Message from the Board of Directors
Part of the uniqueness of GI-ESCR is the role that it plays to defend rights on the global stage and it is distinctive for its focus, methods and strategies. We believe these are vital to overcoming the dramatic inequalities and unnecessary human suffering which today characterizes the world, as well as to uniting various critical sectors (for example, environmental justice, global governance, women’s rights, and the development sector) to align more closely and more powerfully. The complexity of today’s and tomorrow’s issues go beyond what any individual organization, sector or field can do.
Peers, partners and others in the field in which we operate have recognized the unique contribution of GI-ESCR, including the ways in which we partner with others, our key methodologies, and our results. Within a world of elite, often northern and western driven and dominated power relationships in foreign assistance, technical assistance, and human rights, GI-ESCR is seen as an exception. It strives to be a true partners, and as respectful of local and national voices, processes, and values.
From 2010-2016, GI-ESCR has grown into a more robust and consolidated organization which has achieved concrete and tangible results in each of the programmatic priorities highlighted in this report. GI-ESCR is an organization that effectively navigates legal and technical spaces, but which nonetheless comes to the scene with heart. At its core, the organization underscores that change is something we all can only contribute to when we have enthusiasm, hope, and a deeply seeded commitment to the cause. Our work often and intentionally generates results that build the foundation for future advocacy. Our aim is to ensure that concrete outcomes and impact not only further our mission but lay the foundation for future human rights advocacy of others. These results build into our vision of a world where the human rights framework reflects the real world experiences of all of us, effectively furthering social and economic justice and human dignity, and catalyzing change from the local to the global, back to the local. This report illustrates recent achievements in making that vision a reality.
Board of Directors,
Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Ellen Dorsey (Chair of the Board)
Washington, DC (USA)
New York City, NY (USA)
David Stamps (Treasurer)
Paul J. Nelson (Secretary)
Pittsburgh, PA (USA)
Johannesburg (South Africa)
London (United Kingdom)
Message from the Co-Directors
Bret Thiele & Mayra Gomez
The work of the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (GI-ESCR) continues to expand, as well as to deepen into a range of substantive areas, and this Annual Report showcases the ways in which the organisation achieved important impacts in 2017 for the realisation of economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights. Launched in 2010, the organisation started with a vision of a world where ESC rights are fully respected, protected and fulfilled, so that all people are able to live in dignity. While the vision is simple and clear, the task ahead is anything but easy. While there have been some improvements in specific areas related to the realisation of ESC rights, on the whole countries regardless of their level of development continue to be plagued by inequality and the denial of basic ESC rights for significant segments of their populations. We continue to live in a world where, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), “Inequality has become the defining issue of our time.” At the beginning, we said that:
“If we believe that ESC rights can make a powerful difference in improving the lives of real people – and we do – then it is urgent for us to develop and deploy new and innovative strategies which tackle head on the main obstacles to the enjoyment of these rights. In order to advance the actual realization of ESC rights most significantly over the coming period we believe that we, and our movement, must rise to four critical tasks …” (GI-ESCR Concept Note).
At the time, those tasks were identified as: to build and deepen cross-sector alliances, forging partnerships to leverage the power of joint advocacy working at multiple levels; to equalise power dynamics through ESC rights awareness; to brave new frontiers in ESC rights standard setting and enforcement; and to move from a theory of economic, social and cultural rights, to the practical application of these rights for the world’s poor.
Eight years later, we are pleased that this Annual Report stays true to the initial dream which gave rise to GI-ESCR. If anything, the organisation has exceeded our expectations and continues to carve out it own path, joining hands with advocates all around the world with whom we share a common vision. For this, there are many people to thank and to acknowledge, including our Board, our staff, our partners, and our donors. Without this sustained collective effort, and without this matrix of co-actors, none of the achievements laid out in this report would be possible.
We hope that people suffering from ESC rights violations on the ground, as well as our colleagues in the field, are benefited by what we aim to do as an organisation, and we strive to make sure that whatever impacts we have are not just words on paper. Great ideas matter – but great actions matter still more in changing the lives of the poor – and it is through our ability to bend the practice of influential decision-makers and powerful policy-makers that we achieve our vision. This report provides example of how we have sought to do just that, for instance by seeking enforcement of ESC rights through litigation and parallel reporting, by helping to shape international norms, and by working in close collaboration with partners on areas as diverse as education, climate change, and women’s rights to land and productive resources.
We know all too well that governments around the world often violate the human rights of the poor explicitly in the name of furthering economic prosperity and development, and treat the respect, protection and fulfillment of ESC rights as discretionary and aspirational at best. The same can be said of other powerful economic actors, such as corporations and inter-governmental organisations, which place financial gain before the rights of people. This reality requires the human rights movement to adopt bold new strategies and develop powerful new partnerships and tools commensurate with the task of transforming it. We are thankful to have the opportunity to contribute, and to join with others in this effort.
Mayra Gomez and Bret Thiele,
Co-Executive Directors Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
GI-ESCR seeks to advance the realisation of ESC rights throughout the world, tackling the endemic problem of global poverty and social injustice through a human rights lens. GI-ESCR began in 2010 and is a registered non-profit organisation (501(c)3) in the United States, and currently has offices in Geneva, Switzerland; Nairobi, Kenya; and Duluth (MN), USA. It also maintains Consultative Status with the United Nations and Observer Status with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). It is governed by an international Board of Directors, whose 6 members play a fiduciary role (stewardship of tangible assets), a strategic role (strategic partnership with management), and a generative role (source of leadership for organisation). In the time since its inception, GI-ESCR has provided vital technical support and achieved groundbreaking outcomes that are respected within and beyond the human rights community. As a result, it has become increasingly recognised as a leader in the area of ESC rights advocacy and litigation.
This report highlights the Global Initiative’s key activities in 2017 and resulting achievements across these strategic areas and discusses the relevance of the gains made, as well as opportunities for building upon these successes.
2. Strategic Litigation and Legal Advocacy
ESC rights litigation and legal advocacy can significantly contribute to the enforcement of ESC rights and there is a need to develop a progressive body of jurisprudence on ESC rights. Strategic litigation and other forms of legal advocacy are first and foremost aimed at holding perpetrators of human rights violations accountable and at achieving remedies for victims and survivors for those violations. Beyond that, however, GI-ESCR seeks to achieve structural and transformative change by engaging in legal advocacy with the aims of: (1) Promoting and protecting the obligation to fulfill social rights, including positive obligations, with a focus on systemic violations; (2) Demonstrating the justiciability of extra-territorial obligations (ETOs), including with respect to Member States of international financial institutions; (3) Expanding the scope of human rights protections by defining human right norms, including through the principle of indivisibility; and (4) Expanding the scope of human rights mechanisms and avenues for accountability, again including through the principle of indivisibility.
Right to social security affirmed in the context of informal domestic work in Ecuador
GI-ESCR contributed within the ESCR-Net Strategic Litigation Working Group in drafting and submitting an amicus curiae intervention to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) dealing with the right to social security in Ecuador. The complaint dealt with a case in which a woman in Ecuador had been denied her retirement pension request due to a small pause in her social security contributions, which had the impact of nullifying years of subsequent contributions. The nullification was triggered by a time when she had been engaged in unpaid care work at home and unable to make regular contributions for eight months.
The intervention encouraged the Committee to apply a substantive equality perspective to its interpretation of the facts and highlight the impact of unpaid care work on access to social security – a widespread global issue predominantly affecting women who continue to undertake the majority of such work. In particular, it provided comparative materials and recommendations to support the following points:
1. States must ensure that existing social security systems are enjoyed without discrimination, including for women who undertake unpaid care work.
2. States should take positive measures to ensure social security protections for persons unable to access or benefit from existing social security systems, particularly for older women.
3. States must ensure that existing social security systems facilitate access to information and are subject to due process, including the right to an effective remedy.
The Committee ultimately found that Ecuador had violated the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, finding violations of article 9 (right to social security) and also articles 2(2) (non-discrimination) and 3 (equality between women and men) in conjunction with article 9. This finding was because State authorities had failed to provide adequate and timely information about the requirements for participation in the relevant social security system and because the impact of not meeting these requirements – a complete loss of pension despite years of contributions – was clearly disproportionate. Significantly, the Committee also found that the situation constituted indirect discrimination on the basis of gender given that women who engage in unpaid care work were likely to be affected disproportionately, without reasonable justification, with potentially devastating impact on their ability to enjoy an adequate standard of living during old age.
Please see: CESCR’s press release
Joint Parallel Report on Australia related to corporate accountability
Along with Inclusive Development International and Equitable Cambodia, GI-ESCR submitted to CESCR a joint Parallel Report on Australia which called attention to the case of an Australian bank which had financed the Phnom Penh sugar plantation which was responsible for the seizure and destruction of housing and land of more than 20 villages in Kampong Speu province. Many of the victims of those forced evictions lived in extreme poverty as a result of losing their land.
The report resulted in the Committee urging Australia to “take all necessary measures to ensure legal liability of companies based in or managed from the State party’s territory regarding violations of economic, social and cultural rights by their activities conducted abroad, or resulting from the activities of their subsidiaries or business partners where these companies have failed to exercise due diligence” and to “Reinforce effective mechanisms to investigate complaints filed against private companies, and take effective measures to ensure access to justice for victims.”
The Concluding Observations are now being utilised by Inclusive Development International and Equitable Cambodia to support a case before the Australian Human Rights Commission.
ETO advocacy policies and Joint Parallel Report on the Netherlands
GI-ESCR worked within the ETO Consortium Steering Committee to craft, adopt and implement one of the outcomes of the global meeting held in Buenos Aries in November 2016, namely a process whereby members of the Consortium or others can request ETO expertise and assistance from ETO Consortium members. This policy subsequently resulted in GI-ESCR getting involved with partners in Peru dealing with environmental damage caused by a Dutch energy company, including a Parallel Report to CESCR on the Netherlands and potential future litigation and capacity building.
GI-ESCR, along with partners FIAN International, Centro de Politicas Publicas y Derechos Humanos (EQUIDAD), and Pueblos Indígenas Amazónicos Unidos en Defensa de sus Territorios (PUINAMUDT), addressed human rights violations related to environmental damage in Peru caused by a Dutch energy company before the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The Committee was urged to call up the Netherlands to regulate its corporations to prevent human rights violations abroad and to provide victims’ access to justice in the case of such violations.
Ultimately the Committee expressed concern at reports of serious damage to the environment and to indigenous peoples livelihoods caused in Peru by a company domiciled in the Netherlands and recommended that the Netherlands:
(a) Include a formal monitoring mechanism in the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights;
(b) Take measures to ensure compliance with human rights obligations for companies operating in the territory of the State party;
(c) Take measures to ensure physical safety and mental health of the people residing in the area of gas extraction in Groningen, as well the security and safety of their homes; provide proper compensation to the victims; and prevent future occurrences of damages related to gas extractions;
(d) Expedite an overhaul of the oil refinery industry in Curaçao with a view to averting pollution;
(e) Remove the legal and practical obstacles to holding accountable companies domiciled under the State party’s jurisdiction, for violations of economic, social and cultural rights, resulting from their operations on the national territory or abroad.
EQUIDAD and PUINAMUDT are now working with Dutch lawyers to use these Concluding Observations in support of litigation in the Netherlands.
CESCR General Comment No. 24 on business and human rights
GI-ESCR provided written comments to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights offering ways to improve the content of the proposed General Comment on business activities.
Working within the ETO Consortium Steering Committee, GI-ESCR also coordinated input from various actors on the extra-territorial obligations section of the draft General Comment as well as advocacy in support of, and defense of, strong ETO related language.
Ultimately, the Committee adopted an authoritative reaffirmation of the ETO to protect International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in the context of corporations operating abroad.
Reaffirming its Concluding Observations developed over the past several years, the Committee made clear that States Parties to the Covenant are legally obligated to regulate corporations domiciled, incorporated or headquartered within their territories, or those over which they otherwise exercise control, to ensure that they respect, protect and fulfill Covenant rights throughout their operations, including their operations abroad.
The Committee also made clear that States Parties are legally obligated to ensure access to justice, including accountability and remedies, in the event such corporations detrimentally impact Covenant rights abroad.
According to Bret Thiele, Co-Executive Director of GI-ESCR “this is a welcomed reaffirmation of what civil society has brought to the Committee’s attention over the past several years.” He stated that such a positive result demonstrates the efficacy of a concerted civil society push, “the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and other members of the ETO Consortium, including in particular FIAN International and several of its national sections, worked with several affected communities around the world to ensure that States are held accountable when their respective corporations impact Covenant rights abroad.”
“With this new General Comment, we hope that monitoring of and accountability for corporate actions abroad are systematically applied throughout all periodic reporting and complaints under the Covenant” Thiele added.
The General Comment is available HERE.
The relevant Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Press Statement is available HERE.
A comprehensive collection of UN pronouncements on ETOs is available HERE.
Committee on Civil and Political Rights – Draft General Comment on the Right to Life
Continuing our work to influence the new General Comment on the right to life, being drafted by the United Nations Committee on Civil and Political Rights, we responded to the Committee’s further call for submissions on its revised draft General Comment. Our submission targeted 3 main issues:
• Welcoming the Committee’s broadened understanding of the right to life as extending to living a life ‘with dignity,' but urging the Committee to more explicitly recognise the economic and social elements of the right to life;
• Welcoming the recognition of connections between the right to life and environmental degradation and climate change, but suggesting some textual changes to underline that in some circumstances States obligations with respect to the right to life may require taking action to protect the environment or to address the causes of climate change; and
• Welcoming the discussion of ETOs in the draft General Comment and suggesting additions to recognise States’ extra-territorial obligations with respect to corporations domiciled within its jurisdiction but affecting the right to life outside its jurisdiction.
The Committee is now under-taking a final reading of the draft General Comment and will present a final document probably in its third session next year (October 2018), but has, at our urging, removed language that could have been detrimental for bring individual complaints related to systemic violations.
Expert Group Meeting with Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing
GI-ESCR participated in a two-day Expert Groups Meeting with the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing. The meeting was to strategise on how to contribute to the #MakeTheShift campaign aimed at shifting the concept of housing from a commodity or financial context to one grounded in human rights. GI-ESCR committed to participating in the campaign with a focus on helping with Side Events in Geneva and parallel reporting to treaty bodies and to take the lead on the right to adequate housing by linking local actors to Geneva-based human rights mechanisms.
ESCR-Net Webinar on using UN mechanisms
GI-ESCR conducted a one-hour ESCR-Net Strategic Litigation Working Group webinar on successful use of and strategies for using UN mechanisms. Discussed the strategy used by GI-ESCR to produce progressive interpretations and normative development of economic, social and cultural rights, including on how results based on this strategy create the foundation for subsequent successful strategic litigation. Real world examples of advancing the principle of indivisibility and extra-territorial obligations were provided and previous and ongoing litigation was discussed.
GI-ESCR participated in ESCR-Net Strategic Litigation Working Group Steering Committee including finalising its 2017 – 2018 Work Plan.
GI-ESCR also participated in the ETO Consortium Steering Committee, including monitoring implementation of the ETO Consortium Strategic Plan and developing a Plan of Action for 2018 through 2020.
We continue to update and publish its Working Paper containing United Nations (UN) pronouncements addressing extra-territorial obligations.
3. Advocating for Women’s Rights to Land and other Productive Resources
With respect to women’s access to land and other productive resources, GI-ESCR’s work builds upon past successes and strives to continually advance women’s rights by strengthening the normative framework protecting these rights, with a particular focus on Africa. To this end, GI-ESCR work specifically on: (1) Utilising strategic spaces at international and regional levels to advance these rights, namely the human rights treaty bodies of the United Nations and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR); (2) Strengthening partnerships and networks working on these issues, particularly between international and national organisations, including by continuing ongoing strategic discussions and partnerships between key actors and organisations working on these issues; (3) Highlighting the relevance of women’s land rights in international discourse, particularly related to the rights of rural women, climate change, food and nutrition security, sustainable development and other relevant issues, and (4) Contributing to the creation of new human rights standards on these issues.
