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Supporting Equatorial Guinea’s embattled rights defenders

Luke Holland is a researcher and communications officer with the Center for Economic and Social Rights. This blog entry includes video interviews (in Spanish) with several of Equatorial Guinea's leading human rights defenders. To view these clips with English subtitles, click on the 'cc' icon at the bottom of the video frame.

Despite rates of economic growth that leave many wealthier countries in the shade, the majority of Equatorial Guinea’s population continues to live in poverty. The government of Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who seized power over three decades ago in a coup détat, maintains a vice-like grip on power while suppressing the activities of human rights and pro-democracy activists who seek to create a better future for both themselves and their compatriots.

With this stark reality in mind, CESR is collaborating with local rights defenders to help address such injustices. On Monday 12 and Tuesday 13 September we joined forces with EG Justice and several Equatoguinean NGOs to stage a capacity-building workshop in Madrid. The event was designed to provide activists from Equatorial Guinea with the knowledge and understanding they need to make better use of international human rights structures.


The two-day event, which was held behind closed doors due to the often-times brutal repression of social justice campaigners in Equatorial Guinea, focused on the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism. When the Equatoguinean government last appeared before the UPR in 2010, it agreed to implement more than 80 recommendations covering a broad range of economic and social provisions. Civil society organizations participating in the workshop learned about the potential usefulness of the UPR to propel change back home, and discussed the concrete indicators which can be used to evaluate their government’s compliance with the recommendations. Throughout, those in attendance shared their experiences of trying to protect human rights amidst the significant constraints in their homeland.

Supporting local efforts to promote economic and social rights is made all the more important by the Obiang regime’s apparent indifference to the wellbeing of most citizens. One might expect a country that has enjoyed spectacular levels of economic growth in recent years, largely thanks to the discovery of oil and gas reserves in the 1990s, to show corresponding improvements in basic social indicators. While GDP per capita climbed from US $7,600 in 2000 to US $35,000 in 2008, child mortality has actually increased, however.  


Now ranked as the wealthiest country in Sub-Saharan African, the almost total lack of transparency and staggering levels of corruption have led to the country’s extensive resources being squandered by a tiny elite. Both the news media and anti-corruption NGOs such Global Witness have documented the lavish lifestyles enjoyed by the president and his inner circle. Indeed, the profligate spending of Obiang’s playboy son Teodorin has become notorious well beyond the borders of his own country, leading to a series of investigations in the US Senate, alongside police inquiries a legal case in France.

This undignified contrast between Equatorial Guinea’s ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ is manifested in health and education statistics that show it lagging far behind many of its poorer African neighbours. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which Equatorial Guinea ratified in 1987, obliges States Parties to devote the maximum available resources to the realization of economic and social rights, and to prevent retrogression in the provision thereof. With the country’s overflowing coffers being channeled into the building of luxury mansions and man-made private beaches, while budgetary allocations for basic social services remain among the lowest in Sub-Saharan Africa, it is clear that the Obiang regime is ignoring its obligations under human rights law.


If Equatorial Guinea’s resource wealth is to translate into meaningful improvements in the lives of normal people, the determination and commitment of local civil society will be crucial. Effective monitoring and evaluation of UPR commitments, along with the preparation of detailed reports for consideration at the country’s next review in 2014, require the active participation of Equatoguinean rights groups.


When the workshop drew to a close on Tuesday afternoon, the participants agreed the event had been a success and that further capacity-building efforts should be arranged so as to ensure broader and more effective participation in the UPR process. It is CESR’s hope that its continuing support may play some small role in helping local activists overcome the obstacles they face in creating a more just Equatorial Guinea.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of CESR.

Posted by Luke Holland on September 20th, 2011

La democracia española, desposeída

Nicholas Lusiani es Investigador Senior del Centro por los Derechos Económicos y Sociales. Luke Holland es Investigador y Director de Comunicación de CESR. Imágenes, cortesía de Olmo Calvo.

"¡Democracia real ya!" se ha convertido en el lema de los manifestantes antiausteridad en España, que continúan con su campaña para revertir los recortes en servicios sociales básicos, que consideran injustos y antidemocráticos. La ira y la frustración en las calles de Madrid, Barcelona y otras ciudades españolas no parece estar influyendo en los dirigentes del país; sin embargo, una reforma de la Constitución, por la cual se establece un techo permanente a la capacidad del país para financiarse a través del déficit, ha sido llevada al Parlamento a una velocidad de vértigo. La medida atará las manos de los futuros gobiernos y limitará su capacidad para invertir en los derechos humanos básicos, como la educación, la salud, la vivienda y la seguridad social. Por otra parte, los principios de participación, de no discriminación y de rendición de cuentas en materia de derechos humanos se han ignorado abiertamente en medio de la prisa por apaciguar a los pesos pesados europeos y calmar la ansiedad de los mercados financieros.

Las dudosas justificaciones proferidas por los políticos para justificar esta medida extrema y a corto plazo varían de unos a otros. Algunos sostienen que la crisis exige medidas drásticas y asumen que la peor parte se la llevará la ciudadanía de la calle en lugar de las instituciones financieras o la élite económica. Mientras se pide solidaridad a las personas pobres, la evasión fiscal alcanza récords históricos y las principales instituciones financieras otorgan formidables bonificaciones a sus ejecutivos. Otros afirman que la enmienda evitará el tipo de rescate que la UE y el FMI han impuesto a Irlanda, Grecia y Portugal. Sin embargo, este argumento tampoco parece sólido, dado que las reformas fueron diseñadas e implementadas en respuesta inmediata a las exigencias del presidente francés Nicolas Sarkozy y la canciller alemana Angela Merkel. Anticiparse a la presión extranjera, rindiéndose a ella antes de que se intensifique, no representa ningún tipo de prevención en ningún sentido.

Uno de los aspectos más destacables de la reforma de la Constitución española es que se ha elaborado y se ha pasado por el Parlamento a la velocidad de la luz. La propuesta fue aprobada por el Congreso el día 2 de septiembre, con 316 votos a favor y 5 en contra; tan solo cinco días después  el Senado daba luz verde, con 233 votos a favor y 3 en contra. Esta "reforma exprés", como ya se ha dado en llamar, ha provocado una inevitable consternación generalizada tanto entre la clase política como entre los votantes, que han exigido saber el porqué de tan poca oportunidad de participar en una alteración del documento fundacional legal del país. Como se ha hecho notar, este proceso legal podría prolongarse al menos durante un año en Italia, donde los procedimientos parlamentarios no permiten modificar su Constitución con tal arrebato. Sin embargo, con dos de los principales actores políticos de España, el Partido Socialista y el Partido Popular, que dominan la gran mayoría de los escaños en ambas cámaras, el Congreso y el Senado, era poco lo que podía hacerse para impedir un acuerdo bipartidista forjado entre los dos grupos.

La reforma la impulsó un angustioso deseo de convencer a los especuladores y a las agencias de calificación crediticia de que se puede confiar en los bonos de España. El hecho de que tenga que modificarse la Constitución del país para satisfacer las caprichosas demandas de los mercados financieros internacionales, nos obliga a plantearnos algunas preguntas fundamentales sobre el estado de la democracia y los derechos humanos en España. Cuál es el deber esencial del gobierno: garantizar el bienestar de los mercados internacionales de deuda o el bienestar de su pueblo. Quién determina en una sociedad el marco más importante de derechos y obligaciones establecidos en su Carta Magna: una ciudadanía comprometida o entidades financieras privadas y agencias de calificación de deuda.

Y lo que es más, muchos se preguntan si la reforma era realmente necesaria en términos económicos, dado que la economía española gozaba de superávit hasta hace poco y que el déficit presupuestario actual es de naturaleza circunstancial y no de carácter estructural. Además, establecer un techo a la deuda del país sólo servirá para limitar futuras inversiones en servicios sociales, como salud y educación, lo que obstaculizará la productividad y la competitividad de los trabajadores españoles en la economía mundial. A largo plazo, esta reforma puede conducir a salarios más bajos y a una disminución asociada de los ingresos fiscales, lo que a su vez profundizaría la deuda nacional.

Desde esta perspectiva, la reforma no sólo está equivocada, sino que además está mal orientada. En un intento poco reflexionado de salir del paso del atolladero económico actual, los líderes políticos de España no han prestado la atención debida al impacto que a largo plazo sus acciones tendrán precisamente sobre esas mismas personas y esa misma economía a las que dicen estar protegiendo. Sólo hace falta mirar los drásticos recortes que varios estados de EE UU se vieron obligados a realizar, debido a los límites de deuda establecidos en sus constituciones, para entender que arreglos apresurados y desequilibrados que garantizan jurídicamente los límites sobre el techo de la deuda pública limitan las posibilidades de que los gobiernos busquen formas creativas de financiar los derechos económicos y sociales fundamentales. Estas lecciones son especialmente pertinentes para el tipo de crisis económica que España atraviesa en estos momentos. Una financiación inteligente del déficit puede, en cambio, crear hoy el capital humano y de infraestructura que impulsará una economía más justa y sólida mañana. Con un nuevo paquete de reformas laborales aprobadas por el Parlamento la semana pasada –en esta ocasión se abre la puerta a una mayor inseguridad en el trabajo– no es de extrañar que una buena parte de la ciudadanía española se lamente de la falta de "democracia real" en su país.

Las opiniones expresadas en este blog son del autor, no reflejan necesariamente la posición oficial de CESR.

Posted by Luke Holland, Nicholas Lusiani on September 20th, 2011

Spanish democracy dispossessed

Nicholas Lusiani is Senior Researcher at the Center for Economic and Social Rights. Luke Holland is a Researcher and Communications Officer at CESR. Photographs courtesy of Olmo Calvo.

“Real democracy now!” This has become the rallying cry of anti-austerity protesters in Spain, who are continuing their campaign to reverse what they see as unjust and undemocratic cut-backs in basic social services. Anger and frustration on the streets of Madrid, Barcelona and other Spanish cities doesn’t seem to be influencing decision-makers in the country, though, as a Constitutional reform putting a permanent ceiling on the country’s ability to finance itself through deficits has been rushed through parliament at breakneck speed. The move will tie the hands of future governments, limiting their capacity to invest in basic human rights to education, health care, housing and social protection. Moreover, the human rights principles of participation, non-discrimination and accountability have patently been ignored amidst the rush to appease Europe’s power brokers and assuage the anxieties of financial markets.

The questionable justifications proffered by politicians for this extreme and short-sighted measure vary. Some argue that the crisis calls for tough measures, which they assume ordinary citizens, rather than financial insitutions or the economic elite, will bear the brunt of. Solidarity is being demanded from the poor just as tax avoidance by the rich hits record levels and major financial institutions deliver massive bonuses to their executives. Others affirm that the amendment will avert the kind of EU-IMF bailout foisted upon Ireland, Greece and Portugal. This argument rings hollow too, however, given that the reforms were designed and implemented in immediate response to the demands of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Forestalling foreign pressure, by giving into it before it grows too strong, does not represent prevention in any meaningful sense.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the reform to the Spanish Constitution is the lightning speed at which it was drawn up and carried through parliament. The proposal was passed by Congress on September 2, with 316 votes in favor and five against, before being given the green light by the Senate just five days later, with 233 in favor to 3 against. The “express amendment”, as it has come to be known, inevitably provoked widespread consternation among politicians and voters alike who demanded to know why they had so little chance to participate in an alteration of the country’s foundational legal document. It was noted that such a legal process would take at least a year in Italy, where parliamentary procedures do not permit such quickfire changes to the constitution. But with Spain’s two leading political actors, the Socialist Party and the Popular Party, dominating the vast majority of seats in both the upper and lower houses, there was little that could be done to impede a bipartisan agreement hammered out between the two camps.

The amendment was driven by a skittish desire to convince speculators and credit rating agencies that Spain’s bonds can be relied upon. The very fact that the country’s Constitution should be amended to satisfy the capricious demands of international financial markets obliges us to ask fundamental questions about the state of democracy and human rights in Spain. What is the most central duty of government - guaranteeing the wellbeing of international bond markets or the wellbeing of its people? And who is it that determines a society’s most fundamental framework of rights and obligations as set out in its Magna Carta - engaged citizens or private financiers and credit rating agencies?

What is more, many are questioning whether the reform was really necessary in economic terms, given that the Spanish economy was running a surplus until recently and the current budgetary shortfall is circumstantial rather than structural in nature. Moreover, setting a ceiling on the country’s debt will serve only to limit future investments in social services, such as health and education, thus impeding the productivity and competitiveness of Spanish workers in the global economy. In the longer term this may lead to lower wages and associated decreases in tax revenues, in turn entrenching national debt.

From this perspective, the reform is not only wrong, it is wrong-headed too. In an ill-considered attempt to muddle through their current fiscal quagmire, Spain’s political leadership hasn’t given due regard to the long-lasting impacts of their actions on the very people and economy they claim to be protecting. One need only look to the budget slashing several US states were forced to undertake, due to debt limits set in state constitutions, to understand that hasty and unbalanced deals which legally guarantee limits on public debt limit the potential for governments to seek creative ways of financing fundamental economic and social rights. These lessons are especially pertinent to the type of economic crisis Spain finds itself in now. Smart deficit financing can, in contrast, create the human and infrastructural assets today which will drive a more just and robust economy tomorrow. With another wave of labor reforms having passed through parliament last week – this time paving the way for greater job insecurity – it is little wonder so many Spaniards are lamenting the lack of “real democracy” in their country.

  • CESR is working with other Spanish NGOs to address human rights violations stemming from the government's handling of the economic crisis. CESR presented a joint submission with Observatori DESC at the May 2011 pre-sessional working group of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR). Spain will be assessed by the Committee for the first time in eight years at the 48th session in 2012.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the position of CESR.

Posted by Luke Holland, Nicholas Lusiani on September 20th, 2011

Elecciones generales en Guatemala: condenado a repetir la historia?

Jorge Santos es Coordinador General del Centro Internacional para Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos (CIIDH), asociación dedicada a la investigación y generación de propuestas que promuevan y garanticen los derechos humanos en Guatemala.

El 11 de septiembre próximo más de 7 millones 300 mil guatemaltecos y guatemaltecas asistirán a las urnas en lo que representaría el séptimo evento electoral desde el retorno a la vida democrática, mismo que ha estado marcado por una serie de hechos que han producido lo que pudiesen ser factores distorsionadores del evento mismo.

Tal y como fuese documentado por la Comisión para el Esclarecimiento Histórico Guatemala estuvo marcada por un Conflicto Armado de 36 años que dejó una secuela de 250 mil víctimas directas y profundas consecuencias en la sociedad que aún no han sido subsanadas. Al culminar dicho conflicto con la firma de los Acuerdos de Paz, se inició una larga y aún no culminada reforma al Sistema de Partidos Políticos, hecho que ha degenerado en que el joven sistema adolezca de profundas desviaciones que redundan en causar mayores desigualdades en la participación, lo cual profundiza muchas de las causas del conflicto.

Este es un evento electoral atípico ya que se considera ser la más onerosa campaña electoral por parte de algunos partidos políticos; así como también por la debilidad institucional y democrática que se ha dejado manipular por los poderes fácticos del país.  El hecho más notorio ha sido la pretensión de participar a la presidencia de la que fuese la primera dama de la Nación y quien desde el inicio del Gobierno fue la impulsora de programas de asistencia social, que contaron con la negativa de la élite económica y con la simpatía de amplios sectores excluidos del país.  Este proceso de inscripción de la candidata del partido oficial se dio alrededor de cuestionadas decisiones por órganos encargados del proceso electoral mismo, así como por las cortes guatemaltecas. De esa cuenta, es que hoy por primera vez, el partido oficial no cuenta con candidata a la presidencia, sólo para congresistas y alcaldes.

Muchos consideran que la no inscripción de la candidata oficial se debió al temor de la élite económica de la profundización de políticas sociales que fueran en detrimento de sus espurios intereses, de tal cuenta que propiciaron el escenario bajo el cual su candidato fuese la única posibilidad para afianzar el poder político en el ejecutivo y en el legislativo, aún y cuando éste está acusado de graves delitos de lesa humanidad y de contar en la filas de su partido político a miembros del crimen organizado en particular en cuanto al financiamiento del partido se refiere.  Los otros candidatos, unos acusados de ser financiados por el narcotráfico y otros estar financiados por sectores de la oligarquía guatemalteca, dejan poco margen para los que representan intereses del bienestar común.  Muy probablemente estos hechos generan desencanto en la ciudadanía y se produzca lo que el viejo refrán popular dice “pueblo que no conoce su historia, está condenado a repetirla”.

