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Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights' dialogue with Belgium discusses impact of taxation, climate change and poverty policies on rights

Committee on Economic,
Social and Cultural Rights

20 February 2020

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights concluded today its consideration of the fifth periodic report of Belgium on measures taken to implement the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  Experts reviewed how the Government’s policies on taxation, climate change and poverty affected rights enshrined in the Covenant.

Committee Experts welcomed efforts to reduce carbon emissions and to minimize the negative impact of climate change on economic, social and cultural rights in Belgium through a national adaptation plan.  However, Belgium was not on track to meet its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 15 per cent by 2020 and by 35 per cent by 2030 compared to 2005.  

Experts asked why public expenditure on social protection, especially in the realm of healthcare and unemployment, had decreased during the reporting period.  The State party had reported that the planned reduction of corporate tax to 25 per cent was a result of scaling back financial crises-related increases.  Civil society organizations called this creating a tax haven. 

Experts also requested information regarding the Government’s commitment to lift 380,000 people out of poverty.  The poverty rate according to Eurostat had remained the same, around 20.3 per cent, with 5.1 per cent of severe material deprivation. 

The delegation explained that Belgium took the issue of poverty very seriously, in particular child poverty.  In addition to the Third Federal Plan to Fight against Poverty, communities and regions had developed various plans putting forth a comprehensive and coordinated strategy to fight against poverty and reduce inequalities through all their policies. 

On climate change, the National Energy and Climate Plan envisaged the reduction of non-European Union Emission Trading Scheme gas emissions by 35 per cent, the reduction of energy consumption, as well as enhancing energy efficiency by 12 to 15 per cent, amongst other measures.  Renewable energy had an increasingly important place in Belgium’s energy mix.  Belgium ranked for instance first in the world when it came to hydrogen distribution.  Furthermore, the Prime Minister had announced today on Twitter that an agreement had been reached between all governments on a long-term strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Regarding the finances of the Government, the previous Government had implemented a tax reform plan called the “Tax Shift” to increase employment.  In that regard, it had been successful.  The Tax Shift had done away with tax exemption.  It was not true that Belgium had become a tax haven; it was still one of the European Union countries with the largest “tax burden”.  While additional verifications would have to be made, it would be surprising if the healthcare related expenditures had gone down. 

In his concluding remarks, Michael Windfhur, Committee Rapporteur for Belgium, thanked the delegation, saying that it had been a constructive dialogue.  The Committee was pleased that the delegation had striven to answer all the questions.  The Committee would issue recommendations, and it would be useful for the Government to go over them with civil society organizations.  Mr. Windfhur thanked civil society organizations from Belgium.

Geert Muylle, Permanent Representative of Belgium to the United Nations Office at Geneva, thanked the Chairperson and the Committee for their interest in Belgium and the high number of high quality questions.  The delegation hoped it had succeeded in providing comprehensive answers.  He reiterated Belgium’s firm commitment to respect human rights in general and the Covenant in particular.  Belgium was steadfastly committed to promoting and protecting human rights.

Renato Zerbini Ribeiro Leão, Committee Chairperson, concluded the dialogue by thanking the delegation.  The Committee had seen that Belgium was indeed committed to human rights.  It had been a very constructive dialogue.
 
The delegation of Belgium consisted of the representatives of the Ministry of Wallonie-Bruxelles, the Government Office of Flanders in Geneva, the Government Office of French Community and the Wallonie Region in Geneva, the Federal Public Service of Justice, the Federal Public Service of Social Integration Programming, the Foreign Affairs Department of Flanders, Brussels International, the Federal Public Service Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue, and the Permanent Mission of Belgium to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/.

The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m.  this afternoon, to consider the seventh periodic report of Ukraine (E/C.12/UKR/7).

Report

The Committee has before it the fifth periodic report of Belgium E/C.12/BEL/5.

Presentation of the Report

GEERT MUYLLE, Permanent Representative of Belgium to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that under Belgium’s unique federal structure, several governments were responsible for the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  The report and the answers to the list of issues were the result of close cooperation between various federal and federated bodies aiming to give a general overview of Belgium’s compliance with the Convention.

The composition of the delegation showed the variety of government bodies tasked with ensuring the respect for economic, social and cultural rights, and reflected the structure of the Belgian State following various constitutional reforms.

