benefit from all the necessary health care.  Even in cases of emergency care, certain non-nationals were not entitled to reimbursement for care received.  The Government must remove the legal barriers limiting the provision of health care for non-citizens.

FIAN International: for the Right to Adequate Food expressed concern about human rights abuses by German companies abroad.  It was becoming increasingly difficult to become a farmer in Germany, the speaker said and urged Germany to implement a framework to prevent the rapid increase in the price of farmland.  The Committee should address, in their dialogue with Germany, the issue of land concentration, and the sale of farmland to non-farmers.

Wake Up Madudu Group gave an account of the eviction of a group by the Ugandan government, on behalf of a German coffee manufacturer, without any compensation, and said that Germany should take steps to alleviate the suffering of the Madudu people, as Germany was the country of origin of the oppressing company.

Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights said that Germany was one of the world’s leading arms exporters, and had approved arms sales to countries involved in the war in Yemen.  The Committee should recommend Germany to comply with international rules on the delivery of arms to counties at war, and to stand by its commitments on arms exports under the Covenant.  The speaker also called on the limitations of small licenses for weapons, and for the implementation of gender sensitive measures for women refugees and asylum seekers in reception centres.

Bundesvereinigung Trans Federal Association explained the issues gender diverse people faced and called for gender recognition based on self-determination only, and not based on the assessment of third parties.  Protection of gender diverse children and youth against discrimination and harm was essential, as they were particularly vulnerable to depression and suicide.  Medical services should respect gender self-identification.

Arts Rights Justice Working Group presented the importance of the protection of artistic expression, and said that in Germany, threats to artistic freedom had come from third parties and political groups, and acknowledged that Germany was a defender of those freedoms.

In the discussion that followed, Committee experts asked whether a case had been brought in German courts against the company involved in evictions in Uganda, and inquired about the cause of the high number of sanctions on those claiming social benefits.  The Committee shared the concern about genetically modified foods, and did not think it was a problem unique to Germany.

Responding, representatives of non-governmental organizations said that there had been at attempts to bring the case for Ugandan evictions to German courts, but there had been a conflict of interest in the process.  The sanctions on benefits recipients were imposed for a range of reasons, such as missed appointments, or procedural issues around paperwork, and stressed that the sanctions were high.  A speaker stressed the Germany had a particularly poor record of labelling genetically modified products.
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For use of the information media; not an official record