Las opiniones expresadas en este blog son del autor no reflejan necesariamente la posición oficial de CESR

Posted by Jorge Santos on September 6th, 2011

Elections in Guatemala: condemned to repeat history?

Jorge Santos is General Coordinator of the International Center for Human Rights Research (CIIDH), CESR’s partner organization in Guatemala. In this blog entry, he looks forward to next Sunday’s presidential elections and voices concerns over what the outcome may mean for normal Guatemalan people.

On September 11 more than 7,300,000 Guatemalans will go to the polls in what is the seventh electoral event since the return of democracy. The country’s democratic life has been influenced by a series of facts producing what could be a distortionary impact on the same event.

As documented by the Commission for Historical Clarification, Guatemala was marked by a 36-year armed conflict that left a legacy of 250,000 direct victims and profound consequences on the society that still have not been rectified. The culmination of said conflict, with the signing of the Peace Accords, marked the beginning of a long and as-yet unfinished process of reform in the political party system. This has degenerated, however, with profound shortcomings leading to greater inequality in participation, thus deepening many of the original causes of the conflict.

This is an atypical electoral event, in that is regarded as the most onerous election campaign yet by some of the political parties. Likewise, both institutional and democratic weakness have contributed, facilitating manipulation by the factional powers in the country. The most notorious issue has been the presidential pretensions of the former First Lady Sandra Torres, who since the government’s first days was the driving force behind social assistance programs which drew opposition from the economic elite and sympathy from broader excluded sectors of the country. The registration of the official party’s candidate took place amid questionable decisions taken by both the bodies charged with the electoral process itself and the Guatemalan courts. From this context has emerged a situation in which the official party for the first time does not have a candidate for the presidency, only presenting contenders for congress and local authorities.

Many believe the official candidate’s non-registration is down to the economic elite’s fear that social policies would be further deepened, to the detriment of their spurious interests. From this perspective, the elite brought about a situation whereby their candidate would be the only option, thus strengthening political power in the executive and legislature, albeit amidst accusations of crimes against humanity and with the presence of organized crime figures among their ranks, especially in terms of party finances. The other candidates, some of them accused of drug trafficking and others of being financed by the Guatemalan oligarchy, leave little margin for those who represent common wellbeing. It is very likely that these facts will lead to disillusion among the citizenry, and will confirm the old refrain: “a people who don’t know their history are condemned to repeat it”.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of CESR

Posted by Jorge Santos on September 6th, 2011

Political failures behind Horn of Africa crisis

“One is entitled to ask why, after all the development and emergency aid spent on Ethiopia, there is a food crisis there every time there is a drought?”, asks the author Thomas Keneally in his CNN column. As thousands of innocent people lose their lives to yet another famine in the Horn of Africa, and aid agencies scramble to stem the tide of human suffering in burgeoning refugee camps, his question deserves to be carefully considered.

Since headlines first broke about food shortages in Somalia, much criticism has focused on the Al-Shabaab militia, which has been widely condemned for blocking supplies of aid to those who needed it most. The Islamist group that controls much of Southern Somalia – the epicenter of the crisis – cannot be held solely responsible for the situation, however. Humanitarian organizations such as Tearfund working in the region have pointed out that the Famine Early Warnings Systems Networks warned of the impending tragedy as early as last September, but both donor countries and the institutions of international governance were slow to respond.

When on July 20 the UN declared a full-scale famine had taken hold – the first time it has taken this step in 30 years – it was already too late for many thousands of desperate people making their way to emergency feeding centers in neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya.

Upon visiting the Somali capital Mogadishu earlier this month, the UK’s International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell warned that the international community’s response had been “dangerously inadequate”. Even African countries have appeared reticent in the face of the unfolding drama, with only four of the continent’s 54 heads of state turning out to a fundraising summit in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa last week.

By mid-August $1.4 billion had been pledged to support the humanitarian effort, leaving a shortfall of over $1 billion on the amount required by the UN. Meanwhile, upwards of 12 million people are facing food shortages, with an estimated 2.3 million children thought to be acutely malnourished. Some 29,000 Somali children under the age of five have already died of starvation, with 170,000 more at risk of death. Diseases like measles and diarrhea tear through squalid refugee camps struggling to cope with the huge influx of exhausted, hungry people. The World Health Organization has warned that mass population movements brought on by the crisis have served to exacerbate the cholera epidemic.

Against the backdrop of such tragedy, it is crucial that those in positions of power act not only to stop and reverse the spreading crisis, but effectively tackle its root causes  to ensure it is not repeated in the future. While it may by tempting to blame the situation on what is admittedly the region’s worst drought in decades, the depressingly familiar images of human suffering that herald its arrival are the result of political decisions that have combined to violate the full gamut of economic and social rights.

The international community’s reluctance to channel resources into a region controlled by an organization the US State Department regards as terrorist has no doubt contributed to the problem, but such geopolitical considerations cannot be used to justify the violation of people’s most fundamental rights.

At an emergency meeting of the Food and Agriculture Organization on August 18, experts reaffirmed the importance of developing sustainable livelihoods, along with early warning mechanisms, and both adaptation and mitigation policies, in order to enable communities in the Horn of Africa to cope with future climate shocks. “What the world is seeing now is the result of three decades of underinvestment,” said FAO President Jacques Diouf. “Unless these plans are carried out, famine will return to shame the international community.”

The global economic crisis has meanwhile been cited as one reason for governmental apathy in the face of the famine. Commitments made in recent weeks - as television images of starving children translated in growing public pressure - prove that resources can be mobilized when the political will is there, however. It is also worth remembering that, had a little more action been forthcoming when the warnings of an impending food crisis began circulating late last year, the price paid, both in terms of human lives and aid dollars, would have been a great deal lower.

With these facts in mind, Thomas Keneally might be forgiven for wondering “will there be fewer refugees, walking fewer miles?”, when the next drought comes along somewhere down the line.  “Is this a failure of rain?,” asks the Schindler’s Ark author, “or a failure of government?”. 

Pictures by Stuart Price, (c) UN Photo.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of CESR.


Posted by Luke Holland on September 2nd, 2011

Land Grabbing and Its Implications for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

The formerly state-owned Chinese company ZTE International has acquired three million hectares of land in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The giant agricultural plantation being developed there will produce palm oil, with nearly 100 percent of it being exported to China to provide food and biofuel for the country’s burgeoning population. What will happen to the Congolese people living on the site remains to be seen, however. What we do know is that the Chinese hold title to the land for 99 years, and that those living upon it may well be deprived of their rights to food and housing.

When foreign investors acquire large stretches of land for cultivation and export of agricultural products, access to water or market speculation, all too often we can speak of land grabbing.

A global rush on farmland


Media reports suggest that in Sub-Saharan Africa alone some 60 million hectares of land (equivalent to the total arable land of France, Italy and Germany combined) have been subject to this new form of agricultural investment in recent years. When up to 100 percent of produce is used to satisfy food and energy needs of foreign countries, local populations driven off their lands are deprived of the capacity to feed themselves and maintain their livelihood and culture. Therefore, land grabbing is an issue of crucial concern for economic, social and cultural rights.

Although not a new phenomenon, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Oliver De Schutter warns that the problem is intensifying: “What we are witnessing is a situation in which pressures on land and water are increasing at an unprecedented speed. Each year, up to 30 million hectares of farmland are lost.”

While Latin America and South East Asia have traditionally been the primary targets for foreign investment in agriculture, the World Bank’s initial report on the subject found that in recent years more than 70 percent of these deals took place in Sub-Saharan Africa, with Ethiopia, Mozambique, North and South Sudan, Madagascar and the DRC being the principal countries.

Foreign investors looking for food and energy

The major investors in the region are the Gulf States. They generally favor other members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, such as North and South Sudan. South Korea and China have also played a significant role in land grabbing.

An essential characteristic of land grabbing is the direct or indirect involvement of investing governments. By acquiring arable land for up to 99 years, states may directly outsource their food production, or execute projects via state-owned enterprises. Furthermore they often provide subsidies for food or biofuel production. About 50 percent of land grabs are conducted with state involvement.

While governmental investments often focus on food production, private corporations - mostly based in Western countries - mainly produce crops for biofuels. Stock market brokers and investment funds have emerged as new actors in the agricultural sector acquiring farmland for speculation purposes. New York-based investment fund Jarch Capital is now said to own 1.2 million hectares of land in South Sudan, reportedly bought from rebel leaders.

Losing access to land and resources

In the vast majority of cases these investments are characterized by a lack of transparency and scant participation of local populations. They are not illegal under investment law, however, and they are often nested in bilateral cooperation agreements.

Those benefiting from such investments are often local elites and corrupt governments. When up to 100 percent of crops are used for export in order to fulfill the food security targets of foreign countries, benefits for local populations are limited. Traditional forms of agriculture are lost, while large-scale industrial farming causes environmental degradation and water scarcity. Most importantly, people are driven off their lands and lose access to resources. Those affected generally have no voice to demand justice.

Economic, social and cultural rights as a tool to demand justice

Land grabbing therefore stands in clear contradiction of economic, social and cultural rights. Access to land and resources has been defined as a core element of the right to food, housing, self-determination and participation in cultural life. The right to food calls for a fair distribution of food supplies while the right to housing aims at outlawing arbitrary forced evictions. 

General Comment 12 of the CESCR stresses in Paragraph 6 that: "The right to adequate food is realized when every man, woman and child, alone or in community with others, has physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement." The General Comment also establishes that food availability involves "possibilities either for feeding oneself directly from productive land or other natural resources."

General Comment 4 on the right to adequate housing notes that the right to housing cannot be interpreted narrowly, but rather should be seen as "the right to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity", and that "forced evictions are considered as prima facie incompatible with the requirements of the Covenant and can only be justified in the most exceptional circumstances, and in accordance with the relevant principles of international law."

Furthermore, in its General Comments the Committee has repeatedly stressed the importance of participation of local populations in decision-making processes. Furthermore, the African system of human rights emphasizes the rights to natural resources, development and a healthy environment.

As mentioned above the direct or indirect involvement of investing governments is an essential characteristic of land grabs. Therefore, human rights obligations cannot be restricted to host governments. Those states acquiring land abroad must also live up to extraterritorial obligations to respect, protect and fulfill human rights towards those affected by their actions. The UN Charter establishes the duty to cooperate internationally in order to establish an enabling environment for the fulfillment of human rights. There is no space for land grabs in such an “enabling environment”. Economic, social and cultural rights can serve as a tool to prevent land grabbing.

What is being done?

Until recently awareness raising on the subject was largely left to non-governmental organizations and human rights activists. Only in 2009 did the World Bank take up the subject, arguing for principles of responsible investment. Along the same lines, the FAO has drafted voluntary guidelines for investors in agriculture. For many, these ethical guidelines do not provide an adequate solution to the problem, and many civil society organizations and social movements demanding justice have called for land grabbing to be outlawed. 

The Kuala Lumpur Guidelines for a Human Rights Approach to Economic Policy in Agriculture, developed by ESCR-NET, have also been designed as a tool for guiding agricultural policy in accordance with human rights principles and standards.  Meanwhile, The Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-Based Evictions and Displacement, drawn up by the Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, address the human rights implications of coerced or involuntary evictions and displacement. The latter framework also offers guidance on the human rights obligations of duty-bearers in the face of potential violations caused by landgrabbing.

The recent large-scale acquisition of land is a global phenomenon with deep implications for the realization of economic, social and cultural rights for some of the world's most vulnerable populations. As former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan stated in 2010 in no uncertain terms, “we have seen a scramble for Africa before. I don’t think we want to see a second scramble of that kind.”

Posted by Ute Reisinger on August 16th, 2011

Gaps in corporate accountability need greater attention, civil society groups say

A coalition of civil society groups, including CESR, is calling for stronger international protection against corporate human rights abuses. The call comes as the mandate of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on human rights and business, John Ruggie, is ending in June.

In a statement, the groups called on governments to uphold their duty to protect human rights, and for companies to meet their responsibility to respect human rights, to advance the protection of human rights in relation to business activity.

The groups are concerned that a new report on business and human rights currently being finalized for the UN will not go far enough to help those most vulnerable.

While welcoming the work done by the Special Representative to develop a framework of principles reflecting the human rights responsibilities of businesses and states, the groups called on the UN Human Rights Council to take more effective steps to address the major obstacles to corporate accountability which continue to deny victims access to justice and redress. These include creating a new UN mechanism to examine how these principles are applied in practice and developing stronger international standards which address the current gaps in legal protection.

The process towards the adoption of a normative human rights framework applicable to companies has been slow and controversial. At the end of 2010, John Ruggie, the UN Special Representative on business and human rights, invited comments on a set of draft guiding principles addressing the respective human rights responsibilities of states and companies.

The latest statement expressing concern was signed by 55 organizations, including CESR.


Posted by Hannah Moysey and Kevin Donegan on June 8th, 2011

Human Rights Essential to Human Development in Least-Developed Countries

A new goal to halve the number of least-developed countries by 2022 has been endorsed by delegates at a United Nations conference.

The event, which took place this month in Istanbul, under the theme "Partnership against Poverty," set out the ambitious plan as part of the newly-adopted Istanbul Political Declaration and Programme of Action for the LDCs.

The number of "least-developed countries" (LDC) has doubled since 1971, when the first official list of countries in this category was compiled by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. There are currently 48 least-developed countries, and just three countries have ever "graduated" out of this status (Botswana in 1994, Cape Verde in 2007 and the Maldives in 2010).

The Fourth Conference of the LDCs summit (LDC-IV) was particularly relevant to current debates around the need for a paradigmatic shift in the global development agenda. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon noted in advance that "Istanbul will determine the development paradigm for years to come."

During the conference, Craig Mokhiber, an official with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, warned that "development - real development - is about freedom from fear and freedom from want, for all people, without discrimination. Any more narrow analysis, focused entirely on economic growth, or private investment, or governmental structures is destined to fail."

The urge to look beyond economic growth is bolstered by the fact that rising GDP in the least-developed countries has often not translated into the kind of improvements in human development outcomes and poverty reduction needed to accomplish the MDGs by 2015. This has been pointed out by the UN's own Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing Countries (UN-OHRLLS), as well as NGOs present at the LDC-IV Civil Society Forum. Roberto Bissio of Social Watch said these slow improvements in social indicators despite economic growth was largely because "growth has only benefitted small elites and foreign investors, mainly extractive industries."

LDC countries have experienced economic growth at a faster rate since 2001, and in 2004, LDCs underwent the fastest annual growth rate in four decades. The average rate of people living in extreme poverty in these countries, meanwhile, dropped only slightly, from 57.6 percent in 1990 to 52.8 percent in 2007, according to a May 2011 report by UNCTAD (extreme poverty is less than $1.25 a day). One of the LDCs earmarked for "graduation," for example, is Equatorial Guinea, a country whose economy has expanded exponentially to become one of the wealthiest in sub-Saharan Africa since the discovery of oil and gas reserves over a decade ago. Despite having a GDP per capita (PPP) comparable to Belgium and Denmark, Equatorial Guinea ranks 117 out of 169 countries in the Human Development Index and is failing to devote its full resources to fulfilling the economic and social rights of its people, as CESR has previously reported.

LDCs are highly vulnerable to volatile booms and busts in international markets. This calls into question the true impact of changes in economic growth rates. The knock-on effects that the economic crisis had on the LDCs, adversely felt in food prices, remittances, trade and donor aid commitments, have been a further catalyst for civil society demands for a paradigm shift in development strategy. Such a shift is needed to strengthen the LDCs' resilience to external shocks and ensure that the world's most vulnerable peoples do not become further impoverished by the global economic system.

Civil society organizations participating in the LDC-IV gathering put forward a series of key proposals and issues for further debate and action. Contained in The LDC Civil Society Forum Istanbul Declaration, they call for reforming the governance and mandate of international financial institutions. Some proposals advocate greater regulation of the financial and banking sector, as well as a global transactions tax as a source of funding. Others discuss the need to level the playing field and overhaul unfair in the current international trading system.

Cancellation of onerous debt and the removal of conditionalities have also been promoted by civil society from both the North and South. According to the head of LDC Watch Arjan Karaki, "many LDCs spend more money on debt servicing than providing essential services like health care, drinking water and energy." Civil society also called on donor countries to provide more and better ODA and to channel their funding to improve human well-being and capacity, such as education, gender equality or health. Although emerging economies are increasingly seen as possible new aid providers through "south-south cooperation," there are concerns this might social protection. This acts both as a means for the equitable redistribution of wealth to the poor during times of expansion and a safety net during times of crisis and fiscal contraction. Such an approach has been advocated by Magdalena Sepulveda Carmona, the UN Independent Expert on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty, who has called for a human rights component to economic growth. It is also echoed by the International Labor Organization, which held a side event at LDC-IV on social protection and employment.

This broader development agenda was also echoed by civil society organizations at the LDCs who called for moving away from market-driven policies to people-centered development. As a result, the focus on private sector solutions and partnerships at the conference was met with significant disappointment, leading many critics to deride the Program of Action as a repackaging of Washington-Consensus approaches to development-grounded in economic neoliberalism, lack of government accountability and further exploitation of the LDCs.

Any new international development architecture for LDCs must place emphasis on not only economic growth for "graduation," but on rights-based sustainable and equitable growth. Economic growth is necessary, but it is an insufficient condition to accelerating progress on the MDGs in the LDCs. Just four LDCs have met their drinking water targets, for example.

The international community should build on the lessons learned from the failure of solely focusing on economic growth in light of the lack of substantial progress made on reducing the number of LDCs. It should also learn from the disproportionate human impacts of the economic crisis on these countries, particularly on the most vulnerable and marginalized. A people-centered approach to development can only prove successful if it is grounded within a genuine framework of human rights recognized by both donor countries and LDC governments. Unfortunately the Istanbul Consensus falls short of forging this vital foundation.


The 48 least-developed countries

Africa: 33 countries.

Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauretania, Mozambique, Niger, Rwanda, São Tomé and Príncipe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Togo, Uganda, Tanzania, and Zambia.

Asia and the Pacific: 14 countries

Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, Cambodia, Kiribati, Lao Peoples Democratic Republic, Nepal, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, and Yemen.

Latin America and the Caribbean: 1 country

Haiti

Characteristics of LDCs

Average income of less than $475 (£288) a person a year. Weak human resources as measured by nutrition, infant mortality, secondary school environment and adult literacy. High economic vulnerability as measured by factors such as population size, remoteness, share of agriculture, and homelessness due to natural disasters. A country "graduates" from LDC status if the figure hits $900.

Main challenges facing LDCs

High levels of poverty: more than half the 800 million people in the LDCs live on less than a dollar a day. Women in LDCs have a one in 16 chance of dying in childbirth, compared to one in 3,500 in North America.

Food insecurity: More than 300 million Africans are food insecure.

Economic vulnerability: LDCs are highly dependent on external sources of funding, including official development assistance, workers' remittances and foreign direct investment. This overly exposes them to external shocks such as the global financial crisis.

Environmental vulnerability: While they contribute least to climate change, LDCs are among the groups of countries most affected by it. Many LDCs are also small islands whose very survival is threatened by rising sea levels.

Source: UN

Posted by Victoria Wisniewski Otero on May 27th, 2011

International Financial Institutions Warn About Food Crisis But Offer No Policy Changes

Escalating food, energy and commodity prices were top of the agenda when the World Bank and International Monetary Fund met this month in Washington for their annual Spring meetings.

World Bank President Robert Zoellick warned that the world was "one shock away from a full-blown crisis" due to food price spikes. Zoellick affirmed that the increases are "the biggest threat to the poor in the world" and noted that food prices have been a catalyst to the social unrest in recent Arab uprisings.

The Development Committee, the direction-setting body of the boards of governors of the World Bank and the IMF, highlighted "high and volatile international food prices and their impact on vulnerable populations, as well as the longer term risks they pose to growth and poverty reduction."

Last year alone, 44 million people globally were pushed into poverty, many becuase of rising food prices.

According to the FAO's latest Food Price Index, food prices are 37 percent above those in March 2010, with rising costs pushing millions into extreme poverty. People living in poverty spend more of their money on food, particularly on staple foods, which have seen some of the highest increases.

With less than five years left to meet the Millennium Development Goals--such as the crucial goal to eradicate extreme hunger and poverty, including halving the proportions of people living on less than US$1 a day and those who suffer from hunger--world leaders are right to be alarmed. Food is essential to life and, therefore, one of the most basic and fundamental of human rights.

Rather than because of a shortage of food, the current food crisis was triggered in large part due to market speculation in agricultural commodities, a factor that President Nicolas Sarkozy described as "extortion" and "pillaging." France, which will host the 2011 G-20 Summit in November, has made addressing the food crisis by combating price volatility a priority for the meeting in Cannes.

As recently as January, however, the World Bank--an agency with a long track record of controversial, aggressive and mixed-success agricultural and economic prescriptions--argued that "free markets can still feed the world," proposed nine measures for the G20 to adopt. Oxfam's Duncan Green points out that the World Bank has a "myopic focus on maintaining the integrity of trade and markets."

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter, also likened this volatility and instability to a "speculative bubble," noting that a causal factor was the "deregulation in important commodity derivatives markets beginning in 2000." A 2010 report by the World Development Movement, a British NGO, called this banking speculation "the great hunger lottery."

The recommendations issued by the World Bank also prompted a response from de Schutter, who wrote that the measures "tackle only the symptoms of the global food system's weaknesses, leaving the root causes of the crises untouched." In fact, there can be no sustainable solutions to the food crisis if these are not grounded in human rights.

Regrettably, despite the World Bank's spot-on assessment of the poor and vulnerable bearing the brunt of the food crisis, the outcomes of the Spring meeting show that the Bretton Woods institutions continue to ignore calls from the human rights community to reassess their own approach to agriculture policies and market regulation and to change the rules of the game.

This is despite repeated pleas from civil society for a new trade and development model to address the ongoing food crisis, especially as current policies have perpetuated land grabbing, food price speculation, and irrational, non-transparent and unjust market outcomes. They have also contributed to the kind of profiteering that has gambled away the human right to food in favor of its commoditization--all at the cost of making food economically unaccessible to the world's poorest.

Posted by Victoria Wisniewski Otero on April 26th, 2011

David vs Goliath in the Ecuadorian Amazon

CESR Co-founder Chris Jochnick just shared a rare David vs Goliath story about the recent Ecuadorian court ruling ordering Chevron to pay US$9 billion in compensation for the environmental and health impacts of oil contamination in the Amazon.

As Jochnick notes, he made made his "first trip to the region in 1993 as part of a rag-tag team of lawyers searching for potential plaintiffs for this quixotic case against Texaco." Some of that work was later continued by CESR, as well as many Ecuadorian and other NGOs and advocates. Read his view of the story on Oxfam's Politics of Poverty blog.

CESR Executive Director Ignacio Saiz also wrote recently about this case. You can read his article here.

Posted by Kevin Donegan on March 11th, 2011

100 Years of International Women's Day

Today marks the centenary of International Women's Day. Originating from labor movements in North America and across Europe at the turn of the 20th Century, International Women's Day is now a global celebration. As the UN says, it is an occasion “for looking back on past struggles and accomplishments, and more importantly, for looking ahead to the untapped potential and opportunities that await future generations of women.”

With the official launch of UN Women (the new United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women) last month, there is much to celebrate this International Women’s Day. Its establishment has the potential to accelerate progress over the next century on achieving gender equality; a goal that has been underpinned internationally since it was enshrined in the Preamble of the United Nations Charter more than 65 years ago.

In her International Women’s Day address, Under Secretary General and Executive Director of UN Women, Michelle Bachelet, outlines the organization’s vision as “a world where women and men have equal opportunities and capacities and where principles of gender equality are embedded in the development, peace and security agendas.” Achieving this, she argues, requires opening up space for women’s political leadership; freeing women from gender-based violence; and convincing key policymakers that where women fully contribute to their economies and societies, everybody gains.

Bachelet is right to point to evidence that when women have access to good education, good jobs, to land and other assets, national growth and stability are enhanced. Such arguments for women’s socioeconomic advancement have great political leverage. But they risk marginalizing key aspects of women’s human rights and creating a fragmented normative approach to gender equality. Women should have access to education, to jobs, to land and to resources, not only because it is good for the economy, but because—like men—they are entitled to these fundamental rights.

Human rights, and in particular the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women, are identified as a key focus area for UN Women. The Convention elaborates the norm of non-discrimination by providing that women should be treated the same as men. Non-discrimination is a prerequisite of equality. A more holistic understanding of equality, which aims to respond to the economic, social and cultural dimensions of women’s lives, has been increasingly reflected in international law and global UN policy commitments.

Despite much progress, socioeconomic deprivations continue to be a lived reality for many women around the world. Governments have made less progress on MDG 5: Improving Maternal Health, for example, than on any other millenium development goal.

So today is a timely reminder of the importance of mainstreaming human rights language in the new agency's operational framework as it continues to evolve. And to ensure that the framework includes a strong focus on women’s economic, social and cultural rights as a means to achieving meaningful gender equality. Human rights must be not only at the heart of UN Women’s future programs, policies and planning, but also in its strategic partnerships as well, including involvement from the special procedures and mechanisms, various UN treaty bodies and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. But it must also involve substantive engagement and participation from civil society, grassroots groups, gender experts and human rights practitioners.

In times of economic crisis, it is more important than ever that UN Women address women’s social and economic exclusion and marginalization as the underlying factors that prevent women from accessing jobs, a decent education and a political voice. Rather than merely "treating the symptom without treating the cause," UN Women should incorporate a human rights framework as a means of rendering its work on women’s empowerment more meaningful, accountable and based on principles of equality and non-discrimination. A human-rights-based approach can play a major role in driving the agency’s direction and completing its objectives in a way that marks a new international approach to gender architecture than from what came before.

UN Women produced the following video, The Journey of Women's Rights 1911-2011, to commemorate today's anniversary:

Posted by Allison Corkery and Victoria Wisniewski on March 8th, 2011

International Mission Focuses on Right to Food in Bolivia

CESR staff member Sally Anne Way took part in an international fact-finding mission to Bolivia in February to address the causes of hunger and malnutrition in the country and investigate the circumstances that produce food insecurity. The mission was organized by Rights and Democracy in collaboration with La Coordinadora de Integración de Organizaciones Económicas, Campesinas y Indígenas y Originarias de Bolivia (CIOEC).

The mission delegation, comprised of Bolivian experts on food security, and six representatives of international organizations working on economic and social rights, including an advisor to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, visited several communities affected by hunger and malnutrition, including the northern part of Potosí (Llallagua, Pocoata, Macha y Colquechaca), Cochabamba (Tapacari) and Chaco (Alto Parapeti). The mission also conducted a range of interviews with representatives of the central government, as well as UN and donor agencies, social movements and indigenous peoples.

"The mission is important because it will highlight the ways in which the human rights framework can provide practical assistance to states as they implement strategies to eradicate hunger within their jurisdictions," said Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, in a message sent to the members of the mission delegation. "I am confident that the mission findings will be a useful contribution to our common struggle."

In a public conference in La Paz on February 14, 2011, members of the delegation presented their preliminary observations and recommendations. The mission team welcomed the strong political will of the Bolivian government to meet its constitutional obligation towards the right to food and to address the issues of food security and malnutrition through its policies on food sovereignty. urged the government of Bolivia to adopt more formal measures to guarantee coherence between constitutional compromises on the right to food and public policy, programs and budget allocations.

However, the mission also highlighted the need to ensure greater coherence between public policy, programs and budget expenditures to encourage greater investment in small-scale agriculture, including strengthening capacities at the municipal level to implement productive projects to support subsistence and small-scale farmers. Policies to support national food production should also ensure consideration of the environment and respect indigenous territories. The mission welcomed how income from the Direct Tax on Hydrocarbons (IDH) was being used for redistributive purposes, but urged that income also be invested to diversify the economy away from dependence on natural resource extraction. Welcoming the government's efforts to address historical injustices through its land reforms, the team urged that land was not sufficient without productive resources and urged the government to prioritize the progressive realization of the right to food. The mission team also called for more space for public debate and greater transparency, access to information and participation in policy and budgetary processes. A full mission report will be released in May 2011.

Compared with other countries in the Latin American and Caribbean region, Bolivia has one of the highest rates of chronic malnutrition, which affects 27 percent of children under five. The highest rates are found in rural and indigenous communities. CESR has worked to highlight economic, social and cultural rights in Bolivia, particularly in light of Bolivia's presentation before the 40th session of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in May 2008.

In addition, Sally-Anne Way is co-author of a just-published book, along with Jean Ziegler, Christophe Golay and Claire Mahon, "The Fight for the Right to Food: Lessons Learned," part of the International Relations and Development Series of the Graduate Institute, Geneva.

Posted by Victoria Wisniewski Otero and Sally-Anne Way on March 2nd, 2011
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Local justice in Ecuador advances global struggle for corporate accountability

A provincial court in Ecuador this week ordered U.S. oil giant Chevron to pay more than US$9 billion in compensation for the environmental and health impacts of oil contamination in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The decision comes after an 18-year struggle by the affected communities, mostly indigenous, who have been seeking damages from the company and redress from the Ecuadorian government.

CESR was part of a coalition of human rights, indigenous and environmental groups which supported their cause. In 1994, shortly after the communities filed their lawsuit for damages, CESR published a report, “Rights Violations in the Ecuadorian Amazon: The human consequences of oil development,” (PDF download) documenting the devastating impact on the population of the billions of gallons of crude oil discharged into the rainforest and water supply in the Oriente region by national and multinational oil companies, including Texaco (which was acquired by Chevron in 2001).

The report concluded that the Ecuadorian government’s failure to prevent the oil contamination, to regulate the operations of oil companies and to provide victims with effective legal redress, constituted a violation of the rights to health and a healthy environment of members of the affected communities. Indigenous and environmental leaders welcomed CESR’s human rights approach as a significant contribution to their efforts to end corporate abuses in the Amazon.

While concentrating on the Ecuadorian government’s human rights obligations, CESR also signaled the need for multinational corporations (MNCs) to be held accountable, in view of the tremendous power they exerted over people’s lives. (Texaco’s annual revenues at the time, for example, were more than three times Ecuador’s GDP.) The report called for Texaco and other private companies to be held civilly liable, and to be held directly accountable to their human rights obligations:

“The role played by MNCs and the international community in contributing to human rights violations in the Oriente carries a corresponding responsibility to help resolve them… Efforts must be made towards extending human rights law beyond individual governments to include MNCs and other powerful international actors.”

It has taken 18 years for the communities’ claim for redress to be heeded. There have been many obstacles along the way, including jurisdictional challenges and smear campaigns by Chevron, which has fought the case all the way and has condemned this week’s judgment as “illegitimate and unenforceable.” The company has vowed to appeal the ruling.

While welcoming the judgment, the plaintiffs have stressed that no amount of damages can restore the lives and livelihoods lost through contamination.

It has also taken decades for the international community to affirm the need for companies to be held accountable under binding human rights standards, as CESR called for in its 1994 report.

The process towards the adoption of a normative human rights framework applicable to companies has been slow and controversial. At the end of 2010, John Ruggie, the UN Special Representative for Business and Human Rights, invited comments on a set of draft guiding principles addressing the respective human rights responsibilities of states and companies. A joint statement signed by over 100 civil society organizations including CESR voiced serious concern that the regressive approach of the draft principles could undermine existing standards rather than reinforcing them.

The Ecuadorian court judgement against Chevron shows how tortuously slow the uphill struggle for corporate accountability can be. But the case also demonstrates that a progressive and transformative approach to human rights can be a powerful support to marginalized communities seeking to take on the might of multinational corporations.

Visit CESR's Ecuador page for more information.

Posted by Ignacio Saiz, Executive Director on February 17th, 2011

Egypt: Economic and Social Disparities Underlie Calls for Change

Tens of thousands of people have gathered today in central Cairo and other Egyptian cities for what they are calling the "day of departure" of President Hosni Mubarak.

Ten days after protests began in Egypt, and exactly three weeks after former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali stepped down in Tunisia, one of the most remarkable regional uprisings in recent history continues to blow change through the Arab world.

These are unprecedented protests by citizens reclaiming their rights not only to political freedoms but, critically, to a decent standard of living. The tide of dissent that began in Tunisia has swept to Algeria and Yemen, among other countries, and governments have been forced to react to demands for immediate change.

While the media has understandably focused on the violence and authoritarian intransigence with which the protests have been met, the underlying causes at the heart of these revolutions have received less attention.

Protesters are clearly demanding fundamental regime changes--for rule of law, for greater freedom of expression and for the overhaul of the dominant authoritarianism that has stunted democratic governance for decades. But a tipping point that fueled the uprisings, called "days of rage" by organizers, stems from longstanding frustrations about living a decent life in dignity.

Dissatisfaction about high unemployment, lack of economic prospects, rising food prices, endemic poverty and inadequate living conditions that citizens in these countries have faced has boiled over. Curbing of people's political expression and high-level corruption by avaricious leaders have further compounded this deep frustration. The Brookings Institution recently noted that "the social and economic underpinnings of the uprising are among the important similarities between Tunisia and these other countries."

Access to basic economic and social rights is a central part of the back story: In December 2010, the FAO's food price index spiked to a record level, surpassing even that of 2008 which prompted global riots. The agency estimated that prices could increase further, and worried that this surge could instigate a new wave of riots, particularly in the Middle East. This alarming all-time high prompted the FAO's Chief Economist Abdolreza Abbassian to warn that "we are entering dangerous territory."

Underlying the past weeks' events are inequality--and possible violations of people's economic and social rights--in the rights to food, work, housing and education, among others. Further, two significant areas of discrimination deserve a closer look: disparities between youth and adults, and between men and women, especially in health, education, labor and an adequate standard of living. These disparities are significant, as CESR has previously reported.

A successful outcome of Egypt's current political reform hinges on addressing these fundamental inequities.

An August 2010 ILO report on global youth unemployment pessimistically predicted that in 2010-2011, "only in the Middle East and North Africa" are youth unemployment rates expected to increase in 2011. In a January 2011 report on overall unemployment trends the agency noted that the region continues to have the highest rate of unemployment in the world, with the youth unemployment rate nearly four times that of older adults. Youth are characterized as between the ages of 15-29 years of age, they represent the largest demographic group in the Arab region that is growing at an unprecedented rate, according to a UN report.

In March 2010, the Middle East Youth Initiative pointed out that while unemployment in Egypt had been declining, this was paradoxically associated with a deterioration of job quality rather than major improvements in labor market conditions. Youth who are left with either precarious or informal employment are often not included in labor statistics. The UNDP's 2010 Human Development Report on Egypt warned that the "the outcome of youth's transition to adulthood, if badly managed, becomes highly problematic."

The long-term consequences of sustained youth marginalization has been echoed repeatedly for years by several international organizations. "Given the high percentage of youth among Arab populations, and their intense yearning for jobs, opportunities, and freedom the risks of neglecting youth are simply too high to afford," UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro said recently.

It is this "generation-in-waiting," tired of social exclusion, who believe that change is now possible. They are leaders in bringing about what looks to be a new era for the Middle East--one in which governments will have to meet citizens' social, economic and political aspirations.

Nowhere has this been more evident than in Egypt, the most populous Arab country. These past 10 days the country has witnessed its first major uprising since the 1977 Egyptian Bread Riots.

In a January 25 statement by the Egyptian Land Center for Human Rights in response to the growing protests, the organization noted, "Perhaps this message will make the authorities wake up from their slumber, and force them to apply alternative policies... and ensure a dignified life for the Egyptians. All of this could be achieved by providing opportunities for decent work, decent housing, appropriate health care and education for all citizens, who are raged and angry at the bad conditions and current policies."

Just yesterday, the Director-General of the UN International Labour Organization (ILO), Juan Somavia, called on the leaders of Egypt to "listen attentively and sincerely to the voices of the people [and] first of all, to provide decent jobs and good opportunities to maintain a decent living."

"The failure to address this situation effectively, with all of its consequences for poverty and unbalanced development, together with limitations on basic freedoms, has triggered this historic outpouring of popular demands," Mr. Somavia said in a statement.

The causes of the recent street protests reverberate with civil society organizations' work toward rights-based economic and social reform. The Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, an NGO whose offices were reportedly raided by police and some of whose employees were beaten by thugs yesterday, pointed out last month that the costs of the global economic crisis have been paid by the poor. An increasing cost of living, stagnant wages and lack of employment opportunities was underscored by the fact that the only beneficiaries of Egypt's economic policies are those close to decision-makers, the organization said.

Similar concerns were raised earlier last year by CESR, along with several other local and regional NGOs, when Egypt appeared before the 7th Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council in February 2010. A joint NGO statement on Egypt's compliance with its economic and social rights obligations noted some disquieting findings, including that:

  • Public spending on health, education and social security declined between 2003-2007, in stark contrast to the rise in spending on defense and national security;
  • Egypt's anti-poverty policies have failed to make progress, and the number of people living on less than $2 per day in Egypt has risen in the past 20 years;
  • Members of the informal sector have suffered a deterioration of their real earnings over time; and
  • Only 16 percent of women in Egypt work, women's salaries are far lower than men's for comparable work, and women are far more likely to be unemployed. The gender wage gap is the widest of all the lower-middle-income MENA (Middle East and North Africa) countries.

The disproportionate impact of economic and social deprivation on women and girls was also highlighted in CESR's fact sheet on Egypt, produced in collaboration with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the findings of which were echoed by the UN Committee monitoring discrimination against women.

The street protests demonstrate how interrelated social and economic rights are to political freedoms. A continued state of emergency has been in place in Egypt since 1981. This highly restrictive political environment has hampered democratic processes, which are vital for sustainable social and economic development and progress on all human rights.

Peaceful transition in Egypt, as well as in other Arab countries experiencing similar changes, must not only open up space for political participation. New leaders and governments must listen to their people's demands for economic and social rights, and for structural reforms to eradicate enduring and entrenched patterns of poverty, inequality, and exclusion. Key members of the international community also must take responsibility in enabling Arab states to meet the full range of their human rights obligations during and beyond this transition period.

Related: CESR condemns assault, coercion and threats of human rights workers and journalists in Egypt >>

Posted by Victoria Wisniewski, Ignacio Saiz and Kevin Donegan on February 4th, 2011

CESR at the UN: the United States' human rights obligations (video).

Last month, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva reviewed the United States' human rights performance. CESR was there, in coalition with the US Human Rights Network, Center for Women's Global Leadership, ESCR-Net, Urban Justice, Political Economy Research Institute.

After the official UN session, CESR organized a side event, Human Rights in the U.S.: Building foundations for Freedom from Want in the Land of Plenty. This space opened the opportunity for a dialogue between representatives from civil society and states' delegations about the United States' examination under the UN's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process and next steps for citizens and advocacy organizations. You can read more of our reporting on the event and the UPR here.

View the videos below, including CESR executive director Ignacio Saiz's comments:

Part 1

Part 2

More videos and comments from other panelists:

Part 3

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PEUG-kVUKjQ

Part 4

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ukGdg2c4OJ8

Part 5

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXLWDZnrRuk

Part 6

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2fWiN1Azd1A

Part 7

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vIebw8q6bTA

Read more about CESR's work on economic and social rights in the United States.

Posted by Kevin Donegan on December 16th, 2010

How much longer for a legally-binding accord on emissions reductions?

The Cancún climate negotiations closed last week, culminating in a well-praised but modest agreement that has been applauded as "the reaffirmation of the multilateral process," "effectively putting meat on the bones" of the previous, disappointingly non-committal Copenhagen Accord.

The negotiations resulted in, for the first time, an official UN agreement where countries have agreed to cap global temperature rises at now more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. However, talks on emissions have been based on voluntary pledges, with no sanction or penalty for non-compliance.

Another breaking move has been the establishment of The Green Climate Fund which is intended to raise $100 billion a year to help poor and vulnerable countries defend themselves against the negative impacts of climate change. The World Bank will be its initial trustee, but which countries will help finance this fund, and which countries will be eligible to qualify for it has yet to be defined. A new Adaptation Committee has also been established to support countries in their climate protection plans as well as guidance on deforestation reductions.

But it is clear that the world is still far short of achieving a legally-binding mechanism on emissions cuts, falling short of the comprehensive deal that many governments and activists would hope to have achieved. Nonetheless, as UN Secertary General Ban Ki Moon stated in his remarks at the Conference, we cannot let "the ongoing nature of these complex negotiations lull us into any type of complacency."

Sixty-two years ago on December 10th, the same date as the closing of the Cancún negotiations, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights-the first global expression of human rights. In it, states recognized that inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights is the "foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world."

So, what do human rights have to do with climate change and its environmental impacts?

First of all, the livelihoods of billions of people are at stake. The very real, immediate and existential threats that many small-island nations are facing due to rising sea levels should be a wake-up call to world leaders on what can be expected in the future on a much larger scale should we continue on a path of "business as usual" which, according to Ban, would condemn billions of people around the world "to shrinking horizons and smaller futures."

Some of the rights that will be placed in particular peril include the right to life, the right to adequate food, the right to water and sanitation, the right to health, the right to adequate housing, and the rights of indigenous peoples.

Human rights treaties require countries to commit to their obligations to respect, protect and fulfill human rights including extra-territorial responsibility beyond their borders, and, in particular, to monitor private entities which are, in the case of climate change, one of the main causes of emissions.

Furthermore, it is the most poor and marginalized who are frequently first exposed to climate change's worst impacts, increasingly affecting many aspects of their daily lives. They are the most unable to cope with these changes, however, and often do not understand what is happening to their communities and the implications of these changes for future generations.

Human rights place an immediate obligation to target vulnerable groups first to adhere with the principle of non-discrimination and equality. The UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights has stated that climate change should be addressed "in a way that is fair and just, cognizant of the needs and risks faced by the vulnerable groups," while any "sustainable solution to climate change must take into account its human impact and the needs of all communities in all countries in a holistic manner."

Yet despite some recent initiatives, climate change and human rights have largely tended to be discussed in isolation, the former being seen as the work of scientists, meteorologists and environmentalists and the latter merely referred to in some cases of violations of indigenous livelihoods or land degradation. The dissonance caused by this false dichotomy is reflected in the failure up to now to integrate human rights standards into climate policies at the global level.

In a side event organized by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and the Center for International Environmental Law during last year's Copenhagen Summit, it was acknowledged that human rights law is guided by principles of equity and social justice, which should oblige states to achieve the best results for the fulfillment of human rights.

However, many solutions being put on the table at these negotiations have been grounded in a market-based approach with the aim of making economic actors aware of the costs of resource depletion, degradation and emissions, with a focus on industry compromises that can be both profitable and less damaging. Climate change has moved from being seen as an ecological problem to an economic one. Throughout this evolution, the emphasis on achieving technical efficiency and commoditization has sidelined human rights arguments in climate change mitigation and adaptation responses.

Furthermore, human rights place obligations of conduct to ensure participation, transparency and accountability in policy-making and monitoring processes, which should be incorporated into an elaborated climate change regime. Regrettably, opportunities for civil society representations to be engaged and participate in global climate change negotiations have been sparse, bureaucratic and highly regulated.

As a case in point in Cancún, on December 8, 2010, Tom Goldtooth, the executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, one of the key indigenous activists attending the Conference, was blocked from entering the summit a day after he publicly criticized the UN process. In a statement recounting the events, he said that his treatment was an indicator of a "larger and disturbing pattern" to silence voices of civil society and drastically reduce the freedom of speech and right to peaceful protest of affected groups and stakeholders.

We must also see both human rights and climate change through an innovative lens. Responding to human rights violations as a result of negative impacts of climate change should not be just considered in terms of classic legal arguments, but also as a greater ethical imperative towards guaranteeing greater climate justice for present and future generations.

Posted by Victoria Wisniewski Otero on December 15th, 2010

Rolling back economic and social rights to aid the banks? Ireland's National Recovery Plan

The banking bailout in Ireland will cost at least €50 billion, or about the equivalent of €22,500 euros each for Ireland’s two million tax payers. This has left the Irish government facing a large budget deficit. But should Ireland be cutting back on the protection of economic and social rights to finance this deficit? And who is bearing the burden of these cuts?

Ireland’s National Recovery Plan, rushed through the Dáil (parliament) last week to secure the IMF-EU rescue line of credit, suggests that the poorer will be hit harder than the wealthier. The plan sets out cuts in social welfare, slashing 24,000 public sector jobs, raising regressive taxes such as VAT to 23% and widening the income tax bands to include lower-paid workers. It will also introduce new fees for education, water and local services. Meanwhile, the minimum wage will be cut, but the country's corporate tax rate of 12.5%--one of the lowest in the world--will not change. 

Ireland already has the highest child poverty rate in the European Union (before taxes and income transfers) witha staggering 34% of households with children in poverty according to new research on inequality and child-wellbeing in rich countries from  UNICEF. This figure drops to 11% after taxes and transfers, which shows the importance of redistribution of resources to combat child poverty. The Children’s Rights Alliance, a group of 90 NGOs, has denounced the child benefit cuts also embedded in the austerity measures. Social Justice Ireland has also labelled the 2011 Budget as “unjust, unfair and inequitable” given the escape of the corporate sector and those who benefit from tax breaks from bearing the burden.  

The National Recovery Plan fails to mention Ireland's obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which requires the progressive realization of economic and social rights--and by extension prohibits retrogression and non-discrimination. Despite the limited availability of resources, the government bears the burden of proof in demonstrating why these cuts are necessary and why the costs of the €50 billion bailout should be disproportionately borne by Ireland’s poor.   

Ireland will come under international scrutiny for compliance with its human rights obligations next year in its its first review under the Universal Periodic Review on October 6, 2011. Magdalena Sepulveda Carmona, the UN's Independent Expert on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty will also visit to Ireland on January 10, 2011.

Posted by Sally-Anne Way on December 13th, 2010

Climate Change And Human Rights: Will Cancun Deliver?

Climate change has the potential to exacerbate existing incompliance with economic, social and cultural rights because many countries that are most vulnerable to climate change are ones with weak human rights mechanisms.

Although poor countries are disproportionately feeling the adverse impacts of climate change, however, wealthy countries--the historical CO2 emitters--are dragging their feet on committing to a legally-binding solution, an inaction that led Bolivia’s ambassador to the UN to say that wealthy states are "holding humanity hostage."  As countries gather this week for the 2010 UN Climate Change Conference, will Cancun deliver what Copenhagen couldn’t? Bringing human rights to into the discussion might help to bring climate justice to the center of negotiations.

For many people, climate change seems like a looming but distant problem, an intangible concept removed from our day-to-day living and relegated to scientific statistics and future concerns. For many communities around the world, however, climate change is already having devastating human impacts; it is a crisis of today just as much as it is one of tomorrow.  What is certain is that ultimately, climate change will affect us all, and even small changes in global temperatures and weather patterns can have huge and irreversible impacts. 

Symptoms that we are reaching a breaking point have been already evidenced in several devastating natural disasters in recent years, such as, for instance, the floods in Pakistan earlier this year. Around 14 million people were affected by the flooding there, a disaster greater in scale than the South Asian tsunami and the recent earthquakes in Haiti combined. Evidence shows that the frequency of if these sudden-onset disasters is increasing, with an average of about 400 disasters per year, double the figure reported 20 years ago.

These disasters result in high death tolls which disproportionately are felt by vulnerable groups such as women and children, indigenous groups, refugees, the disabled and the poor. They often lead to secondary negative impacts which further exacerbate the enjoyment of human rights—including food crises, displacement and lack of access to adequate sanitation, education and health facilities.  

Climate change impacts, however, are not always so obvious, and some of the most challenging consequences have been or are slowly encroaching.  We have all heard the foreboding predictions on the climate-change induced displacement that would occur should global sea-levels rise even marginally. A new report by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research shows that up to a billion people could be made homeless in the next 90 years if countries fail to cut emissions. Many small island nations’ very right to self-determination is threatened by rising sea levels, such as Kiribati, which recently hosted the latest conference of the Climate Vulnerable Forum. 

Each year, many countries find themselves more and more water-scarce and prone to desertification, leading to droughts which have pushed people on the brink of starvation, notably in landlocked Niger, where 46 percent of the population suffer from food insecurity. In June 2010, Russia, the world’s third largest polluter after China and the United States, experienced an anomalous heat wave that resulted in many fatalities and wildfires around the country.  Figures by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) suggest that 2010 is most likely to be the warmest year since records began in 1880. 

Climate change is slowly melting glaciers and the ice caps, often presented through the image of desolate polar bears floating on broken-off ice islands.  However, these changes to Arctic regions are also threatening the traditional way of life of indigenous peoples. An Inuit petition was famously filed in 2005 to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights against the United States, claiming that the US had violated human rights by damaging the livelihoods of the Arctic peoples by failing to curb its emissions.

Climate change is already and will continue to have distressing and multiple negative impacts, posing an existential threat to humankind, making combating it a "a moral imperative."  This has been acknowledged by the UN OHCHR in its Resolution  7/23 on Human Rights and Climate Change (March 28, 2008), which raised concern that climate change "poses an immediate and far-reaching threat." The world’s nations cannot afford to waste time delivering on their pledges made in Copenhagen last year to reduce emissions to keep global temperatures under a two-degrees Celsius rise. The Kyoto Protocol aimed to reduce greenhouse gases by five percent by 2012 from 1990 levels. However, in 2009, greenhouse gas emissions were 40 percent greater than they were in 1990.

Unfortunately, those who have contributed the least to climate change emissions and have the least resources and access to information to cope with and understand its effects often find themselves on the frontline of feeling climate change’s adverse impacts.  Even more disconcerting, several countries continue to operate under a “business as usual” scenario and up until recently, even evidence of global warming was disputed. The OHCHR (A/HRC/10/61 of January 15, 2009) in a recent study on the links between climate change and human rights outlines policy guidelines and stresses international obligations of states with regard to international in this context.

The OHCHR has also affirmed that human rights standards and principles should form the basis for and strengthen policymaking in the area of climate change and countries are called to align climate change policies with human rights objectives. CESR participated in the 3rd UN Social Forum on the adverse impact of climate change on the fulfillment of human rights, including ESC rights, that was hosted in Geneva from October 4-6, 2010.

World leaders are urged to incorporate international human rights principles into the Cancun negotiations. Despite already low expectations for Cancun, it is critical that a binding commitment be reached on emissions reduction to keep temperature below the tipping point of 2 degrees Celsius. Wealthy countries should acknowledge their “differentiated responsibility” in global climate change adaptation and mitigation in order to comply with their extra-territorial obligations to respect, protect and fulfill economic, social and cultural rights.

Posted by Victoria Wisniewski Otero on November 30th, 2010

Time for the G20 to be global leaders where it counts

Last week on November 4th, the UNDP published its 20th anniversary Human Development Report (HDR), one of the milestone publications of the United Nations and a definitive source for data on poverty, inequality and socio-economic trends.  In looking back at this UN agency’s work over the past two decades, the report quotes the very 1st edition of the HDR, reaffirming that “people are the real wealth of a nation”.  The first report broke new ground in arguing that national development should be measured “not just by economic growth, but also by health and education achievement.”

This week, leaders from the most powerful countries in the world, which combined represent over 80% of global GDP, are convening in Seoul to try to resolve some critical challenges around the global economic outlook.   However, despite its ambitious agenda this meeting seems divorced from addressing some of people’s real economic and social rights concerns in the aftermath of the 2008 Financial Crisis.  Will the G-20 make the effort to put people first as it negotiates what -according to its agenda- appears to be a new deal in the existent economic order?

Some of the items on the G-20 agenda include meeting previous G-20 commitments: safeguarding the ongoing recovery and restoring fiscal sustainability; ensuring strong, sustainable, and balanced global growth; building a stronger international financial regulatory system; and modernizing international financial institutions.  However, this year, two new agenda items have also been included: “strengthening global financial safety nets to assist countries to deal with capital volatility”, and “narrowing the development gap and reducing poverty with the end to achieve strong, sustainable and balanced growth”.  The outcomes of the G20’s attempts to tackle thorny issues around the global trade, financial and monitoring system will surely bear an effect on the consolidating the MDG’s Global Partnership.

And with donor country performance on the attainment of MDG 8 falling very short of expectations, the G-20 has all the reason to be “interested in” renewing discussions on the role of international cooperation in development.  Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon noted recently that “economic uncertainty cannot be an excuse for slowing down our development efforts or backing away from international commitments to provide support”.  Most donor countries, particularly the most wealthy, are far-off from meeting 0,7% GDP overseas development assistance.  Save the Children reports that out of 25 billion USD pledged by the G-8 to Sub-Saharan Africa in 2005, just 12 billion has been delivered.  Wavering commitments and volatility in international aid is undermining its very effectiveness.  Meeting development aid commitments should be given top priority if the MDGs are to be met by their 2015 deadline.

But more than anything, the 2008 Financial Crisis has made evident that the failures of the current global financial architecture are being felt by some of the world’s most vulnerable groups, who are also some of the most powerless to demand accountability from national governments as well as the international community.  As much as the world is facing a global economic crisis, it is also facing a human rights one as well.  The 2010 Human Development Report notes that 34 million people lost their Jobs as a result of the Crisis, and 64 million more people fell under the $1.25
a day threshold for measuring extreme poverty.  It is evident that the Crisis, which began in developed countries, is hitting the developing world the hardest and will be felt long after rich countries have recovered. 

For this very reason, it is critical that development and international cooperation not get sidelined at the G-20 discussion or treated as an add-on agenda item.  The G-20 meeting in Seoul should not be just about fixing, reforming and regulating the existing economic order.  Rather, the Summit should focus on a more transformative agenda to make the global economic system more accountable and transparent, with the goal of establishing not just stable and sustainable growth, but an equitable one that is beneficial for all as well.

Unfortunately, the G-20, despite being such an influential force for this change, is one of the most non-transparent and non-participatory forums to discuss global economic reform, reinforcing power imbalances through a process that itself is reserved to a powerful few.  An advance NGO coalition statement was made that, in its very first recommendation, urged the G-20 to “recognize the links between illicit outflows of capital from developing countries, absorption of those resources by tax havens and financial institutions in international financial centers, and the adverse impact those flows have on poverty alleviation and economic development.” 

One of the hopes is that a “Seoul Consensus” on development aid (a namesake of the failed Washington Consensus) will come out of this G20 summit.  However, it is critical that G20 leaders move beyond the usual prescriptions on economic growth for the developing world that have been anchored in market-led, laissez-faire dogma.  It is time for G20 leaders to acknowledge their extra-territorial human rights obligations in their immediate crisis responses and longer-term decisions on economic policy and governance.  The terrible consequences of the crisis are often accepted as inevitable, unfortunate side effects, rather than inherent flaws in the design of the global economic system itself.  CESR challenges this complacency and urges the G20 to take human rights considerations into account in its discussions.  The final communiqué of the G20 will be eagerly anticipated.

Posted by Victoria Wisniewski Otero on November 12th, 2010

How the U.S. defended its human rights record before the United Nations

On November 5 in Geneva, the U.S. government defended its human rights record before the United Nations Human Rights Council. It was the first time the United States has participated in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) that every UN member country undergoes. CESR together with other human rights organizations contributed submissions on the United States’ record on economic and social rights to the Human Rights Council in advance of the UPR session.

After the U.S. delegation presented its preliminary comments based on its country report, a number of countries submitted their recommendations. Diverse issues where highlighted by different states. Among them:

  • Ensuring that migrants are subject to equal treatment under law and protection from discrimination;
  • Addressing racial, ethnic and religious discrimination;
  • Establishing a moratorium for the death penalty;
  • Closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay and ensure detainees a fair trial;
  • Investigating reports of torture in secret detention centres and bringing those responsible to justice; and
  • Creating a national human rights commission.

Almost every intervention by other countries mentioned the need for the United States to ratify some of the core international human rights treaties. Those included the Convention on the Right of the Child (CRC), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Descrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), as well as its Optional Protocol. Countries such as Norway, Bangladesh and Brazil called for the full recognition of the protection and promotion of economic and social rights and the adoption of further measures for the economic and social rights of women and minorities, including the right to decent work and reducing the number of homeless people.

The response of the U.S. government on the ratification of the ICESCR was, however, dissapointing. As Michael Posner, assistant U.S. secretary of state for democracy, said: "Some countries ratify treaties and then work towards compliance with their provisions. The United States follows a different path. We seek to ensure domestic compliance before we ratify treaties. We also are bound by a constitutional requirement that before treaties are ratified two-thirds of our Senate has to provide its consent at ratification of 67 votes. Despite this, the Obama administration is strongly committed to ratification of CEDAW and the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities and we are pursuing those objectives very much in line with your comments."

The U.S. delegation gave no clear intention about what will happen with the ICESCR. Although the United States' report to the UPR references issues such as health, education, and housing, a further commitment to complying with international standards appears to remain distant.

The UPR process, created in 2006, is a unique process which involves a review of the human rights records of all 192 UN Member States once every four years. It provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfill their human rights obligations. Under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, it has been designed to ensure equal treatment for every country when their human rights situations are assessed.
The way the U.S. government engaged with civil society during this process is worth highlighting, however. As well as the national consultation in preparation of the official country report, an innovative approach was taken. The U.S. government organized meetings with NGOs in Geneva and in Washington after its presentation at the UPR plenary session. This presented an opportunity to further scrutinize the U.S. delegation about both its positions and measures planned to ensure the protection of human rights.

The adoption of the Working Group report with recommendations made by the states on the Human Rights Council took place on November 9. During the next session of the Human Rights Council, in March 2011, the United States will have to publicly state which of those recommendations it will either accept, evaluate or reject.

During the UPR session in Geneva, CESR, in coalition with the US Human Rights Network, Center for Women's Global Leadership, ESCR-Net, Urban Justice, Political Economy Research Institute organized a side event, Human Rights in the U.S.: Building foundations for Freedom from Want in the Land of Plenty. This space opened the opportunity for a dialogue between representatives from civil society and states' delegations about the United States' examination under the UPR and future steps.

Posted by Maria Jose Eva on November 9th, 2010

CESR to co-host event on U.S. human rights record at the UN

CESR and partners welcome you to a side event at the 9th session of the UN Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review in Geneva:

November 5, 2010, 13:00-14:30
Palais des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland
Room XXII (lunch provided)

The obligation of every government is to protect, respect, and fulfill economic and social rights. Thousands of minority families and individuals in the United States are facing foreclosure and loss of their homes due to the economic crisis.

In 2009, the number of impoverished people in the U.S. was the largest in 51 years and increased by 4 million people from 2008 to 2009. Freedom from want should fulfill economic and social rights, such as, the right to work and the right to an adequate standard of living.

Panelists include:

  • Radhika Balakrishnan, Executive Director, Center for Women´s Global Leadership
  • Ejim Dike, Director, Human Rights Project, Urban Justice Center
  • Sarah H. Paoletti, Practice Associate Professor, Transnational Legal
    Clinic, University of Pennsylvania School of Law
  • Ignacio Saiz, Executive Director, Center for Economic and Social Rights
  • U.S. Representative (invited)

Sponsored by the Center for Economic and Social Rights, Center for Women's Global Leadership, International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), US Human Rights Network and the Urban Justice Center.

Contact us for more information.

Posted by Kevin Donegan on October 25th, 2010

Spain Is First European Country to Ratify New UN Protocol to Enforce Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

The Spanish government today ratified a new UN protocol to create a new international complaint mechanism to uphold economic, social and cultural rights

CESR and other human rights groups welcome Spain’s ratification of the Optional Protocol (OP) to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, becoming the first country in Europe to do so. The protocol is a new UN complaint mechanism adopted two years ago to allow people to seek justice from the UN if their right to adequate housing, food, water, health education or any other economic, social or cultural right is violated by their government.

In addition to Spain, Ecuador and Mongolia have ratified the protocol. Thirty other countries have signed it, thereby indicating their intention to ratify. At least 10 states must ratify the Optional Protocol for it to enter into force.

Spain’s ratification comes at a critical juncture for the state to confirm its commitment to economic and social rights both domestically and abroad.  Spanish President José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero attended the UN MDG Review Summit in New York, where he affirmed the country’s pledge to increase overseas development assistance rates 0.7% of GNP by 2015, despite the fact that the country imposed public spending cuts earlier this year that led to a 600 million reduction in its foreign aid.

At the same time, the UN Human Rights Council adopted Spain’s Universal Periodic Review outcomes this week. The focus of the UPR comments was on discrimination and xenophobia, migrant rights, human trafficking, torture and the condition of detention centers, particularly for unaccompanied minors. Spain was encouraged to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

In a joint statement by Amnesty International and the Center for Economic Rights, CESR notes that Spain’s announcements at the UN indicate a strong commitment to realizing economic and social rights both at home and abroad. Its actions, however, have not always been consistent with these good intentions, as witnessed by its cuts in its development aid budget.

International eyes will be on Spain to ensure that the leadership it has shown in ratifying the Optional Protocol is reflected in policy and practice and that Spain follows through on the recommendations it has accepted through the UPR process.

Posted by Victoria Wisniewski Otero on September 24th, 2010

UN MDG Summit Opens with Many Promises Hanging in the Air

Yesterday, I attended the opening session of the MDG Review Summit, formally known as the High-level Plenary Meeting of the 65th Session of the UN General Assembly.

While several heads of state and international dignitaries are in attendance, I am observing the spectacle from high up in the fourth floor balcony (the only area open to NGO and other observers). This feels very removed from activism. The restrictions on access have rendered the NGO/activist presence almost invisible.

NGOs were allowed to give their input on the MDGs during the informal interactive hearings of the General Assembly on June 14 and 15th in preparation for the September summit. However, what we felt the most at these hearings was the lack of attendance by heads of state. The world’s leaders just do not seem to be keen on engaging with civil society on the MDGs. This seems to substantiate criticism that they are technocratic and top-down.

Nonetheless, the curtain-raiser to the MDG Summit yesterday had some promising moments and firm promises.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy pledged his commitment to a 20% increase in Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) to meet the MDGs and affirmed that the crisis should not be a pretext for shirking on commitments.

Spanish President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero affirmed that Spain would reach its 0.7% ODA target by 2015 despite the effects of the economic recession. He called for an international financial transactions tax and stated that since governments had bailed out banks, it seemed sensible, fair and logical that states would ask for at least a minimum effort from the financial sector to eliminate deprivation around the world.

The opening speeches of the heads of the World Bank, IMF and WTO also made grand appeals to the need to work for the “common welfare of humanity”. However, the pathways they proposed were less inspiring and more business as usual; the first priority, they said, was to promote economic growth and trade liberalization.

Powerful, rights-friendly interventions were also made. Bolivian President Evo Morales gave a speech that attributed the fundamental cause of poverty to unjust distributions of wealth. Switzerland proclaimed the importance of human rights principles of non-discrimination and participation in the implementation of the MDGs.

Of the UN speakers, UNDP’s Helen Clark stood out, saying there could be no meaningful progress unless the principles of equity, human rights and gender empowerment guided efforts over the next five years.

But as most individual countries took the floor, there was the usual lapse into more parochial concerns or endless speeches talking up their government’s progress. Whether heads of state will be able to look beyond lauding their best practices and success stories to address some of key MDG shortfalls will depend on how much they value their promise to attain the MDGs by 2015. 

Posted by Ignacio Saiz, Executive Director on September 21st, 2010

A millennium promise, 10 years later

It was hailed as the "most important promise ever made to the world's most vulnerable people." But a decade on, the Millennium Declaration and the eight development goals that flowed from it risk going down in history as the most important promise never kept.

Undeniably, some progress has been made. For every child who would otherwise have died from preventable diseases, and for every woman who would not otherwise have survived pregnancy or childbirth, the efforts galvanized by the MDGs have been literally lifesaving.  But the stark reality-highlighted in our focus on the MDGs for this e-newsletter-is that most of the goals are way off the targets set for 2015.

World leaders meeting at next week's UN Review Summit will no doubt give this sorry state of incompliance the best possible spin. The sluggish progress, stagnation and even deterioration in many indicators will be blamed on a lack of resources in times of economic crisis rather than any lack of political will.

But what CESR's review lays bare are the consequences of leaving human rights accountability out of the development process. The MDGs have been viewed as aspirational goals rather than politically-binding commitments. Although the UN refers to them as a "quantitative time-bound framework of accountability," the MDGs do not include effective mechanisms for holding governments to account should they fail to meet the targets.

The MDG framework has been criticized from the start as undercutting countries' human rights obligations, particularly those on economic and social rights. These obligations must take precedence, for they flow from another visionary UN declaration adopted more than 60 years ago: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Human rights may not dictate detailed policy prescriptions for achieving specific development goals. But they do provide a binding ethical framework sorely missing in current efforts to implement the MDGs.

Principles such as the duty to use maximum available resources to progressively fulfill economic and social rights, to prioritize core obligations, and to ensure non-discrimination, participation and accountability, should guide governments' choice and prioritization of policies. The absence of such considerations in MDG implementation to date has had fatal consequences, and has meant that progress has tended to bypass the poorest and most marginalized sectors of the population, fueling inequality within and between countries.

The next five years offer an opportunity to place human rights squarely at the center of efforts to accelerate and monitor progress on the MDGs, so that these commitments, however flawed, can be used as a benchmark for assessing compliance by countries, donors and international actors with their more comprehensive human rights obligations. CESR is also working with others in the human rights and development communities to bring about a shift in the development paradigm beyond 2015, so that any new framework of development commitments that emerges following the MDGs has the fulfilment of human rights and human dignity at its core.

Posted by Ignacio Saiz, Executive Director on September 20th, 2010

Message to UN General Assembly: "Don't forget human rights in achieving the Millennium Goals"

A group of top independent human rights experts yesterday called on world leaders attending next week's UN Summit on the Millennium Development Goals "to be guided by human rights in finalizing the Summit Outcome Document and in establishing national action plans."

The MDGs--which range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, all by the target date of 2015--were agreed upon ten years ago by all the world's countries and the leading development institutions, a press release issued by UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said.

"While fully supporting the efforts of Member States to realize the MDGs by 2015, we would like to emphasize that their realization should be an important step on the longer, and continuous, road towards the full and effective realization of all human rights for all," the group of independent experts--who are chairpersons of various UN human rights treaty bodies--said in their joint statement.

"Realizing all human rights for all is a goal in itself, and should be seen independently from the goal of generating global economic growth," the group noted. "Realizing the MDGs is but a first step in meeting their broader human rights treaty obligations."

The group drew special attention to the fact that some of the Millennium Goals, like primary education for all or gender parity, fully meet international human rights treaty obligations. However, they stressed that realization of other MDGs "would still fall short of what human rights treaties require, as treaties call for the realization of human rights for all, which goes beyond the reaching of quantified targets."

In their view, faster progress towards achieving the Millennium Goals can be accomplished by "adhering to international human rights standards, including to the principles of non-discrimination, meaningful participation and accountability."

 The chairpersons of the UN human rights treaty bodies called on Member States to increase their attention on those that are most vulnerable to discrimination, as addressed by the core international human rights treaties.

The chairpersons of the UN human rights treaty bodies who signed the statement were:

  • Yuji IWASAWA (Human Rights Committee, CCPR)
  • Jaime MARCHÁN ROMERO (Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, CESCR)
  • Anwar KEMAL (Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, CERD)
  • Naela GABR (Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, CEDAW)
  • Claudio GROSSMAN (Committee Against Torture, CAT)
  • Víctor RODRÍGUEZ RESCIA (Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, SPT)
  • Yanghee LEE (Committee on the Rights of the Child, CRC)
  • Abdelhamid EL JAMRI (Committee on Migrant Workers, CMW)
  • Ronald Clive McCALLUM (Committee on the Right of Persons with Disabilities, CRPD)

The human rights treaty bodies are committees of independent experts that monitor implementation of the core international human rights treaties. They are created in accordance with the provisions of the treaty that they monitor.

Posted by Kevin Donegan on September 17th, 2010

Guatemala: CESR realiza presentación conjunta ante el Comité de Derechos Humanos

CESR, en cooperación con el Grupo con Interdisciplinario de Derechos Sexual y Reproductivos de Guatemala y el Planned Parenthood Federation of America, han presentado un informe al Comité de Derechos Humanos (CDH) el 30 de Julio pasado sobre temas económicos y de salud que están directamente relacionados con los derechos protegidos por el Pacto Internacional del Derechos Civiles y Políticos.
Guatemala se presentará ante el CDH durante la sesión 100 que tendrá lugar entre el  11 y 29 de Octubre próximo. El Comité examinará el tercer informe periódico de Guatemala relativo a la implementación del Pacto Internacional de Derechos Civiles y Políticos.

Basándose en los resultados del informe “Derechos o Privilegios” publicado en el 2009 conjuntamente por CESR y el Instituto Centroamericano de Estudios Fiscales, esta presentación ante el Comité resalta que pese a ser Guatemala la una de los económicas más fuertes y sólidas de América Central, la pobreza e inequidad son atípicamente altas. Esto afecta particularmente a las mujeres, quienes ven sus derechos a la vida y a la igualdad vulnerada. Guatemala tiene una de las tasas de mortalidad materna más altas de América Latina, con 290 muertes cada 100,000 nacidos. Las mujeres indígenas son el grupo más afectado por muertes relacionadas al embarazo o parto: corren un riesgo tres veces mayor que las no indígenas de morir en el embarazo o parto. Las áreas rurales, generalmente con mayor población indígena, se encuentran desproporcionalmente afectadas por problemas de salud materna.

Esta presentación resalta también las falencias del estado guatemalteco en hacer frente a temas tan relevantes como el aborto ilegal e inseguro y al acceso a servicios de salud reproductivo, planificación familiar y anti contracepción. La necesidad insatisfecha de servicios de planificación familiar es particularmente alta en Guatemala. En el área rural es 25.4% y 29.6% entre mujeres indígenas, mientras que en áreas urbanas es 14.7% y 15.1% entre mujeres non indígenas. No es sorprendente que Guatemala tenga la tasa más alta en América Latina y una de las tasas de embarazo adolescente más altos de la región. 

Esta presentación espera contribuir al trabajo del CDH en asegurar que Guatemala proteja y respete los derechos civiles y políticos de todas las mujeres en el país.


Posted by Maria José Eva y Seona Dillon McLoughlin on

Guatemala: Joint Submission to the UN Human Rights Committee

CESR, in cooperation with the Multidisciplinary Group on Sexual and Reproductive Rights of Guatemala and Planned Parenthood Federation of America, presented a submission to the Human Rights Committee on July 30 about health and economic issues affecting women in Guatemala. These challenges are intrinsically connected to rights protected by the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Guatemala will appear before the 100th session of the UN Human Rights Committee, which takes place October 11 to 29. The Committee will examine Guatemala´s third periodic report on the implementation of the ICCPR.

Photo © David Bacon

Drawing on the “Rights and Privileges” report  published in 2009 jointly by CESR and Instituto Centroamericano de Estudios Fiscales, the submission highlights that although Guatemala has one of the strongest economies in Central America, poverty and inequality are uncharacteristically high. This especially so among women, whose right to life and equality have failed to be protected. Guatemala has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in Latin America, with 290 deaths per 100,000 live births. Indigenous women are the most severely affected by pregnancy related deaths. They are three times more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth. Rural areas, which are generally more populated by indigenous communities, are also disproportionately affected by maternal health issues.

The submission also highlights the government’s failure to address the serious issues of illegal and unsafe abortions and limited access to reproductive health services, family planning and contraception. Unmet contraceptive need is particularly high in Guatemala. In rural areas it is 25.4% and 29.6% among indigenous women, while in urban areas it is 14.7% and 15.1% among non-indigenous women. It is not surprising that Guatemala has the highest fertility rate in Latin America and one of the highest adolescent pregnancy rates in the region.

This submission hopes to contribute to the Human Rights Committee’s work on ensuring that Guatemala protect and respect civil and political rights of all women within the country.

Posted by Seona Dillon McLoughlin and Maria Jose Eva on August 10th, 2010

UN Resolution Recognizes Water as a Right

Last week, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution declaring access to clean water and sanitation a fundamental right.

Spearheaded by Bolivia, the resolution passed with 122 countries in favor, zero against and 41 abstentions. It states that “the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation [is] a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.” The resolution also urges states and international organizations to support the effort to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all.

More than 1.2 billion people have to defecate in the open. The biggest single cause of child deaths is diarrhoea or disesases related to it. Nearly one billion people have no access to piped drinking water or safe taps or wells, the Economist reported in May in a special report on water.

Furthermore, since 2000, the area under irrigation has doubled and the amount of water drawn for farming has tripled. The proportion of people living in countries chronically short of water, which was eight percent (500 million people) at the turn of the 21st century, is set to rise to 45 percent (four billion people) by 2050. One billion people go to bed hungry each night, partly for lack of water to grow food.

These disquieting statistics bring attention to Millennium Development Goal 7 which has committed the international community to halving the number of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015. Escalated efforts need to be made if this target is to be reached; it will be reviewed in the upcoming MDG Summit in New York in September.

At the same time, water is being commoditized, priced and sold, and the right to water, while recognized both in many traditions and in international law, has been weak in argument and in political clout. The new resolution strengthens that position.

Considering how indelible water is to our survival, it is sometimes difficult to believe that there has been an arduous struggle within the international human rights community to have water recognized as an explicit human right.

The right to water is enshrined in Article 11 and 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, recognizing the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living and the right to health. In 2002, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights issued General Comment 15 on the right to water, in which the Committee offers its interpretation of the potential scope and content of the right, which marked another major milestone in the development of the right to water.

And in 2008, the UN Human Rights Council appointed Catarina de Albuquerque as an independent expert on the issue of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation. De Albuquerque presented a report to the Human Rights Council in 2009 which focused mainly on human rights obligations with regard to sanitation and the inextricable links between sanitation and human rights.

Although the passing of last week’s UN resolution is a promising victory, several abstentions by key member states demonstrate critical challenges in ensuring that this right be fully recognized internationally. Some of the most notable abstentions came from wealthy countries such as Austria, Canada, Denmark, Israel, the Netherlands, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. Furthermore, many water-stressed countries and countries where a significant proportion of the population lacks adequate access to clean water and sanitation were either absent or abstained.

This resolution is a historic step that was earnestly awaited by those involved in the battle for the acknowledgement of this intrinsic and vital right. CESR affirms the need for states to be held to account for their obligations to economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to water. Along with other NGOs, for example, CESR contributed to the production of a 2003 guide by the World Health Organization and the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights on “The Right to Water.” This guide outlines the scope and content of the legal framework for the right to water, as well as highlighting key issues in practice.

Read more on our work on the right to water.

Posted by Vicotora Wisniewski Otero and Seona Dillon McLoughlin on August 2nd, 2010

Health Inequality: A Challenge for Rich and Poor Countries Alike

Researchers from Sheffield and Bristol have found that the gap in life expectancy between the richest and poorest quintiles in the United Kingdom is wider now than it was during the Great Depression. Despite an increase over time in average life expectancy, the study, published in the British Medical Journal, highlights health inequalities in Britain.

The study examined mortality data from government sources. The findings confirm that although the inequality gap narrowed until the 1970s, it widened in the last decades.

Professor Sir Michael Marmot, a health inequalities expert, told the BBC that despite improvements in the living standards of the poor, “health did not catch up on average, because of persisting social and economic inequalities.”

Marmot had previously led a report in February that demonstrated that people in England’s poorest areas lived an average of seven years less than people living in the richest areas. The study also found that a higher minimum wage to enjoy adequate standard of living would allow for a more health life.

Narrowing the health inequality gap has been a challenge even for the world's richest countries. Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights affirms the right of everyone “to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical health.” States have a duty to ensure that health facilities, goods and services are accessible to all, especially the most vulnerable or marginalized sections of the population, without discrimination.  Unfortunately, however, the poor are often the most excluded from adequate access to health care.

A 2009 Working Paper by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development found that, in almost all OECD countries and in different health systems, deeply entrenched inequalities in health status persist depending on socioeconomic status. Disparities are evident between rich and poor, not only in their enjoyment of good health, but in their access to and use of health care services as well.

CESR’s latest fac tsheet about the United States found that poor human rights outcomes, including huge disparities in health, were related to extreme income inequalities. The United States has the widest income disparity of any OECD country, and is also one of the few OECD countries without a universal public health insurance program. Many Americans are without any health coverage at all. Low public expenditure further hinders the fulfillment of the right to health.  

Posted by Maria Jose Eva and Victoria Wisniewski Otero on July 28th, 2010

Tackling Income Inequality in the United States through Financial Literacy Programs

The income gap between whites and blacks more than quadrupled between 1984 and 2007, and a quarter of black families have no assets at all, according to the BBC. The story goes on to describe several community development programs aimed at providing financial literacy and budget training for African-American women in the state of South Carolina. The article interviews beneficiaries and founders of several initiatives to lift African American women, particularly mothers in single-parent families, out of poverty, to “break the cycle” of intergenerational poverty.  

Kenya Williams is a 35-year-old single mother who has benefited from the help of the ALIVE community development corporation’s classes on basic book-keeping in Allendale County, where unemployment is double the national average. She earns $330 a week for her family of three girls and makes ends meet “week by week, paycheck to paycheck.” Natisha Boston, another single mother of three and a resident of North Charleston, has been helped by courses on credit-lending education and home-ownership programs at the Metanoia Community Development Corporation.

CESR’s 2010 fact sheet on the United States reveals alarming disparities in income levels, as well as access to health and education, among ethnic groups, with women facing compound effects. Among Asian, black, Hispanic/Latino and white groups, for example, black women experienced the highest working poor rates (income less than $21,756 for a family of four in 2009), at 11.6 percent, almost seven percent higher than their white female counterparts.  Furthermore, the southern states as a region also have some of the highest rates of poverty incidence in the country.  

This figure, among others in the fact sheet, suggest that wages are too low to ensure an adequate standard of living and that discrimination exists in the enjoyment of economic and social rights in the United States. The country, despite being the world’s wealthiest economy, has one of the highest income inequalities and poorest records of economic and social rights achievement of all high-income countries. The United States, which has signed by not yet ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, will appear for the first time before the Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council in November 2010. 

Posted by Victoria Wisniewski Otero on July 6th, 2010

Justice delayed and denied in India

Earlier this month, an Indian court found employees of Union Carbide India Limited guilty of negligence. The chemical company's Indian executives and former employees had been charged for their connection with the Bhopal Gas disaster that occurred more than 25 years ago.

The seven former employees who were convicted have been given a two-year jail term and fined $2,000. Indian and international activists campaigning for justice have deplored the ruling as “too little, too late.”

The original charge of culpable homicide was reduced to death by negligence by the Indian Supreme Court in 1996. India’s central bureau of investigation had originally implicated a total of 12 defendants, including Warren Anderson, the former head of the U.S.-based parent company Union Carbide Corporation. Anderson currently has a warrant issued for his arrest in India and is considered a fugitive of justice in the country. The United States denied a request made in 2004 to extradite him to face trial in India.

The Bhopal disaster, the most severe industrial catastrophe to date, occurred during the early hours of December 3, 1984.  A massive leak of toxic gases occurred as a result of a broken storage tank from a pesticide plant near Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. The facility was owned by Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL), a subsidiary of the U.S.-based Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), which was later taken over by the American multinational Dow Chemical Company.  

The failure to do anything to bring Union Carbide Corporation and Warren Anderson to India to face trial indicates that India is more responsive to the instructions of the US Government than to notions of justice and fair play towards its citizens.

-The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal's response to the June 7 verdict in a letter directed at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
Often described as “the night of terror,” the incident took place while most of the residents of Bhopal were asleep. The death cloud, consisting of the highly lethal toxin methyl isocyanate, killed around 7,000 instantaneously and resulted in 15,000 related deaths in its aftermath.  Many of those affected were living in shanty towns located near the factory.    

According to a 2004 report by Amnesty International, the side effects of the chemical leak continue to afflict an estimated 100,000 residents in the area, several of whom suffer from many chronic illnesses and physical incapacitation.  The hazardous waste also contaminated groundwater in the area, causing detrimental consequences on the environment as well as on those who rely on the water for drinking supplies for years to come.

The rulings on June 7 have disappointed many of the victims, who—a quarter-century since the tragedy—continue to seek justice, accountability of all those responsible and full redress, including compensation, rehabilitation and adequate access to healthcare services. Veerappa Moily, Cabinet Minister of Law and Justice for the Govnerment of India, told the Financial Times that “delay in justice is like denial of justice. It is unfortunate that it took so long.”

Union Carbide had agreed to pay US$470 million to the Indian government in 1989 in an out of court settlement of civil claims brought against the company. Survivors, however, claim that they have either never received compensation or have only received payments of minimal amounts. Efforts to hold the corporations involved in both India and the United States accountable have been complicated by the takeover of UCC in 2001 by Dow Chemical Company, which has repeatedly wiped its hands clean by making public claims that it bears no responsibility in the 1984 disaster.

The basic human rights of the Bhopal victims are articulated in several key human rights documents that India has pledged commitment to and ratified, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as well as in many articles of the Indian Constitution. The crucial importance of economic and social rights is fundamental in particular for the survivors, who continue to be detrimentally affected by the disaster’s harmful consequences and have been deprived of the right to health, the right to water and the right to an adequate standard of living.

"The tragedy was caused by the synergy of the very worst of American and Indian cultures. An American corporation cynically used a third world country to escape from the increasingly strict safety standards imposed at home."

-95-page verdict of Bhopal Chief Judicial Magistrate Court, Decision in the case of Madyah Pradesh v Warren Anderson et al.

More broadly, the legacy of the Bhopal incident and the disappointment of its subsequent rulings raise several ethical implications of the role of businesses and economic, social and cultural rights. The case dramatically highlights the challenges of holding multinational corporations to account for economic and social rights impacts of their operations, and of ensuring appropriate regulation by governments in both the home and host states to mitigate risk and abide by an adequate safety code. The United States’ unwillingness to hold UCC and Dow Chemical Company more responsible for their actions implies a double standard in the enforcement of human rights and lack of prioritization given to economic and social rights.