Advocacy before the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
In 2017, GI-ESCR submitted three parallel reports on African countries addressing issues related to women’s land and property rights. These were to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) on Kenya (with FIDA-Kenya); on Nigeria (with Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF) Nigeria and the Kebetkcache Women Development and Resource Center (Nigeria)); and on Rwanda (with ActionAid Rwanda and the Rwanda Initiative for Sustainable Development).
On Kenya, our Parallel Report addressed the following substantive issues:
· The Marriage Act 2014
The CEDAW Committee established in its General Recommendation No. 29 on the economic consequences of marriage, family relations and their dissolution, that “The State must protect the rights of women in such marriages, regardless of their registration status.” However, in Kenya, women who have not registered by the stipulated deadline risk losing entitlement to shared matrimonial property. Given that 75% of the total Kenyan population lives in rural areas which are difficult to reach, often with limited access to news/information, they are likely not to be aware of legislative changes affecting their property rights.
· The Matrimonial Property Act 2015
One of the outstanding gains of this act is the acknowledgement of both monetary and non-monetary contribution of women in acquisition of matrimonial property. However the Act has a claw back clause Section 7 that negates the gain of equality in marriage and calls on spouses to show distribution. This leaves the majority of women in a disadvantaged position since it is not practical to quantify domestic work and/or non-monetary contribution. It leaves the court with the discretion of deciding what woman deserve. Again, this runs counter to what the CEDAW Committee has said in General Recommendation No. 29, wherein it provides that “States parties are obligated to provide, upon divorce and/or separation, for equality between the parties in the division of all property accumulated during the marriage.”
· Land Act 2012
Upon the enactment of the Land Act spousal consent was required before approvals are made for any land transactions that involved matrimonial property. A key purpose for this provision was meant to protect spouses, mostly women, from arbitrary sale of matrimonial property leaving them destitute with their children. Parliament has since passed an amendment law that removed the requirement of spousal consent. Section 11 of the Land Laws Amendment Act amends section 28 of the Land Registration Act by deleting spousal consent, placing married women in a precarious legal position.
In its Concluding Observations on Kenya, the CEDAW Committee issued strong recommendations in line with our report. It asked that Kenya:
· Review the requirement for registration of all marriages in a manner that protects the rights of women, including through awareness-raising and facilitation of registration in rural areas and a progressive timeline for registration and by allowing one spouse to register the marriage, thereby placing the onus on the other spouse to contest its validity;
· Repeal section 7 of the Matrimonial Property Act and recognise the principle of equality in all areas of marriage, including property;
· Repeal section 11 of the Land Laws (Amendment) Act of 2016 and reinstate the requirement of spousal consent for any transactions relating to marital property as it was under the Land Registration Act of 2012;
· Repeal and replace the Law of Succession Act and ensure equal rights between women and men with regard to inheritance and property laws; and,
· Allow for the division of property during marriage in order to protect the property interests of women when their husbands take subsequent wives.
A second Parallel Report to the CEDAW Committee addressed the current situation for women’s land rights in Nigeria. The report highlights that in most parts of Nigeria, women still have limited or no access to land and property. Indeed, the State party report itself recognises that “[i]n rural areas, women’s right of access to land is still regarded as secondary to that of men and many customs suggest that women’s access to land is still mediated via patrilineal systems.”
The conflict of laws in Nigeria leaves many Nigerian women vulnerable to violations of land and property rights, both within and outside of marriage. While Nigerian women under Nigerian civil law have access to land, and while equal inheritance rights have likewise seen increased legal protection, the reality remains that certain customary laws continue to stipulate that only men have the right to inherit and own land. For most Nigerian women, namely for those without the independent financial means to purchase land for themselves, they are only able to access land through a male family member. Discriminatory customary laws, registration of land in spouse’s name, non-implementation of human rights’ laws and policies continue to pose as strong barriers for the Nigerian woman today as far as property rights and ownership are concerned.
In its Concluding Observations, the CEDAW Committee picked up the key recommendation, which was to encourage the State to “Review the Land Use Act, the Land Administration Act and related land laws and repeal any provisions that prevent women’s access to land in order to ensure rural women’s access to land.” The Concluding Observations also contain a series of recommendation on women’s/girls’ inheritance rights, including asking Nigeria to ensure that the draft model customary law and Islamic law marriages/divorce registration law complies with the provisions of the Convention and guarantee full legal capacity for all women with regard to marriage, custody and inheritance. It also asked that the State party review the legal regimes governing inheritance under customary law and Islamic personal law to ensure that women’s inheritance rights are in line with the Convention and effectively enforced and that women are fully informed about the changes in the law.
Lastly, on Rwanda, our Parallel Report highlighted that Rwanda should be encouraged to intensify efforts to raise awareness about women’s land rights under national law, as well as the benefits of ensuring equal land rights for women, particularly among rural women and men, traditional leaders and local authorities; take immediate steps to address and remedy negative customs and traditional practices, especially in rural areas, which affect full enjoyment of women’s land and property rights; and address and fill existing legal gaps so as to provide equal protection of property rights of women in informal/consensual and polygamous marriages, including by harmonising the law on Gender-Based Violence with the National Land Law. An oral submission was also presented during the review with the assistance of our partner IWRAW-AP (International Women’s Rights Action Watch - Asia & Pacific).
The CEDAW Committee’s Concluding Observations picked up on the issues that were raised in the written and oral submissions and echoed the recommendations made in the parallel report. The most relevant paragraphs are 50-51 (marriage and family relations), 12 (access to justice) and 42-43 (rural women). For example, the Committee highlighted that the State party should “Ensure that rural women as well as local authorities, mediation committee members (Abunzi), and judicial officers are sufficiently made aware of their rights under the Convention and the new legislation regarding women’s rights to land.”
Following the release of the Concluding Observations, ActionAid Rwanda and the Rwanda Initiative for Sustainable Development were able to utilise them in local awareness raising and media outreach on the occasion of International Women’s Day (8 March 2017).
Influencing CEDAW’s General Recommendation on Gender-related dimensions of disaster risk reduction in the context of climate change
CEDAW first held a day of discussion on Women’s Rights and Disaster Risk Reduction in a Changing Climate in 2016, and at that time, with our partners Landesa and APWLD (Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development), we submitted an original written submission to influence the draft. A draft of the General Recommendation was later released for comments and we had the opportunity in January 2017 to submit a second written submission responding directly to the draft text.
Through our written submissions we highlighted the importance of 1) addressing the multiple threats posed to women’s land rights by climate change; (2) ensuring climate change strategies do not undermine women’s land rights; (3) recognising and incorporating the positive impacts of women’s land rights into climate change mitigation and adaptation; and (4) promoting women’s participation and leadership in tackling climate change. The second written submission also strongly encouraged the CEDAW Committee to raise its voice more strongly and to affirm that urgent action to combat climate change, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and minimise its disruptions is integral to the successful implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women.
The final General Recommendation (CEDAW General recommendation No. 37 on Gender-related dimensions of disaster risk reduction in the context of climate change) as adopted by CEDAW reflects many of the inputs made, including around women’s land rights, and is available HERE.
CEDAW Updated General Recommendation in Violence against Women mentions land and housing
In 2016, GI-ESCR submitted a written submission to CEDAW urging them to reflect women’s economic, social and cultural rights concerns, and specifically land and housing issues, in their update of General Recommendation 19 on violence against women. The new General Recommendation No. 35 urges States to “Adopt and implement effective measures to protect and assist women complainants and witnesses of gender-based violence before, during and after legal proceedings, including through: … Ensuring access to financial aid and free or low-cost high quality legal aid, medical, psychosocial and counselling services, education, affordable housing, land, child care, training and employment opportunities for women victims/survivors and their family members” (emphasis added). The General Recommendation also addresses the issuance and monitoring of eviction of perpetrators of violence against women, which was another theme addressed in our written submission.
Regional Advocacy before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
General Comment to the Maputo Protocol on women’s property rights within the context of marriage and divorce
In May 2017, GI-ESCR and our partners had an opportunity to formally present a draft General Comment to the Maputo Protocol on Art. 7(d) to the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights during its private session, something that had not been done before. IGED-Africa (Initiative for Gender Equality and Development in Africa) and KHRC (Kenya Human Rights Commission) were there in Niamey, Niger to make the presentation and field the comments and questions from the Commissioners. The General Comment was discussed in detail and some Commissioners suggested further refinement.
In July, GI-ESCR secured a small grant through RRI (Rights and Resources Initiative) to convene a meeting in Accra, Ghana to finalise the draft text of the General Comment. On 2 September, the meeting to review and revise the General Comment was held in Accra, and attended by Commissioner Asuagbor, as well as representatives of IGED-Africa, ISLA (Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa), KHRC, and FIDA-Kenya, the main organisations in Africa with whom we have worked on this effort.
The General Comment has been scheduled for its final consideration and hopeful adoption in Spring 2019.
Strengthening Partnerships and Networks
2017 Strategic Meeting to Advance Women’s Land and Property Rights in Africa (17 March 2017)
GI-ESCR held its annual “Strategic Meeting to Advance Women’s Land and Property Rights in Africa,” bringing together approximately 25 participants from organisations throughout Africa, as well as international organisations working on issues related to women’s land and property rights. 2017 marked the 10th year that the meeting has taken place.
The objectives of the meeting included discussing strategies to advance women’s land rights as well as identifying future advocacy opportunities. Issues that were highlighted include an update on the status of the General Comment to the Maputo Protocol (please see above). In discussing the status of this draft, IGED-Africa and ISLA explained the range of issues that have been raised during the drafting process. They also led a discussion about how to strengthen the use of the General Comment as an advocacy tool as well as ways in which civil society can contribute to the workings of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, particularly to protect and advance women’s rights.
Other topics addressed during the meeting include: litigation strategies and the role of amicus interventions to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights; the impacts on women of large scale land deals in Zambia; strengthening the role of women as stakeholders in commercial land investments; gender and land investments in Tanzania and Mozambique; good practices and lessons learned about collectively held land; and a reflection on progress towards Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) relevant to women’s land rights.
The meeting concluded with a discussion about shared strategies for 2017.
ESCR-Net Women and ESCR Steering Committee
In August, GI-ESCR was also elected to the newly appointed ESCR-Net Women and ESCR Steering Committee. The Steering Committee members will serve a two-year term (2017-2019).
Publications and Statements
Publication Final Release: The International Covenant on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights at 50: The Significance from a Women’s Rights Perspective
GI-ESCR finished the final design of our publication with ESCR-Net ‘The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights at 50: The Significance from a Women’s Rights Perspective.’
