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Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights holds informal meeting with States

Committee on Economic, Social
  and Cultural Rights

27 February 2020

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights this afternoon held an informal meeting with States, during which they exchanged views on the 2020 treaty body review process, simplified reporting procedure and the general comments under preparation, among other issues.

Renato Zerbini Ribeiro Leão, Committee Chairperson, highlighted the importance of the 2020 review of the treaty body system, which would hopefully improve its financing and sustainability. 

Committee Experts briefed the States on the status of the simplified reporting procedure, the follow-up to Committee’s concluding observations, the work on communications and on progress in the development of general comments on science, on land and on sustainable development.  They urged States ensure that the Committee’s work, including on communications, was sufficiently funded and that the Committee was granted sufficient meeting time.  States which had not yet done so were called upon to ratify the Optional Protocol. 

Chili, Norway, Mauritius, Netherlands, China, Switzerland and Japan addressed the Committee.  They expressed appreciation for the simplified reporting procedure and urged the Committee to streamline its working methods with other treaty bodies and avoid duplication.

All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage.  The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/.

The Committee will next meet in public on Friday, 6 March to close its sixty-seventh session. 

Statements by the Committee Experts

RENATO ZERBINI RIBEIRO LEÃO, Committee Chairperson, thanked the States for their presence at the informal meeting despite their busy schedule.  He highlighted the importance of the 2020 review of the treaty body system, which would hopefully improve the financing and sustainability of the system and allow further ratifications of the Optional Protocol.  The Chair outlined key issues to be discussed, including reporting and the simplified reporting procedure, follow up to concluding observations and communications, and the ongoing work on general comments. 

LAURA-MARIA CRACIUNEAN-TATU, Committee Vice-Chair, said that the Committee continued its monitoring work, both under the traditional and simplified reporting procedure and noted a high number of overdue reports.  Reiterating the Committee’s commitment to engage with all 170 States parties to the Covenant, the Vice-Chair said that the Committee had agreed to offer all States parties a possibility to use the simplified reporting procedure. 

The Committee would also gradually introduce this procedure as of 2021 at the earliest.  The Vice-Chair explained that the Committee had made this decision in light of the positive feedback from the States that had opted for the simplified reporting procedure.  At its previous session, the Committee had decided to reach out to non-reporting States and had sent 18 letters with an offer to meet and discuss reporting issues.  Bilateral meetings with the States that had responded favourably to the Committee’s initiative had already started.

SANDRA LIEBENBERG, Committee Vice-Chair, updated the States on the follow-up to Committee’s concluding observations, which she said was an essential part of the process.  She also said that the newly-proposed pilot follow-up procedure would be assessed in 2021.

RODRIGO UPRIMNY, Committee Expert and Chair of the Working Group on Communications, said the number of communications the Committee had received had gone up significantly, reaching 166 in 2019.  And yet, the Committee had not been granted additional meeting time.  It had ruled on 41 cases in which it had rendered six decisions, found 17 communications inadmissible and had filed 18 communications for various reasons. 

In its decisions, the Committee had clarified doubts related to procedures and the content and scope of rights, including the right to housing, the right to social security and the right to informed consent in case of treatment.  The work on communications highlighted the importance of the Optional Protocol, said Mr. Uprimny and urged States which had not done so to ratify it and provide the necessary funds to support the Committee’s work on communications.

MIKEL MANCISIDOR, Committee Expert, briefed the States on the general comment on science related to article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and said that the first draft had been finalized two months ago.  Since then, the Committee had received 70 contributions from 11 States and more than 50 non-governmental organizations and scientific bodies.  This indicated the importance and enthusiasm for this general comment, which the Committee hoped to adopt the following week.

MICHAEL WINDFUHR, Committee Expert, informed the States about the general comment on land and said that the first draft would be circulated internally during the Committee’s autumn session, prior to making it public.  The Committee envisaged adopting the general comment in 2021 and was looking forward to receiving input from various stakeholders.

SANDRA LIEBENBERG, Committee Vice-Chair, stated that the work on the general comment on sustainable development was at an early stage of incubation.  Initiated by the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development , it would explore the linkages between economic, social and cultural rights and sustainable development.  A first step was the statement the Committee had adopted in May 2019 on the role of the Covenant in fulfilling the pledge to leave no one behind.  The Committee would engage in regional consultations towards the end of 2020 and then follow the usual procedure.

Statements by States

Chile thanked the Committee for the information provided and looked forward to receiving the list of issues for the upcoming report.  Chile urged the Committee to use a similar follow-up procedure as other treaty bodies to facilitate the process. 

Norway, having recently had gone through the review process, appreciated the simplified reporting procedure and encouraged the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to establish one single reporting procedure.  Raising questions for all parts of the Covenant on the first day of the meeting had allowed the Norwegian delegation to provide better, more focused answers.

Mauritius thanked the Committee for extending the simplified reporting procedure, which helped States with small capacity such as Mauritius.  Follow-up action was an essential part of the process and was recently integrated into Mauritius’ national strategy. 

Netherlands, expressing appreciation for the simplified reporting procedure, encouraged the Committee to streamline its working methods with that other treaty bodies.  It was good that the Committee was reaching out to non-reporting States, said the speaker and asked about the Committee’s view on introducing a predictable calendar.

China thanked the Committee for its efforts and looked forward to further cooperation.

Switzerland asked if the Committee intended to adopt a general comment on climate change in view of a recent recommendation on its fourth periodic report.

Japan expressed appreciation for the Committee organizing this discussion, engaging in the treaty body review and expanding the simplified procedure.  In the context of the treaty body review, what measure was the Committee considering to avoid duplication and streamline its working methods?

Discussion

In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts welcomed the many States that took part in the discussion with the Committee, which showed the importance of its work. 

One proposal for the improvement of the Committee’s work in the context of the 2020 treaty body review was to harmonize the reporting calendar with the Human Rights Committee based on an eight-year review cycle.  The two committees would then work in coordination and avoid the overlapping of issues.  At the same time, this scenario would increase in the number of State reviews to 21 or 22 per year, which would require additional resources, as would the transition phase to the new system.  This scenario seemed to present the most advantages and was currently being discussed.

Reports from States parties made the impact of climate change on economic, social and cultural rights increasingly visible.  The Committee was systematically asking questions on climate change, but it yet to determine whether to develop a general comment or expert guidelines of climate change.  In any case, there were currently no resources available to work on such a general comment.

The Committee’s chief area of activity was the consideration of State reports, the Experts stressed.  The Committee had also started working on the simplified reporting procedure and would continue to maintain the substantive part of the dialogue.  The Experts urged States to supplement their reporting with statistics.  The Experts noted that each State had a responsibility to report on the implementation of the recommendations received in the Universal Periodic Review.

Resuming work in the six official languages of the United Nations was a matter of respecting the United Nations Charter, Experts said and reaffirmed their will to maintain close cooperation with States parties.

IBRAHIM SALAMA, Chief of the Human Rights Treaties Branch at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted that the issue of working methods was the most salient; there was progress but the situation was not yet optimal.  Regarding repeating questions, he stressed that different committees had different perspectives.

RENATO ZERBINI RIBEIRO LEÃO, Committee Chairperson, closed the discussion by noting all the important comments, suggestions and questions heard from the States parties.  Everyone was part of the same system, of which people and their rights protected under human rights treaties were the ultimate beneficiaries.

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For use of the information media; not an official record
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