For more information on CESR’s work on India, our 2008 fact sheet examines the country's economic and social rights. It was prepared on the occasion of the consideration by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of the report submitted by India on its compliance, as a State Party, with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) for the Committee´s 40th session.

Posted by Victoria Wisniewski on June 24th, 2010

Ecuador Is First Country to Ratify the Optional Protocol to the ICESCR

After the National Assembly of Ecuador approved the ratification on March 30, Ecuador this week became the first country in the world to ratify the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This is a momentous development for the Optional Protocol (OP), as it needs 10 ratifications before it can be legally enforced. The OP provides a UN complaints mechanism for victims of violations of all economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights. This means the Covenant now has a complaints mechanism of equal status to that of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Thus, the OP is also considered to be a historic milestone for human rights as a whole, and its adoption will represent a huge advancement for economic, social and cultural rights.

The OP ensures victims of ESC rights violations their right to effective remedy, by being given the possibility to have their case reviewed by the Committee on Economic, Social & Cultural Rights, where no effective means of redress are available at the national level. It is a tool that will not only affect the lives of individual complainants suffering from infringements of ESC rights, but will be likely to offer positive guidance to domestic and regional judiciary in relation to the enforcement of ESC rights in general. In addition, the conclusions reached by the Committee will lead to further clarification for the content of and obligations arising from ESC rights.

After the adoption of the OP on Dec 10, 2008, many groups and individuals have been urging their countries to sign and ratify the historical document. At the moment, 31 states have signed it, but a further nine ratifications are needed to bring it into force. The lobbying of governments is being primarily coordinated by the NGO Coalition for an Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The Coalition brings together national, regional and international NGOs, individuals, social movements and community based organisations to join forces to help ensure ratification by countries, so that the Optional Protocol can become enforceable as soon as possible.

CESR applauds Ecuador for this inaugural ratification and we urge other countries to follow Ecuador’s footsteps, to help make the OP a reality for all victims of ESC rights who are seeking redress.

Posted by Seona Dillon McLoughlin on June 18th, 2010

Oil Spills You Never Heard Of


An oil pipeline explosion in Nigeria, May 15, 2008. This is a repeated occurence in the oil-rich west African nation, which has the continent's largest population. Photo © Pan-African News Wire

While the news about BP's Deepwater Horizon platform blowout in the Gulf of Mexico is on a 24-hour news feed, it took a long boat ride and some serious slogging by John Vidal of The Observer to uncover a bigger and far deadlier oil spill near the village of Otuegwe in Nigeria’s Niger Delta, as Foreign Policy in Focus blogger Conn Hallinan notes this week.

The culprits in Nigeria are Shell and Exxon Mobil, whose 40-year old pipelines break with distressing regularity, pouring oil into the locals’ fishing grounds and drinking water. The Delta supports 606 oil fields that supply close to 40 percent of U.S. oil imports, Hallinan writes.

Just last month, an Exxon Mobil pipeline ruptured in the state of Akwa Ibom, dumping more than a million gallons into the Delta before it was patched. According to Ben Ikari, a writer and member of the local Ogoni people, “This kind of thing happens all the time in the Delta…the oil companies just ignore it. The lawmakers do not care, and people must live with the pollution daily. The situation is worse than it was 30 years ago.”

As Fred Grimm, writing in the Miami Herald, points out, the Nigerian government admits that 2,000 major oil spills, some years old, still await cleanup. Nigeria has tough-sounding environmental laws, but little enforcement by a government that has been compromised by big-oil money.

Nigerian government figures show there have been more than 9000 spills between 1970 and 2000.

Just how bad things are is not clear, because the oil companies and the Nigerian government will not make the figures public. But independent investigators estimate that over the past four decades the amount of oil released into the Delta adds up to 50 Exxon Valdez spills, or 550 million gallons.  According to the most recent government figures, up to June 3, Deepwater Horizon had pumped between 24 to 51 million gallons into the Gulf of Mexico.

Although CESR is not currently working in Nigeria, in March 1996, CESR and Social and Economic Rights Action Center (SERAC), a Nigeria-based human rights organization jointly submitted a legal communication to the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights regarding economic and social rights violations in Nigeria. The petition broke new ground at the Commission, which had yet to consider any of the economic and social guarantees contained in the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.

The petition focused on violations of the rights to health, housing and food in Nigeria's oil-producing region and was intended to: 1) draw attention to the massive environmental and social problems underlying the execution of Ken Saro Wiwa and other local activists; 2) broaden the range of human rights concerns considered by the Commission; and 3) provide a model communication for other human rights and social justice advocates in Africa.

Six years later the African Commission found the former military government of Nigeria guilty of economic, social and cultural rights violations against the Ogoni people in connection with state violence and abuses around oil development in the Niger Delta. The Commission also made recommendations for the current government to take remedial action for those violations.

Posted by Kevin Donegan on June 10th, 2010

Why UNESCO should just cancel the Obiang life sciences prize.

Equatorial Guinea is now the richest country in sub-Saharan Africa, but while its ruling family is benefiting, Equatorial Guinea's population suffers from terrible poverty, malnutrition and illiteracy. The economic, social and cultural rights of its people are mostly ignored. (See CESR's factsheet for more on economic and social rights in Equatorial Guinea.)

This is the reason for serious public concern that UNESCO is offering a prize in the name of Equatorial Guinea's ruler, President Obiang. "UNESCO is allowing itself to be used to burnish the unsavory reputation of a cruel and corrupt despot," said Tutu Alicante of the human rights organization EG Justice. "The prize's US$3 million endowment should be used for the education and welfare of the people of Equatorial Guinea, rather than the glorification of their president."

Other organizations have also raised these concerns, including Human Rights Watch, the Open Society Justice Initiative, and EG Justice. CESR has been part of this campaign, in order to raise greater awareness of the shameful status of economic and social rights of Equatoguineans, despite the vast wealth of their country.

But as the Economist observed, perhaps we should just focus on President Obiang Nguema’s generosity. "The new UNESCO award is going to set him back some $3m (not including fees for the lobbyists and public-relations firms who swung this for him)," it wrote in an editorial, "Instead of cavilling, other organisations should follow UNESCO’s approach."

"The World Food Programme, for starters, should ask Zimbabwe’s president for funds to establish a Robert Mugabe award for agricultural productivity. Next, the UN refugee agency could squeeze a few million dollars from Myanmar’s junta for a Than Shwe prize for promoting the rights of women prisoners. The World Health Organisation could surely seduce Italy’s prime minister into providing some cash for a Silvio Berlusconi medal in sex education."

You can read the full article here.

You can also read the letter we sent to UNESCO in January in protest here, and their response in March here (they say that while they have "taken due note" of our concerns, "the adoption of prizes is the prerogative of UNESCO's governing bodies."). They later confirmed that the closing date for nominations was April 30 and that the first prize will be awarded in June.

So we tried again this week, highlighting "the urgent need for UNESCO to investigate the source of the millions UNESCO accepted from an autocrat who enjoys fabulous wealth from his nation’s petroleum riches while keeping his people mired in poverty." You can read that letter in English or in Spanish.

Or feel free to write to UNESCO's chief yourself: Irina Bokova, Director General, UNESCO, 1, rue Miollis, 75732 Paris Cedex 15, France.

Stay tuned.

Posted by Maria Jose Eva and Kevin Donegan on May 10th, 2010

U.S. Must Change Position on Economic and Social Rights

It's ironic that the United States, a country which played such a historic role in affirming economic and social rights internationally, should now be one of the most resistant to applying these rights at home.

The inclusion of economic and social rights in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) owes much to the commitment of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt to the indivisibility of all human rights. Yet more than 60 years on, the United States has yet to ratify the International Covenant on Economic and Social Rights (ICESCR) and other key human rights treaties that translate these guarantees into binding international law.

The United States' traditional resistance to economic and social rights arises from the fact that health, education, housing and other social goods have tended to be seen by successive governments as market commodities rather than as rights which the state has the duty to respect, protect and fulfill.

The United States ranks bottom of 24 OECD countries in the Economic and Social Rights Fulfillment Index, developed by academics at the University of Connecticut and the New School, N.Y., which compares states' achievements in light of their resources.

The consequences of this approach are revealed in CESR's new fact sheet on the United States (highlighted below). The country with the world's wealthiest economy has one of the worst records on economic and social rights among high-income countries.

Inequalities in the enjoyment of the rights to health and education are in some cases more striking than in notoriously unequal societies in the global south. Ethnic disparities in U.S. maternal death rates are wider than those in Guatemala, for example.

The passage of a health care reform package by the Obama administration raised hopes in some quarters of a more rights-based approach to social policy. The extension of health insurance coverage is based on an implicit recognition that all individuals, regardless of income, need affordable access to essential health care. But the reforms fall far short of recognizing those needs as rights. The role of government policy is still limited to minor tinkering with the market rather than guaranteeing all have access to health care without discrimination, and putting in place the redistributive measures necessary to reduce disparities and progressively realize the right to health of everyone.

A symbolic but significant step towards aligning U.S. policy with its human rights commitments would be the ratification of the ICESCR and other core treaties relating to economic and social rights. Not only would it enable those in the United States denied these rights to claim them domestically; it would do much to repair the protective framework of international law, damaged by the United States' continued isolationism. Ratification is one of a range of key demands being made by human rights groups in the United States and worldwide in the run up to the country's appearance before the Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council later this year. This is a rare opportunity to press the Obama administration to bring U.S. economic and social policy into line with the vision and values of the UDHR.

Posted by Ignacio Saiz, Executive Director on May 6th, 2010

Guatemala rinde cuentas ante el Comité de los Derechos del Niño

Guatemala es una de las economías más grandes y sólidas de Centroamérica. Sin embargo, presenta unos de los peores resultados de cumplimiento de los derechos económicos y sociales de los niños y niñas de la región, en particular, en materia del derecho a la salud, la alimentación y la educación.

Así por ejemplo, teniendo una de las peores tasas de desnutrición crónica de la región, Guatemala aún no logra igualar a sus países vecinos en el gasto en seguridad alimentaria. Si bien la desnutrición crónica afecta a todos los niños y niñas, el impacto es mayor entre los indígenas y los que habitan en áreas rurales. Por su parte, Guatemala tiene también una de las peores tasas de alfabetismo de la región, mostrando también enormes desigualdades en cuanto al goce del derecho a la educación al desagregar la información entre niñas y niños, áreas rurales y urbanas, e indígenas y no indígenas. 

En términos globales, Guatemala es uno de los países de la región que menos ha invertido en políticas sociales durante décadas. Si bien se han hecho esfuerzos por mejorar la recaudación de impuestos a fin de incrementar el gasto social, una constante resistencia por parte de las elites del país hace inviable una adecuada recolección de recursos. Esto hace urgente que el Estado de Guatemala persista en sus esfuerzos por modificar su política fiscal sobreponiéndose a las presiones de grupos económicos con el fin de cumplir progresivamente los derechos económicos y sociales de sus niños y niñas conforme al máximo de recursos disponibles.

La situación de los derechos económicos y sociales así como también de otros derechos de la niñez serán objeto del reporte de Guatemala ante el Comité de los Derechos del Niño (CRC) en su 54º período de sesiones en Mayo de 2010. Con motivo de esta instancia el Centro por los Derechos Económicos y Sociales (CESR) conjuntamente con el Instituto Centroamericano de Estudios Fiscales (ICEFI), han realizado una presentación ante el CRC con el fin de destacar algunos de las principales falencias de cumplimiento de los derechos económicos y sociales de los niños en Guatemala.

Esta presentación ha sido preparada en base a los resultados del informe "¿Derechos o Privilegios? El compromiso fiscal con la salud, la educación y la alimentación en Guatemala" de 2009 y la información actualizada de la Encuesta Nacional de Salud Materno Infantil (ENSMI) 2008-2009.



Posted by Maria Jose Eva on April 29th, 2010

Equatorial Guinea reports to the UN on human rights commitments

We just got back from Geneva, where on Friday the government of Equatorial Guinea faced the UN's Human Rights Council. They were there to report on the country's human rights record.

The Vice-Prime Minister in charge of the Social and Human Rights Sector, H.E. Mr. Salomon Nguema Owono, appeared before the 13th session of the Human Rights Council to explain just how the country will meet the council's recommendations to improve the country's human rights record. Those recommendations were made public in the Report of the Working Group in January. CESR had contributed to the process that led to the UN recommendations with research and recommendations of our own.

During its presentation, government representatives emphasized that during the Council's "Universal Periodic Review" (UPR) process "there was an unequivocal commitment by the government with respect with the ideas and values of the promotion and protection of human rights which are part and parcel of human dignity of nationals of our country."

The government assured members of the Human Rights Council that it will renew its readiness to continue working with technical assistance and cooperation of the UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights "in breaking down the legal, institutional, political, economic, social and cultural obstacles which today continues to prevent or limit the full enjoyment in Equatorial Guinea of the human rights recognize for persons."

For a full video presentation of the Government's response to the Council, visit the UN Webcast site

In relation to the UPR recommendations on how to improve its human rights record, the government highlighted that they fully agreed and accepted 86 of the recommendations and discussed some of the measures they are already taking to implement these recommendations. For example:

  • Beginning to trigger legal procedures for the possible incorporation of certain international treaties into national legislation, such as the optional protocol to the ICESCR
  • Implementing a law against torture (which it emphasized is a political priority for the government)
  • A package of measures related to discrimination against women
  • The approval of a new criminal code.

The government was very clear, however, that there were some "recommendations we cannot accept." In particular they referred to three:

  • Ratification of the statute of the international criminal court
  • Ratification of the optional protocol of the covenant relating to the abolition to death sentence
  • Granting access to military installations for the UN's Special Rapporteur on Torture.

The government argued that it could not support these recommendations because of "serious difficulties which we say are of the legal order and are related to social conscious as well."

CESR made a joint statement with Abogacía por un Desarrollo Sustentable (ADesaD) about how Equatorial Guinea, one of the richest countries per capita in sub-Saharan Africa, has a duty to fulfil its human rights obligations, including economic and social rights.

Further, we argued that monitoring mechanisms for the implementations of the UPR recommendations must be put in place to hold the government accountable of its commitment to human rights under the UPR process. CESR and ADesaD also coordinated with other organizations including Human Rights Watch, Open Society Justice Initiative and EG Justice to deliver oral statements during the Human Rights Council session that emphasized the lack of respect and protection of human rights in the country. We highlighted the lack of participation for national civil society in general and during the UPR process.

During the HRC session in Geneva, CESR together with EG Justice and Open Society Justice Initiative, also organized a side event: "Human Rights in Equatorial Guinea: taking actions on the UPR recommendations." The event featured a series of panelists from inside Equatorial Guinea to debate possible follow-up options to ensure the implementation of the UPR recommendations.

You can download a copy of our statement to the Human Rights Council below.


Posted by Maria José Eva on March 25th, 2010

Human Rights in Equatorial Guinea (event)

On Friday March 19 in Geneva, experts from inside and outside Equatorial Guinea will speak at a public forum at the United Nations organized by CESR, EG Justice and the Open Society Justice Initiative.

  • Alfredo Okenve Ndo, NGO member of Equatorial Guinea’s National EITI Commission
  • Ponciano Mbomio Nvo, human rights and anti-corruption lawyer practicing in Equatorial Guinea
  • Wenceslao Mansogo Alo, medical doctor and human rights chair of political party Convergencia para la Democracia Social
  • Manuela Carmena Castrillo, former member of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; participant in 2007 mission to Equatorial Guinea

The panelists will provide first-hand accounts of the current situation of human rights in Equatorial Guinea and reflect upon the challenges and opportunities that must be faced both inside and outside the country in order to implement the recommendations of the UN's Universal Periodic Review of the country.

The key objectives of this public meeting are to reflect on how to ensure that action is taken to address and meet the adopted recommendations and to generate debate on concrete measures and mechanisms that can enable civil society to hold the state accountable for its human rights commitments.

CESR recently published a new statistical analysis of the country's economic and social rights outcomes relative to its resources, and is available in English and Spanish.

In light of Equatorial Guinea's appearance before the sixth session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), CESR contributed a submission on the state of economic and social rights in Equatorial Guinea. It focuses in particular on Equatorial Guinea's compliance with its obligations in relation to the fulfillment and realization of economic, social and cultural rights. The submission presents and analyzes key indicators relating to the enjoyment of the rights to health, education, food, water and housing, as well as selected indicators of state policy efforts.The UPR is a unique opportunity, within the Human Rights Council, for international human rights scrutiny. The Summary of Stakeholders' Information used much of CESR's submission in reporting on the economic and social rights situation in the country.