TOM BEVERS, General Counsellor at the Internal Relations and Socio-Economic Studies Division of the Employment, Work, and Social Concertation Federal Public Service of Belgium, said that in April 2019, Belgium had adopted a law creating a Federal Institute for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights.  This Institute would allow a comprehensive and transversal implementation of fundamental rights at the federal level, notably as regarded the monitoring of compliance with international obligations.  The creation of this Institute was a first step towards the creation of a national human rights institution in line with the Paris Principles.

On employment rights, various bodies of the federal system had adopted, at their respective levels, a vast array of measures to foster employment, which had led to a significant increase in the number of jobs available in Belgium.  Certain kinds of unemployed people were specifically targeted, such as people with disabilities, older people and youth.  To fight against discrimination, several initiatives had been launched to improve the efficacy of anti-discrimination laws, including in matters related to employment.  Belgium had always been firmly committed to the right to education, which was enshrined in article 24 of its Constitution.  The two large communities of the country had adopted plans to fight against school dropout.  Thanks to cooperation with parents’ associations, schools strove to foster excellence and inclusion, countering socio-economic segregation in education.

Regarding the situation of migrants and people seeking international protection, Belgium had opened in 2018 family shelters in closed centres for forced returns, where families had been housed between the summer 2018 and April 2019.  In April 2019, the Constitutional Court had suspended the legal provision pertaining to those “family homes”.  Families were no longer housed in them.   However, special protective measures had been put in place.  Alternatives had to be proposed to families prior to them being held in closed centres, such as remaining in their own homes under certain conditions.

Belgium took the issue of poverty very seriously, in particular child poverty.  In addition to the Third Federal Plan to Fight against Poverty, communities and regions had developed various plans putting forth a comprehensive and coordinated strategy to fight against poverty and reduce inequalities through all their policies.

Belgium had had a national action plan on business and human rights since 2017, which outlined 33 actions by federal and federated authorities.  In May 2019, an evaluation of its implementation had been carried out in collaboration with stakeholders, which had led to Belgian companies, unions, civil society organizations and experts sharing their opinion on progress achieved and the way forward to further Belgium’s work on the promotion and protection of human rights.

The implementation of fundamental rights was an ongoing process.  Ongoing initiatives as well as suggestions and observations put forward by civil society would be used to prepare the follow up to the present report.

Questions by the Country Rapporteur

MICHAEL WINDFHUR, Committee Rapporteur for Belgium, noted that Belgium had a complicated system, especially understanding which body was competent for what, and which plans applied to whom. 

On the national human rights institution, there had been reports that one of the bodies in charge of looking at the situation at the regional level had decided to no longer be part of UNIA, the national human rights institution.  What steps were envisaged to extend the institution’s mandate to cover all levels of government and eventually to treat individual complaints?  Was the foreseen extension to the level of federated entities likely to happen, given the current developments concerning UNIA?

The Rapporteur welcomed Belgium’s efforts to bring a human rights based approach to climate negotiations.  It was essential that climate policies were linked with human rights imperatives.  The Committee also welcomed efforts to reduce carbon emissions and to minimize the negative impact of climate change on economic, social and cultural rights in Belgium through a national adaptation plan.  However, Belgium was not on track to meet its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 15 per cent by 2020 and by 35 per cent by 2030 compared to 2005.  He requested information regarding the status of approval of Belgium’s National Plan for Energy and Climate, and on specific measures and policies that the Government was providing for to reduce Belgium’s carbon emissions to meet the aforementioned targets.

While welcoming the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 2014, the Rapporteur asked why it had not been used more up to now.

The Rapporteur asked why public expenditure on social protection, especially in the realm of healthcare and unemployment, had decreased during the reporting period.  The State party had reported that the planned reduction of corporate tax to 25 per cent was a result of scaling back financial crises-related increases.  Civil society organizations called this creating a tax haven.  Furthermore, the number of allowances for the insertion of young people that had not worked previously had decreased by more than 55 per cent according to the Ligue des Droits Humains.
The Rapporteur also requested information regarding the Government’s commitment to lift 380,000 people out of poverty.  The poverty rate according to Eurostat had remained the same, around 20.3 per cent, with 5.1 per cent of severe material deprivation. 

The Rapporteur commended the measures in place to combat discrimination and encourage diversity in the workplace, such as the royal decree of 11 February 2019 concerning measures for vulnerable groups and the ordinance of 16 November 2017 concerning measures of investigation into discrimination in the workplace in the Brussels capital region.  The Rapporteur also welcomed the activities of UNIA (Interfederal Centre for Equal Opportunity and the Fight against Racism and Discrimination) to combat discrimination.  How was the Government following up on the Commission of Experts’ evaluation of the three anti-discrimination laws?

On the establishment and work of the Belgium National Contact Point for Roma, what lessons had the Government learned concerning inter-sectoral coordination?  The Committee expressed concerns regarding migrants, especially those from non-European Union countries who continued to face discrimination in the enjoyment of their economic, social and cultural rights, including in recruitment and housing.  What measures had Belgium planned to counter discrimination, especially, but not restricted to, the private sector?  People with disabilities continued to face discrimination in the enjoyment of their economic, social and cultural rights.  The national human rights institution UNIA was asking for an interministerial conference on the employment of people with disability.  Could the delegation comment on this matter?

What concrete legal measures were being taken in order to implement the Interfederal Action Plan against Discrimination and Violence against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Persons?

The Rapporteur also expressed concerns about the persistent gender pay gap between men and women and the fact that the concept of intersectional discrimination was not recognized, whereas women in disadvantaged groups - refugees, migrants, and women with disabilities - faced multiple discrimination, such as on grounds of gender and religion for women wearing headscarves.

What progress had been made to close the gender pay gap since the last reporting cycle?  How did Belgium plan to enhance the political representation of women?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation explained that Belgium had made a number of commitments in the past on the creation of a national human rights institution and was proud of the creation of the Federal Institute for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights.  It would be competent to address various issues under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as well as matters such as housing and employment.  It provided for the establishment of a consultative council on which representatives of various bodies would sit.

The Government of Flanders had decided to cease cooperation with UNIA and had set up an equal opportunities centre which would operate on the basis of Flanders’ anti-discrimination legal instruments, taking over tasks previously performed by UNIA and the Gender Chamber of the Office of the Ombudsperson.  Once the new equal opportunities centre was operational, communications would be set up to prepare the creation of an interfederal human rights mechanism in line with the Paris Principles.

On climate change, new measures would be needed to make further progress in line with the Paris objectives.  The goal was to reduce emissions by 35 per cent in sectors not covered by the European Union Emission Trading Scheme.  The transport sector was a source of concern, and this had to do with the geographic and economic situation of Belgium.  The European Council had endorsed a plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, and in that context Belgium would finalize plans to meet this objective, the achievement of which would require efforts and posed significant challenges.

The National Energy and Climate Plan envisaged the reduction of non-European Union Emission Trading Scheme gas emissions by 35 per cent, the reduction of energy consumption, as well as enhancing energy efficiency by 12 to 15 per cent, amongst other measures.

The first Flemish adaption plan had been developed with the involvement of various stakeholders, such as universities and experts.  Their input, elicited through consultations, had been used as a basis for the development of the current plans, as well as the future one, which covered the period 2021-2030 and was in the process of approval by the Flemish Government.

On business and human rights, there was a monitoring component included the national action plan, which required regular reporting to the national parliament, delegates assured.  The solution to guarantee respect for human rights optimally on a competitive level playing field was to organize due diligence at the European level and internationally.

The Convention had come into force in 1983 and the Council of State had ruled that it could not be invoked directly.  Courts and tribunals had also dismissed the direct effect, except for a few exceptions related to union rights, for example.  In Belgium, the standstill principle was applied.  It prevented any forms of scaling back of human rights.  The Convention’s provisions were well understood by judges and lawyers.  They were also taught in Belgian universities. 

On poverty reduction, the overall situation had remained stable in the last few years.  Child poverty was below the European Union average.  Challenges remained, however, for people from vulnerable backgrounds, such as low-skilled workers and people with a migration background.  The Government’s approach on this matter was to leave no one behind, the delegation assured, adding that there was space for a scaling-up of anti-poverty measures, as well as efforts targeting specific segments of the population.  On sustainable cities, delegates cited Ghent’s prize-winning initiatives to illustrate that the Sustainable Development Goals had been integrated into the local coalition agreements across the country.

The Government had had to make budget cuts across the board, which therefore also impacted development aid.  In line with the Sustainable Development Goals, by the 2030, the target of 0.7 per cent of the gross national product had to be met, delegates stressed.  The Government had made specific efforts to enhance effectiveness and be innovative in its development aid.

