5. Additional United Nations Advocacy

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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: Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (March, 2017)

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.

Treaty bodies

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. 

TB-Net

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:

Geneva Event: Promoting Quality, Independence and Diversity of Treaty Body membership

•     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:

Human Rights Council Side Event: Impact of Climate Change on the Rights of the Child

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:

Climate change and corporate accountability brought to CESCR’s attention during review of Australia

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:

UN Spotlight on Impacts of Argentina’s Vaca Muerta Fracking Project on Indigenous Rights and Climate Change

Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights addresses climate change

CESCR: Climate Change rises to violation of International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights