15 February 2021
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights today opened its remote sixty-ninth session, hearing opening remarks by Peggy Hicks, Director of the Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures and Right to Development Division at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Renato Zerbini Ribeiro Leão, Chair of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in his opening remarks, said he was glad the Committee was able to continue its work despite the pandemic.
Ms. Hicks said COVID-19 had revealed and exacerbated existing social and economic inequalities. The work of the Committee was all the more critical than ever to ensure that economic, social and cultural rights were protected in the pandemic response and recovery process. The Office had just put in place the Surge Initiative to boost its capacity and support to strengthen country level implementation of economic, social and cultural rights and the Sustainable Development Goals. After one year of intensive engagement with field offices, the Office had seen a 37 per cent increase in economic, social, and cultural rights activities planned in the field. A key component of this initiative was to build up field-focused economic expertise with a group of macroeconomists covering all regions to offer specialized support and advice on integrating human rights into economic policies and strategies. Through this initiative, the Office had been able to engage more extensively with United Nations Resident Coordinators and country teams by reviewing with a human rights lens stimulus packages and emergency measures, and engaging with United Nations country teams on long term United Nations country planning and programming, inter alia.
Ms. Hicks further explained that an important basis of all of this work was the recommendations and normative guidance provided by the Committee and other United Nations human rights mechanisMs. The Office had also done work on key economic, social and cultural rights concepts of “minimum core obligations” and “use of maximum available resources” in the country-specific context, building on critical recommendations of the Committee and the Universal Periodic Review. Moving forward, the Office hoped to draw broader policy lessons from this work and further develop methodologies to operationalize such key economic, social and cultural rights concepts. The statement issued by the Committee on universal and equitable access to vaccines for COVID-19 provided timely guidance, which had been followed by key messages issued by the Office. In the context of the pandemic the Office had also greatly stepped up its work on older persons. The Committee may wish to consider whether it would want to contribute to such an effort by updating General Comment No. 6 on older persons issued in 1995 and its view on a study on the protection gaps of older persons that the Office was finalizing in coming weeks would also be very valuable.
Simon Walker, Chief of the Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Section at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, then invited the new members of the Committee - Nadir Adilov (Azerbaijan); Mohammed Amarti (Morocco); Seree Nonthasoot (Thailand) and Yongxiang Shen (China) – to make their solemn declaration.
Mr. Zerbini Ribeiro Leão said that the Committee had decided, in light of the exceptional circumstances related to COVID-19, to revise the agenda and to postpone item one of the provisional agenda, “election of officers,” to the next session. The election of officers, namely the Chair, Vice-Chairs and Rapporteur, would take place at the next session, in September 2021, when the Committee hoped to meet in person.
The Committee then adopted the agenda and programme of work for the sixty-ninth session, which is taking place virtually from 15 February to 5 March 2021. During the session, the Committee will review the reports of Finland and Latvia.
The following non-governmental organizations took the floor: Tanning Workers Union of the Argentine Republic of the Women Trade Unionists Federal Chapter of Workers, the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Commission of Jurists.
All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found at the session’s webpage.
The Committee will next meet in public on Wednesday, 17 February, at 12.30 to consider the seventh periodic report of Finland (E.C.12/FIN/7).