This publication celebrates the significance of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) from the perspective of advancing and ensuring gender equality and simultaneously points to ways in which the treaty can be utilised even more strategically and effectively to ensure that women’s ESC rights are fully respected, protected and fulfilled towards the goal of achieving gender equality. It seeks to overview the content of normative statements which CESCR has made over the years on various issues relevant to women’s ESC rights, and to highlight cases in which advocates have engaged with CESCR successfully to raise these issues and seek redress for violations of women’s ESC rights. While it does not address the issue of implementation by States, the publication highlights CESCR’s commentary within the context of many specific country reviews.
For more information please see: Int’l Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights at 50: The Significance from a Women’s Rights Perspective
Landesa Statement for International Rural Women’s Day
Together with our partner Landesa, GI-ESCR drafted and circulated a sign on statement for international rural women’s day, lauding the United Nations Working Group on Discrimination Against Women in Law and Practice for it recent adoption of a position paper on women’s land rights, available on the Working Group’s website. This joint statement was issued in support of this position paper in honor of International Day of Rural Women (15 October). It was signed by over 70 organisations. Together, we urged that this position paper be widely disseminated and implemented, including compliance by governments.
5. Additional United Nations Advocacy
As this report has shown, a significant part of the work of GI-ESCR involves advocacy with the key international human rights mechanisms based in Geneva: the UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies; the UN Human Rights Council; and the UN Special Procedures mandate holders. Our advocacy is often thematic, such as efforts to advance women’s economic, social and cultural rights. However, we also undertake advocacy for two broader objectives:
• To support and strengthen the UN human rights mechanisms themselves, with an emphasis on accessibility for civil society advocating for ESC rights; and,
• To advance the recognition and understanding of economic, social and cultural rights across the human rights mechanisms.
An important part of our work towards these two objectives is found in our regular publications to the ESC rights community on the work of the human rights mechanisms as it relates to ESC rights. In order to increase the visibility of ESC rights and ensure ESC rights advocates have access to current information about the ESC rights work of the human rights mechanisms, we publish an ‘Update’ on the ESC rights-related reports, events, meetings and developments after each session of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) and of the Human Rights Council. See for example:
Update from Geneva: 36th session of the UN Human Rights Council (October 24, 2017)
Another significant part of this work is providing assistance to NGO colleagues wishing to engage with the human rights mechanisms on ESC rights issues, including those coming to Geneva to undertake their own direct advocacy. Frequently colleagues get in contact with GI-ESCR to ask for assistance in navigating the system, in connecting with people working within the system on particular issues, with amplifying their advocacy message or information about engaging with particular mechanisms. For example, we provided considerable assistance to the NGO delegation that came to Geneva for the review of Australia by CESCR. GI-ESCR also provided advice to NGO colleagues from Venezuela wishing to advocate on the right to food and right to health issues, in the international human rights system.
Strong, independent and effective human rights treaty bodies are essential for the advancement of economic, social and cultural rights at the international level. With this in mind, GI-ESCR sought to increase the visibility of the treaty bodies’ work on ESC rights, to improve the accessibility of their procedures for rights advocates and rights holders, to improve the membership selection processes and to counter the persistent efforts by some States to undermine the treaty bodies.
‘Treaty body Strengthening’
GI-ESCR has continued to participate in initiatives relating to the on-going process known as ‘Treaty body strengthening.' This is a political process initiated in the General Assembly which will culminate in the ‘2020 review’ of the treaty body system. It is being driven both by States who genuinely want to achieve a strong and effective treaty body system, and by those States who want to achieve the opposite. GI-ESCR has participated in the ‘NGO Platform on Treaty Body Strengthening’ (coordinated by the International Service for Human Rights, ISHR) which is working towards an NGO response to the 2020 review of treaty bodies. GI-ESCR attended the Geneva meeting of the Geneva Academy Project on Treaty Body Strengthening, as an NGO representative and presented a paper at a consultation with States, UN agencies and civil society in Geneva, hosted by ISHR. The paper, on ‘2020 review – What do we want to achieve and how?,’ addressed the crucial importance of the treaty bodies’ function as independent monitoring mechanisms, their specialist expertise and openness to civil society. We also addressed the treaty body system’s deficiencies such as: non-reporting States, non-compliance and lack of implementation; incoherence and inconsistencies across treaty bodies; and the ad hoc and unsustainable growth of the system. Finally, GI-ESCR stressed the importance of the strengthening process involving civil society.
GI-ESCR became a member of a new NGO group called the ‘NGO Network on UN Treaty Bodies’ (‘TB-Net’). TB-Net is a small group of NGOs who have specific expertise on, and work in close partnership with, the treaty bodies. It aims to work together on issues affecting all treaty bodies, particularly in relation to procedures and methods of work, civil society engagement and elections and membership, and to promote a view of the treaty bodies as one system.
GI-ESCR worked with TB-Net on 2 main initiatives that we have identified for joint work:
• Enhancing the quality, independence and diversity of treaty body membership, through improving nominations and elections processes. This includes a focus on gender diversity on treaty bodies, which is an issue that GI-ESCR has worked on for a number of years. We held an event in November on this topic which was very well-attended and interactive. This collaborative TB-Net project will continue to engage with States, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the treaty bodies and civil society, towards developing concrete proposals to improve the nominations and elections processes.
For more information, please see:
• The importance of procedures for follow-up of treaty body Concluding Observations and Views and suggestions for improving and harmonising those procedures. GI-ESCR jointly hosted a retreat for treaty body members on ‘follow-up’ which was also very successful with active participation by Committee members from each of the treaty bodies (except the Committee on Migrant Workers). Each of the TB-Net members is continuing to engage with individual Committees on this topic and promoting greater uniformity in the approach to follow-up.