Regarding the finances of the Government, the previous Government had implemented a tax reform plan called the “Tax Shift” to increase employment.  In that regard, it had been successful.  The Tax Shift had done away with tax exemption.  It was not true that Belgium had become a tax haven; it was still one of the European Union countries with the largest “tax burden”.  While additional verifications would have to be made, it would be surprising if the healthcare related expenditures had gone down. 

Youth unemployment policies had been changed, delegates said, limiting the period during which some benefits could be obtained.  This had not improved labour market activation, but the risk of poverty had not gone up either.

The number of people living on the poverty line had increased in the past years.  However, benefits had been increased when the consumer price index had gone up.  In addition to this indexation, the basic amounts of social benefits had also been increased.  There was a federal plan on poverty as well as plans in each of the regions.

The delegation explained that, with regard to the 33 recommendations of the Commission of Experts which had been evaluating the anti-discrimination laws since 2016, several had already been implemented, such as the mystery calls and the royal decree on positive actions, and that others were in progress, such as the incorporation of the concept of multiple discrimination.

The Government had launched its national strategy on Roma people in 2012, the outcomes of which had yet to be evaluated.  Roma were incorporated in all public policies on education, as the Government sought to ensure equality of opportunities. 

At the end of January 2020, the Prime Minister had announced the intention to create an inter-ministerial conference on racism, which could be considered a first step towards a national action plan against racism.  On 19 February this proposal has been approved by the different governments.  This could contribute to efforts to address anti-Gypsyism and discrimination against migrants.

Labour market integration was difficult for people from a non-European Union citizenship or background.  The labour market was not as accessible as it should be.  Several measures were in place to tackle this issue such as the royal decree on positive action.  Regional employment services also addressed this issue by developing “tailored pathways” for concerned individuals. 

Regarding police violence, the police had no access to detention centres for irregular migrants.  Mechanisms to prevent and manage incidents had been put in place in the detention centres, including training.  There was also a mechanism in place to process complaints.  More generally, it should be noted that police interventions should take place in line with legal principles and human rights-related norms, such the prohibition of ill-treatment and all forms of torture.

The gender pay gap in Belgium, calculated on an hourly basis, was the lowest amongst Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries.  The gap in annual income was due to women working part time, and it was related to women taking on more family-related tasks than men. 

Second Round of Questions by the Committee Experts
Committee Experts, noting that the International Labour Organization’s statistics indicated that the unemployment rate among young people was 19.3 per cent - 18 per cent for women and 20.2 per cent for men – in 2017, asked if the situation had improved since.  Given that employment remained within the regional competence, what were the mechanisms of experience sharing and to which extent did they disseminate good practices?

In 2007, a royal decree had established that up to 3 per cent of the workforce in public services should involve people with disabilities.  According to the 2016 report of the Commission for the Recruitment of Persons with Disabilities within the Federal Administration, this target had not yet been met.  The level reached was only 1.44 per cent.  Had the situation changed?

Despite substantial job creation, the national employment rate target of 73.2 per cent under the Europe 2020 strategy seemed to be still out of reach.  What sort of measures were being taken to address the issue of low labour market participation?  Experts requested relevant data disaggregated by gender, age, and labour skills levels.  They also inquired about the impact of measures adopted to tackle discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin and foster labour market integration of people with a migration background.

The Committee welcomed important measures taken by the State party to address the issue of the rights of domestic workers, including repealing in 2014 the exclusion of domestic workers from the coverage by the Welfare Act.   Experts sought clarification on the status of relevant legislation and information on its outcome, if any. 

Could the delegation tell the Committee about the access of migrant workers to trade unions?  Experts requested information about the legal meaning of the principle of “lack of consensus” with regard to union rights.  Could social partners refer to the right to strike as enshrined in the Convention in the case of a labour dispute?

Experts noted that the State party had restated its intention to raise the level of social benefits to the level of the poverty threshold.  Had this intention been materialized?  If not, to which extent had relevant processes moved forward?  Experts also requested information on the social protection system for the self-employed.

Responses by the Delegation
Employment was increasing, and the Government foresaw that this trend would continue in 2020-2021, the delegation said.  A report had been drafted on the situation of inactive people, and would continue working on this, focusing on the skill gap in light of the digitalization of the economy.

On the labour market integration of migrants, a delegate said the Government had been cooperating with Sweden and the Netherlands to share best practices to address the gap in labour integration, seeking to address skill gap issues, amongst other challenges.

The Government did not ask trade unions to provide it with data on their membership; it did not want to have to power to demand that information.  The Government therefore did not have the data requested by the Experts, but the delegation assured that trade unions worked to foster migrant participation and unionization.

A gentleman’s agreement had been reached by social partners on the right to strike.  Belgian courts had explicitly recognized that the international commitments of the State protected the right to strike in the country.  However, this right did not allow strikers to block roads or impede traffic.  The right to strike was also limited for certain workers, such as prison guards and persons operating trains, to ensure minimal services.

On the rights of self-employed persons, there was a need for social protection measures.  The Government was working towards a form of convergence between the rights of employees and self-employed persons, keeping in mind that the self-employed would likely pay more for certain social protection services.

There were cooperation agreements between regions to foster information sharing on labour market activation policies.  On the employment of persons with disabilities, delegates noted that the 3 per cent target had not been met.  The percentage of persons with disabilities in the federal public service stood at 1.25 per cent in 2018.  Hiring had been low in the public sector in the past few years, which made catching-up more challenging. 

Third Round of Questions by the Committee Experts
Violence against women was a persistent problem, Committee Experts said.  They requested information on the national plans in place to tackle this issue, as well as on their outcomes and how they had been evaluated.  They noted the shortcomings in regulations in this area, which notably affected female migrants.  Had steps been taken to set up a firewall between migration services and police services, to notably protect victims of violence from deportation?

Turning to poverty, Experts asked how the Third Federal Plan to Combat Poverty could be tweaked to improve outcomes.  They inquired about coordination between the regions and the federation and how it related to policies to homelessness, and asked why there was not more social housing in the country.  They expressed concerns about the impact of high energy costs, and the related water and power cuts, on low-income households.

The majority of asylum requests were turned down.  It was important to ensure that each request was considered individually.  What was the State party doing to ensure that that was the case?  Experts also requested information on efforts to combat obesity, as well as on Belgium’s policies on agriculture and their impact on the right to food.

On the right to health, could the delegation provide information on the challenges in accessing healthcare faced by migrants and persons with disabilities?

Replies by the Delegation

On whether Belgium had become a tax haven, the delegation said this was clearly not the case.  The reform had sought to make it harder to engage in tax evasion or fiscal planning.  In Belgium, there was no official data on fiscal fraud.  It was, however, estimated that the level of fiscal fraud was in line with expectations for an economy the size of Belgium.

On domestic work, a draft royal decree had been submitted to social partners, who had decided to take up the issue and try to come up with solutions.  The Government was still waiting for their final proposals.  Social dialogue sometimes required time, the delegation said.

Turning to climate change, with a constantly increasing gross domestic product since 1990, Belgium had reduced its carbon emission by 19.7 per cent by 2016.  Renewable energy had an increasingly important place in Belgium’s energy mix.  Belgium ranked for instance first in the world when it came to hydrogen distribution.  The Prime Minister had announced today on Twitter that an agreement had been reached between all governments on a long-term strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

To assess the outcome of its plan 2015-2019 on violence against women, the Government was drawing up a summary table to take stock of achievements and goals that were not met.  This would feed in the drafting process for the 2020-2024 plan.

With regard to emergency medical care for migrants in an irregular situation, delegates explained that “emergency” was construed as whatever care doctors and dentists would certify was required.  In this context, it could include outpatient and preventive care.  The Parliament had adopted a bill that would improve migrants’ access to healthcare and ensure that medical professionals would be reimbursed for providing them with healthcare services.

At the federal level, there were social protection programmes providing energy bills-related support, such as “social tariffs” and a gas and electricity fund. 

The federal agency for the reception of asylum seekers could limit the support provided to asylum seekers who filed multiple asylum requests.  This was not done systematically, however, and each request was processed individually.

On obesity, which the delegation acknowledged was a serious issue, there was a willingness on the part of the governments to act.  They did so with a “life cycle approach”: for instance, first they encouraged breastfeeding, then carried out awareness-raising, and encouraged and supported schools to provide  healthy meals.  Campaigns had also been rolled out with the food industry to reduce the use of salt.  The most visible campaign on this matter was the “Nutri-Score,” whereby food products were labelled with a score that evaluated their nutritional value.

Belgium had been participating for several years in negotiations on the declaration on the rights of peasants.  There were, however, two challenges: this declaration created new rights for specific segments of the population, contravening to the universality of human rights, and the rights outlined in this declaration raised as series of legal issues in relation to the European Union legal framework, and this had led several European Union Member States to neither vote for or against it but rather abstain.

On agriculture, the Flemish region sought to ensure the vitality of the countryside through funding for projects, for example on local food supplies and renewable energy.  When the measures will be adjusted, support will as much as possible be provided to farms no matter their size, taking into consideration the soundness of the business plans, amongst other criteria.  Wallonie-Bruxelles had a redistributive payments programme to support farms, including by encouraging young people to pursue farming on a strong footing.  There were few farmers in Brussels, which was an urban area.  Through a “good food” strategy, the Government of the Brussels capital region nevertheless supported them.

Linguistic discriminations could fall under the remit of the new national human rights institution, delegates explained.  It would not, however, be competent to process individual complaints.  UNIA would be willing to take on that task.  An individual could bring a linguistic discrimination complaint before courts, invoking the anti-discrimination legislation.
Fourth Round of Questions by the Committee Experts

Turning to the right to education, Committee Experts thanked the delegation for the answers provided in the report.  Students from different socio-economic backgrounds were subjected to social segregation.  While noting the positive policies in place, they expressed concerns about the fact that people from poorer socio-economic backgrounds were attending schools that performed poorly.  They drew attention to the negative impact of the double quota system and online registration in that regard.  What corrective measures was the Government envisaging?

Children with disability were more likely to leave school early.  There were reports that Flanders systematically denied them inclusive education.  What corrective measures was the Government taking to ensure their access to education? 

Experts also asked about the education of Roma children, and measures to foster school attendance and tackle the dropout rates.  They inquired about rules in place in certain schools that sought to restrict the wearing of headscarves and other religious symbols or symbols reflecting a philosophical belief. 

Replies by the Delegation

Responding to questions on social segregation in Flanders, the delegation said measures had been taken to limit school costs, automatically allocate school grants and maximize pre-primary education participation.  The compulsory double quota system – whereby quotas for both students from privileged and less privileged background were implemented – would be replaced by another system which would still seek to preserve the social economic mix in schools.  The digital application system had been implemented for schools where there was a capacity shortage.  This system would be rolled back, but only in schools where there were no capacity issues. 

In the French-speaking regions, schools were mandated to promote equal opportunity.  Measures, including special French classes, were in place to prevent that pupils retook the same year and bolster their competencies in seven modules up to the age of 15.  Furthermore, tuition fees had been frozen for university students.  Roma children had access to education on an equal footing with other students, delegates added.

On religious symbols in schools in the French-speaking region, schools themselves regulated this issue.  The decree on discrimination was applicable to schools and prohibited discrimination on the basis of religion.  Decrees had been adopted that required neutrality in education; they were, however, only applicable to the teaching staff.  Although there was generally tolerance at the higher education level, some education institutions banned the hijab or veil for “security reasons”. 

In the Flemish community, while there was no general ban of religious symbols, the board of the Flemish community education had issued a directive to ask schools to ban the wearing of religious symbols, which had been followed by several institutions.  Following the challenge of these regulations before courts, the Supreme Administrative  Court had ruled that such bans could be implemented, under certain conditions.  A number of legal proceedings were still ongoing regarding the display of religious symbols in schools.

Concluding Remarks

MICHAEL WINDFHUR, Committee Rapporteur for Belgium, thanked the delegation, saying that it had been a constructive dialogue.  The Committee was pleased that the delegation had striven to answer all the questions.  The Committee would issue recommendations, and it would be useful for the Government to go over them with civil society organizations.

GEERT MUYLLE, Permanent Representative of Belgium to the United Nations Office at Geneva, thanked the Chairperson and the Committee for their interest in Belgium and the high number of high quality questions.  The delegation hoped it had succeeded in providing comprehensive answers.  He reiterated Belgium’s firm commitment to respect human rights in general and the Covenant in particular.  Belgium was steadfastly committed to promoting and protecting human rights.

RENATO ZERBINI RIBEIRO LEÃO, Committee Chairperson, concluded the dialogue by thanking the delegation.  The Committee had seen that Belgium was indeed committed to human rights.  It had been a very constructive dialogue.

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