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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Introduction of the report of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights by Ilze Brands Kehris, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

03 June 2020


Coordination and Management Meeting, Agenda item 19 (f): Human rights

3 June 2020
New York

Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to present the report of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on its 2019 sessions (E/2020/22). The annual report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, focusing on the COVID-19 crisis (E/2020/63), is under preparation and will be presented in July. I also wish to take the opportunity to thank colleagues in ECOSOC for enabling us to hold this meeting today remotely.

We find ourselves in an unprecedented situation due to the COVID-19 crisis and its devastating impact on the lives and livelihoods of millions of people. While initially a health emergency, the consequent economic and social impact of the pandemic has underscored the universality and indivisibility of human rights and the need to ensure that human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights, are at the center of both our immediate and longer-term response.

The Committee in its Statement on “the COVID-19 pandemic and economic, social and cultural rights” (E/C.12/2020/1) has called for international solidarity, particularly as the virus spreads to developing countries and countries with weaker health systems, including by considering lifting of economic sanctions and to relieving the financial burden of developing countries through international financial institutions.

We encourage States to draw on this guidance in efforts to address the impact of the COVID-19 crisis and to implement the Covenant.

In the report before you, the Committee recalls that, as at 18 October 2019, 170 States were parties to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Its Optional Protocol on individual communications had 24 States parties.

With respect to the reporting procedure, firstly, the Committee considered eleven State party reports in 2019. The Committee does not have a backlog of reports pending review. Rather, one of its main challenges is the very low level of reporting. A considerable number of States parties have not yet engaged with the Committee or are overdue with reporting. 

I wish to highlight that the Committee has now agreed to introduce a predictable review cycle and offer the simplified reporting procedure to all States parties. This follows requests from States parties for increased predictability of reporting and for a simplified reporting procedure. The Committee will consider, at its next session, modalities of introducing both and hopes that this will facilitate regular engagement of States parties.

This year marks the review of General Assembly resolution 68/268 on treaty body strengthening.  Much has been achieved as a result of that resolution – yet, the treaty bodies remain seriously under-resourced. 

I invite you to seize to opportunity of the 2020 Review to make it possible for the Committee to have the capacity and regular budget resources it needs to fulfil its mandate and engage with all 170 parties to the Covenant in a predictable manner. The need for adequate and regular budget resources and staffing, which could be based on a forward-looking formula to allow for predictable review cycles, was also highlighted yesterday by the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the launch of the review.

Secondly, under its Optional Protocol, the Committee continued the consideration of individual communications. The Committee found a violation of the Covenant in two individual communications; one regarding discrimination against women and the right to health, and another one regarding the right to housing. It also found one case inadmissible and discontinued the examination of fifteen individual communications. The Committee further adopted its guidelines on interim measures, giving guidance to States parties on their adoption.

During the reporting period, the Committee continued to receive a high number of communications. It registered 99 new individual communications, reaching a total of 162 since the entry into force of the Protocol in 2013.  This high number has exacerbated the current lack of critical resources for the Committee’s work under the Optional Protocol. In total, the working group on communications held 31 meetings outside of the Committee’s meeting time to address issues related to its work under the Optional Protocol.

Thirdly, focusing on substantive issues, the Committee adopted one General Comment, on “Science and economic, social and cultural rights” (E/C.12/GC/25), and two substantive statements: On the COVID-19 pandemic as referred to above and on “The pledge to leave no one behind: The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” (E/C.12/2019/1).

The Committee also issued two joint substantive statements with other treat bodies: A Joint Statement with four other committees1 on “Human Rights and Climate Change” (HRI/2019/1) and a Joint Statement with the Human Rights Committee on “Freedom of Association, including the right to form and join trade unions” (E/C.12/66/5-CCPR/C/127/4). It also held a Day of General Discussion on the Governance of Land Tenure in light of its upcoming work on a draft general comment on the issue.

In the course of its work, the Committee has endeavored to engage with a wide variety of stakeholders, including States, National Human Rights Institutions and civil society. The Committee has also met with other treaty bodies with a view to achieving greater efficiency and effectiveness and harmonization of working methods and review good practices, as encouraged by the General Assembly (Res 68/268 para. 9).

Before concluding, I would like to recall paragraph 11 of General Assembly Resolution 68/268 in which the Assembly recommended that this Council consider replacing the existing procedure for the election of experts to the Committee with a meeting of States parties, while preserving the current structure, organization and administrative arrangement of the Committee as set forth in Council Resolution 1985/17.

Thank you.