CESCR Working Methods and Communications Procedure
The possibility of international accountability for violations of economic, social and cultural rights became a reality in 2013 when the Optional-Protocol to the ICESCR (OP-ICESCR) came into force. The Communications Procedure of CESCR is in its early stages of development and GI-ESCR has followed this process closely, by collating information about the cases before the Committee, assisting NGO colleagues seeking to interact with the Communications procedure and advocating with the Secretariat and Committee members for transparent, civil society-friendly and effective practices.
The Committee has been diligently working to establish the working methods and procedures, including the innovative ‘Guidance on 3rd Party Interventions.' GI-ESCR, together with its partners from the ESCR-Net Strategic Litigation Working Group, engaged with the Committee and to advocate for working methods that increase transparency and visibility of the work of the Committee and embed spaces for civil society input.
GI-ESCR also assisted ESCR-Net to organise an event in Geneva with members of CESCR and hosted by Portugal, to launch a Commentary on the OP-ICESCR.
In December 2017, GI-ESCR published an Update on CESCR Communications Procedure entitled ‘A slow but solid start for the international accountability mechanism for economic, social and cultural rights.’ GI-ESCR also participated in an annual workshop of advocates litigating with the human rights treaty bodies to discuss common issues and challenges and new developments and innovations from across the treaty body system.
CESCR elections and membership
Further to the work with TB-Net on membership and elections, GI-ESCR focused on CESCR elections which took place in April 2018. In the lead up to those elections we worked to ensure strong nominations and encourage a more transparent and rigorous process. GI-ESCR disseminated information about the up-coming elections and nominations deadline, canvassed potential candidates and encouraged States to nominate strong candidates, in accordance with the principles of quality, independence and diversity.
In order to ensure a strong working relationship between Committee members and civil society, GI-ESCR organised a meeting in early 2017 at which civil society could present their work to the new members of the Committee and discuss topics of common interest. The new members, the Secretariat and the civil society participants all expressed their appreciation for the organisation of the meeting.
Day of General Discussion – Business activities and economic, social and cultural rights
As noted earlier in this report, the Committee held its Day of Discussion on ESC rights in the context of business activities to discuss its draft General Comment on this topic. GI-ESCR was heavily involved in preparations for this Day of Discussion, both in relation to the programme and speakers and in relation to co-ordination between civil society participants on interventions and issues to be discussed. GI-ESCR attended a number of preparatory meetings, including discussions with Committee members about the bigger picture on business and human rights, including the political discussions in the context of the Human Rights Council. GI-ESCR also made an Oral Intervention during the Day of Discussion. Subsequently GI-ESCR published a blog describing the Day of Discussion and key issues addressed.
UN Human Rights Council
GI-ESCR’s work with the Human Rights Council aims to raise the profile of ESC rights in the work of the Council and advance ESC rights recognition and development. As well as our more in-depth thematic work on climate change; the right to education; the right to adequate housing; and women’s economic, social and cultural rights, in 2017 we engaged in advocacy on ESC rights resolutions, held side events, made oral statements, supported ESC rights mandates and engaged in dialogues and meetings related to ESC rights.
For example, GI-ESCR followed the Portuguese annual resolution on economic, social and cultural rights at the March session of the Human Rights Council, which focused on the linkages between ESC rights and the SDGs framework. We made proposals to strengthen the text and to underline the importance of a human rights-based approach to the SDGs.
The adopted resolution is available HERE.
GI-ESCR also undertook advocacy to strengthen the text and to promote greater participation in the negotiations by States and other interested stakeholders, with respect to the resolution on the right to work. For example, we pushed for greater recognition of women’s unpaid work and Importance of social protection and investments in care infrastructure, to ensure equality with respect to the right to work. The adopted resolution is available HERE.
• ESC rights and the SDGs
GI-ESCR continued to work on the links between ESC rights and the SDGs and to advocate for the UN human rights mechanisms to engage with the SDGs processes and press States to implement and monitor the SDGs in accordance with human rights. We have been working with Chile and partner NGOs in relation to this and advocating for them to lead action in the Human Rights Council on this topic. At the March session Chile made a Joint Statement on this topic and announced the beginning of a new initiative on the SDGs and human rights which we continue to be involved in.
In line with this interest and activity, GI-ESCR has been continuing to work with other NGOs to encourage the Human Rights Council to more directly address the link between the two frameworks. GI-ESCR was invited to speak, as the only civil society speaker, at a private retreat on human rights and the 2030 Agenda, hosted by Chile and Denmark. GI-ESCR also gave a presentation on this topic to the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights training course.
• Extreme poverty mandate
GI-ESCR followed the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, including his report to the Council at the June session which focused on universal basic income. GI-ESCR co-sponsored and chaired a side event with the Special Rapporteur and Prof. Sandra Liebenberg from CESCR, which considered the vital role of civil society in the realisation of ESC rights. The Ambassador of Chile gave an introductory presentation. The Special Rapporteur’s country visits to China and Saudi Arabia were discussed as examples of the negative impact of restrictions on civil society participation in government policy-making on ESC rights and in the work of the Special Procedures. The side event was well attended by many States and civil society and was a useful precursor to the Special Rapporteur’s subsequent report on the importance of the indivisibility of rights for the eradication of extreme poverty.
Right to adequate housing project
GI-ESCR’s new project on the right to adequate housing got underway this year. Throughout 2017 we continued to develop the project and consult closely with partners, including the Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, CESCR members, State supporters and housing rights advocates.
During the March session of the Human Rights Council, when the Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing presented her report, GI-ESCR made an Oral Statement to the Council supporting the Rapporteur’s report and analysis on the financialisation of housing and we publicised the Dialogue and the Special Rapporteur’s message.
GI-ESCR attended an Expert Consultation in Geneva hosted by the Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, on the topic of the right to adequate housing and persons with disabilities. The Consultation was intended to inform the subsequent report of the Special Rapporteur, which was submitted to the General Assembly in September 2017. GI-ESCR also organised a meeting between the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing and the World Health Organisation team working on housing as a social determinant of health.
In order to build the capacity of housing rights advocates to engage in the international human rights system and to provide the platform for housing rights advocates to exchange information and practices, we decided to develop a workshop for housing rights advocates. Therefore, together with the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, we commenced the design and preparation of a housing rights advocates workshop to be held in Geneva in 2018.
Climate Change and Human Rights
GI-ESCR continued to work to advance the understanding of climate change and human rights through advocacy in the Human Rights Council, the treaty bodies and with the Special procedures mandate holders. We followed initiatives in the Human Rights Council, such as side events on climate change and the Council panel discussion on climate change and the rights of the child. We also engaged with the Special Rapporteur on the environment and human rights in relation to his
work on biodiversity and human rights and the future of the mandate.
At the June session of the Council, we followed the resolution on climate change and human rights, this year focusing on climate-induced migration and displacement across international borders. GI-ESCR also co-sponsored and chaired a side event on ‘Climate induced movement of people – ensuring a human rights based approach’ involving the Ambassador of Fiji, GI-ESCR and representatives of IOM (International Organization for Migration), OHCHR and Franciscans International. There was a lively discussion regarding the crucial overlap between the Paris Agreement framework, the process for a Global Compact on migration and the human rights framework. The topic was particularly important because it aligned with the topic of the resolution and offered an opportunity to build support for the efforts of the Ambassador of Fiji, who was the Chief Negotiator for the COP23, to promote human rights in the context of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change).
GI-ESCR also co-sponsored a side event on climate change and children’s rights which discussed the report of the OHCHR and the work of the Committee on the Rights of the Child on climate change and children’s rights.
For more information, please see:
As part of a new strategy to increase CESCR’s focus in this area, GI-ESCR organised a small informal meeting between Committee members and NGOs working on climate change and human rights. The meeting has prompted work on climate change in relation to a number of countries coming up for review before CESCR and also ideas for meetings and events.
As a follow-up to this small meeting, GI-ESCR organised another meeting with Committee members during which we identified how NGOs can be most helpful to Committee members, what sort of information was most useful, what broad strategy should be employed and what climate change topics were most urgent or most strategic at this point in time.
In September, together with our NGO partners such as CIEL (Center for International Environmental Law) and Franciscans International, we held a Briefing for CESCR members on the topic of how to address climate change in CESCR’s State reporting process. The idea was to move beyond the discussion of how climate change impacts ESC rights, and to provide members with suggestions about specifically how they can raise climate change with different countries being reviewed. The Briefing was very well attended and the members were very interested and engaged on the topic.
Submissions on Australia, Germany and Argentina
For the review of Australia by CESCR, GI-ESCR submitted a Parallel Report addressing Australia’s contribution to climate change and its serious impacts on ESC rights. The Committee took up the issue during the Dialogue with the Australian delegation and made recommendations which emphasised Australia’s weak Paris Agreement target and that its current policy settings are not conducive to meeting the global ‘well below 2 degrees’ target, nor to avoiding serious ESC rights harms induced by climate change.
The work on climate change was also important as it has advanced the jurisprudence on climate change and human rights and laid a foundation for raising climate change issues in respect of the reviews of other countries.
For more information, please see:
In partnership with CIEL and local NGOs, GI-ESCR submitted parallel reports on Germany and Argentina. They addressed the States’ obligations under the ICESCR with respect to climate change in their respective contexts. For Argentina, we highlighted the exploitation of gas and oil in the Vaca Meurta formation in Patagonia which will lead to the export of huge additional carbon emissions and which is negatively impacting the rights of the indigenous and local peoples in the region. On Germany, we underlined the importance of a managed phase-out of coal and the targeting of climate finance to adaptation activities.
The Lists of Issues adopted by the Committee for these countries both asked the State questions about climate change similar to those proposed by us. We will now look forward to seeing the States’ replies and to advocating for the Committee to raise questions of climate change in the Dialogue with the States and in the Concluding Observations.
For more information, please see:
6. Partnerships and Networks
The Global Initiative is proud to actively participate in several networks, including:
Bringing Human Rights Home: ESC Rights Working Group
ESCR-Net Adjudication Working Group, and Steering Committee
ESCR-Net Social Movement Working Group
ESCR-Net Strategic Litigation Initiative
ESCR-Net Women and ESC Rights Working Group, and Steering Committee
ETO Consortium World Bank/IMF Focal Point Working Group
Extra-Territorial Obligations Consortium
Geneva Climate Change Consultation Group
Geneva Gender Network
Geneva Group of Friends of ESCR
NGO Treaty Body Strengthening Group
Privatization in Education and Human Rights Consortium
U.S. Human Rights Network
World Bank and Human Rights Affinity Group