Please e-mail cesr@cesr.org for more information.

Posted by Kevin Donegan on March 12th, 2010

Human Rights Responses to the Global Economic Crisis in Geneva

The Center for Economic and Social Rights, along with ESCR-Net and the United Nations Non-Governmental Liaison Service (NGLS), is sponsoring an event on Thursday, March 4 from 13:15-15:00 in Room XXIII of the Palais de Nations (Geneva). The event is called "Human Rights Responses to the Global Economic Crisis."

How can human rights obligations influence responses to the financial and economic crisis? What role should the Human Rights Council play through its commitment to contribute to the work of the Open-Ended Working Group of the UN General Assembly?

This follows up the work of the UN Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and its Impact on Development, held last June in New York.

The CESR-sponsored side-event will reflect on the implications of the "duty to protect" and the "duty to fulfil" international human rights obligations, including economic and social rights such as those related to full employment and decent work for all. What do these duties imply in terms of reforming the international financial architecture and realigning macroeconomic policies in light of the most dramatic economic and financial crisis since the Great Depression?

Panelists include:

Richard Kozul-Wright
United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)

Irene Khan
Former Secretary General, Amnesty International, Board member, CESR

João Ernesto Christófolo
Permanent Mission of Brazil to the United Nations

Sally-Anne Way
Research Director, Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR)

Chair: Hamish Jenkins
United Nations Non-Governmental Liaison Service (NGLS)

Posted by Shira Stanton on March 2nd, 2010

Inter-American Development Bank under pressure over new capital requests

This week, more than 100 civil society organizations from 18 countries stepped up pressure on Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), sending a letter urging its governors to explain how the bank's failing grades in transparency, sustainability, and accountability will be repaired before approving management's request for a significant capital increase. The Center for Economic and Social Rights was among the signatories.

The public letter was directed at a number of IDB governors, who are usually the finance and planning ministers from member countries and are reviewing the ninth General Capital Increase (GCI-9) proposal in advance of the vote expected at the Annual Meeting of the Board of Governors slated for March 19-23 in Cancun, Mexico. Initially touted by the IDB to be over $180 billion, heavy criticism has reportedly pushed the Bank's request much lower.

In the letter, civil society organizations (CSOs) continue to question the IDB's eligibility for a capital increase. Pointing to a failed consultation process around the replenishment, CSOs challenged the bank's refusal to provide civil society adequate evidence that greater public debt is merited to recapitalize the IDB. The IDB has long refused to share a current draft of its recapitalization proposal or to provide responses to recommended reform.

Civil society groups urged the bank's governors to require concrete prior actions for implementing a set of recommendations that insist on stronger commitments to sustainability and results instead of just rubber stamping management's GCI request.

"During the replenishment process, IDB management has consistently shown a lack of candor and seriousness about learning from the past or about incorporating valid civil society concerns," said Vince McElhinny of Bank Information Center, a Washington D.C. based non-governmental organization. "Before they vote on the replenishment, we are asking the governors tell us where they stand on our proposals for reform and how they are representing the interests of member countries."

Posted by Kevin Donegan on February 19th, 2010

Using Budgets to Monitor Human Rights

New Tactics is hosting an online dialogue from February 24 to March 2 called "Using Budget for Monitoring". 

The purpose of this online dialogue is to provide a forum for human rights advocates to share techniques, resources and information related to monitoring government budgets to hold them accountable for implementing their human rights commitments. The goal of the dialogue is to create a stronger network of human rights advocates using budgets for monitoring purposes.

The resource practitioners leading this discussion include:
  • Warren Krafchik, Helena Hofbauer, Gabriel Lara, and Shaamela Cassiem of the International Budget Partnership
  • Denny John, a consultant in the health sector for NGOs such as Action Aid, PATH, UNDP and local NGOs in India
  • Pravas Mishra of the Center for Youth and Social Development (CYSD), India
  • Alfred Wreh, Head of Secretariat of the Liberia Civil Society Budget Watch Network
  • Mario Claasen and Petronella Murowe of IDASA in South Africa
  • Edewede (Dede) Kadiri, Senior Programme Officer with Dev't Initiatives Network (DIN), Nigeria
  • Kipp and Philip of INFONET in Kenya
There is also a tactical notebook on Using Government Budgets as a Monitoring Tool available at the New Tactics website. 

Posted by Shira Stanton on February 18th, 2010

Haiti, one month on: rethinking the model

“You get up in the morning and it’s the fight for food and wood and water.” This is how a young widow, mother of four children, describes the struggle of everyday life in Haiti. She was speaking several years before the recent earthquake. For even before the disaster that hit the capital a month ago, the scale of economic and social rights deprivation in the country was already catastrophic.

One in five children under five was severely malnourished. Almost half the population did not have access to safe drinking water. Three quarters of the population lived on less than US$2 a day. More than two million people – 86 percent of the urban population – lived in inhuman conditions in squalid slums such as Cité Soleil.

As has been amply commented, it was these chronic levels of poverty and deprivation that made the impact of the earthquake all the more devastating.  The devastation was far from random: the greatest casualties were among the poorest communities living in the most precarious housing conditions. The risk of hunger, disease, violence and death in the immediate aftermath continues to fall disproportionately on the most disadvantaged people, especially women and girls.

In one of the most incisive accounts of the “structural violence” of poverty, Paul Farmer’s Pathologies of Power shows how the impact of previous catastrophes in Haiti - such as AIDS, malnutrition or political violence – has never been random or accidental, but structured by economic and social inequalities, and by the policies and politics which reinforce them – policies which have been shaped and determined largely by the international community in Haiti’s recent history.

The devastation wrought by the earthquake, and the faltering responses to it, should call into question the effectiveness of development policy in Haiti, and the extent to which it has tackled the structural factors which have made economic and social rights such an elusive promise for most Haitians.

While the international community is understandably focused on immediate recovery efforts, voices within Haiti are calling for a critical rethink of the model of development assistance which has been pursued by external actors in the country. Haitian human rights and development organizations are advocating for an alternative humanitarian aid effort which marks a break with past practices, which have often failed to respect the dignity and agency of beneficiaries, in turn reinforcing dependency on international actors.

These voices are calling for humanitarian efforts to be respectful of the forms of economic solidarity that grassroots organizations have struggled to put in place over the decades. Their vision is of a new partnership for reconstruction with economic and social rights at its core.

As a recent joint statement by Haitian organizations urged: “We would hope to see the emergence of international brigades working together with our organizations in the struggle to carry out agrarian reform and an integrated urban land reform programme, the struggle against illiteracy and for reforestation, and for the construction of new modern, decentralised and universal systems of education and public health.”

The cancellation of part of Haiti’s external debt and the promised commitment of massive humanitarian aid are to be welcomed given the scale of the disaster. In the United States alone non-governmental donations have so far exceeded $600 million. As Haitian civil society organizations argue, however, this unprecedented level of aid must be deployed with a much greater sense of accountability – accountability both to the Haitian people and to the principles of human rights which must guide future reconstruction and development policy in Haiti.

Haitian civil society voices have too often gone unheard or unheeded in international policy debates on rebuilding Haiti. If indeed a new Haiti is to be built from the rubble, the reconstruction process should be informed by their vision. Future development efforts must remedy the structural inequities of the past, rather than reproducing or reinforcing them. They must be firmly grounded on the basic standards and principles of human rights – including economic and social rights. And they must be led by Haitians themselves.

“After the catastrophe: our country can rise again,” claim 14 Haitian organizations that make up the Plateforme des Organisations Haïtiennes de Droits Humains (POHDH) and Plateforme haïtienne de Plaidoyer pour un Développement Alternatif (PAPDA), on 27 January 2010. The international community should support their aspirations and vision for change.

Posted by Ignacio Saiz, Executive Director on February 12th, 2010

Maternal Mortality and Human Rights

CESR will co-sponsor "Maternal Mortality - rights of 'critical concern' within and beyond Beijing," a panel discussion on Tuesday, March 9, 2010 from 14:00 to 15:30 at the UN Church Center in New York on the 2nd floor. This event will be held during the 54th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

The event is also co-sponsored by: Amnesty International, Action Canada for Population and Development, Center for Reproductive Rights, Human Rights Watch, International Initiative on Maternal Mortality and Human Rights, International Planned Parenthood Federation, Ipas, Women's Global Network for Reproductive Rights.

Further information on panel speakers will be provided in the following weeks. Please e-mail us with any questions.

Posted by Shira Stanton on February 8th, 2010

Human Rights Principles and NGO Accountability

The International Council on Human Rights Policy is hosting an online multilingual forum for debate on Human Rights Principles and NGO accountability. In English, Spanish and French, the debate focuses on how human rights principles and values influence the debate on NGO accountability, an often controversial subject. The online forum's goal is to present the many perspectives on the topic, including the areas of agreement and disagreement. Some examples of questions raised include: What does the human rights framework contribute to governance and management of NGOs? How does it determine the nature and limits of state regulation of civil society action? How can human rights values assist NGOs to navigate the complex relationships they have with their different constituencies?

Everyone is invited to join the debate, and the online forum features short contributions and interviews.  The forum will conclude later with an analytical report drawing on the online discussion and ICHRP's own research.

The invitation to dialogue from ICHRP's Chair, Hina Jilani, can be found here. The online forum can be found here.

Posted by Shira Stanton on February 5th, 2010

Draft Guiding Principles on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty

CESR’s Sally-Anne Way and Shira Stanton recently attended a two day NGO working group meeting on 18-19 January 2010 to discuss how to take forward the Draft Guiding Principles on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty (DGP).  The objective of these principles is to provide special guidance on the actions needed to be taken by governments in order to ensure that the human rights of people living in extreme poverty are respected, protected and fulfilled.

The NGO meeting is part of a larger process around the DGP. The Human Rights Council has asked the UN’s Independent Expert on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty, Magdalena Sepulveda, to produce a revised version of the Guiding Principles, which were originally drafted in 2006, for the HRC 15th Session in September 2010.  The Independent Expert Sepulveda has argued “The DGP have the potential to be a strong tool to be used by governments in the design, implementation and evaluation of programmes and policies targeting people living in poverty and a useful lobbying tool for civil society organisations to encourage States to fully realise the rights of extremely poor persons.”

Civil society participation will be critical to the drafting of these guiding principles, to ensure that the DGP does address the very specific obstacles faced by people living in extreme poverty and identifies the special measures that are needed for the protection of their human rights.   For more information on how to get involved, contact us.

Posted by Shira Stanton and Sally Anne-Way on January 25th, 2010

Online discussion on Women and Poverty

A message from  Winnie Byanyima, Director of the UNDP Gender Unit and Nikhil Seth, Director of the Office for ECOSOC Support and Coordination:

An e-discussion, which will be held from 11 January to 12 February 2010, will aim to collect a diversity of views and recommendations around topics related to gender and poverty.

The purpose of the e-discussion is to bring together experts, practitioners and policy-makers, from within and outside of the UN system, to formulate critical policy messages to the 15-year review of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action; the ECOSOC Annual Ministerial Review on gender equality (AMR); and the High-level Plenary Meeting of the sixty-fifth session of the General Assembly, focused on the Millennium Development Goals.

The e-discussion will address the following topics:

• What are the new understandings of poverty and its gender dimensions that have evolved since the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action? What are good practices in gender-responsive poverty analysis and poverty reduction activities?
• How can the institutional and policy environment for addressing the gender dimensions of poverty be strengthened, building on the Beijing Platform for Action and the Millennium Declaration? How can national poverty reduction strategies and programmes as well as international support more effectively address the gender dimensions of poverty in the build-up to 2015?
• What are the core policy messages for leaders participating in the 2010 CSW, ECOSOC, and the High-level Plenary Meeting on MDGs? What are the most critical actions required to tackle “gender and poverty”, in light of new obstacles and challenges, such as climate change and the impact of the global economic and financial crisis? How financing for gender equality could be strengthened in order to alleviate the gender dimensions of poverty?

You are invited to bring new thoughts and ideas to the policy debate, drawing on your experiences, and help make a difference in the fight against poverty. You are encouraged to forward this invitation to any colleagues who may be interested in participating in the discussion. If you are not already a member of the UNDP Gender-Net, MDG-Net or Poverty-Net, please register for the e-discussion here. For more information, go here.

Posted by Shira Stanton on January 20th, 2010

Making Education Accountable

The Right to Education Project just asked leaders on the right to education to answer two questions in their online forum on discrimination in education:

  • Addressing discrimination requires changes in legislation, administration, resource allocation, but also attitudes, teaching methods and learning content. In your experience, what are the key obstacles to achieving these changes?
  • The international human rights framework is very strong on discrimination (Art 2 of the CRC and other treatise). How can it be used better to translate principles into reality for the rights-holder?
CESR Executive Director Ignacio Saiz was one of the experts asked to participate. You can read his and others' contributions in their forum, which is open for discussion and comments at the Right to Education Project: Promoting Mobilization and Legal Accountability.

Posted by Kevin Donegan on December 15th, 2009
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Documentary photography competition offers new storytelling opportunity to promote rights in crisis

A new photography competition, "Crisis and Opportunity: Documenting the Global Recession" has been launched by SocialDocumentary.net (SDN) in partnership with the Center for Economic and Social Rights. The deadline for photo essay entries has been extended to December 7, and the winning entries will be exhibited in New York in February 2010.

"We are very pleased to partner with The Center for Economic and Social Rights. CESR is a leading international voice on human rights whose mission compliments the goals of the SDN competition to document these challenging economic times," said Glenn Ruga, SDN founder.

"The current global economic crisis has shown how politics and flawed policies exacerbate poverty, inequality and deprivation. SDN's forthcoming competition is a terrific opportunity for photographers to document the impacts of the recession on people, especially from a human rights perspective," said Ignacio Saiz, executive director of the Center for Economic and Social Rights.

Crisis and Opportunity: Documenting the Global Recession is accepting photo essay entries until December 7. First prize winners receive $1,500 cash, an exhibition at powerHouse Arena, Brooklyn, NY, February 15-March 14, 2010 followed by a three-month exhibition at the Gage Gallery at Roosevelt University in Chicago, as well as features on SDN and a LowePro bag. Three honorable mention photographers will also have some of their work displayed at powerHouse, features on SDN, and a LowePro bag. An exhibition catalogue, printed by Meridian Printing, will be available at the opening of the exhibition at powerHouse Arena. CESR will write the introduction.

Read more details on the contest rules and terms.

Posted by Kevin Donegan on November 30th, 2009

CESR in Haiti

I just got back from Haiti, where CESR was helping the UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights with training. The "training of trainers," whose participants comprised Haitian government represenatives, civil society organizations and MINUSTAH (the UN's mission in Haiti) human rights staff. Part of MINUSTAH's human rights section's new program on monitoring public policy, the training focused on how to monitor budgets from a human rights based approach.

The training included a basis for understanding how human rights was relevant to development issues and the general Human Rights Based Approach (HRBA) framework. CESR's presentation on analyzing public policies using a HRBA framework, focusing on why such an analysis is crucial for human rights, how to carry out this analysis, and how it is relevant to Haiti's situation. 

The training continued with presentations and exercises on budget monitoring, including a presentation by a representative of Porto Alegre (Brazil) and their successful participatory budgeting.  Methods and tools were introduced, including a practical exercise on Community Scorecards in the local schools. The week's training finished with how to use these tools and monitoring findings for advocacy purposes.

Also while in Haiti, CESR met with the National Observatory on Poverty and Social Exclusion (ONPES) to discuss issues of data collection and using indicators for human rights compliance monitoring.

Posted by Shira Stanton on November 24th, 2009

Experts Comment on Rights in Times of Economic Crisis

Recently, during the 12th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, we at the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) organized an event, “Responding to the Global Economic Crisis – Are Human Rights Relevant?”

Upstairs in the Human Rights Council chamber, there had been a special session on the financial crisis. Just downstairs, we wanted to know what leading experts thought about how human rights principles can be incorporated into official responses to the financial and economic crises. We argued that the crisis is an opportunity to take the offense, to be audacious and concrete in proposals, as the crisis and its impacts are alone showing the relevance of human rights. That now is the time to stress that access to social security and protection is not a policy choice, but rather a human rights obligation.

Speakers included Magdalena Sepulveda, UN Independent Expert on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty; Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food; Radhika Balakrishnan, executive director of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership and professor of women’s and gender studies, Rutgers University; Aldo Caliari, director of Rethinking Bretton Woods Project, Center of Concern; and Sally-Anne Way, research director, CESR.

Ignacio Saiz, executive director of CESR, chaired the event.

The speakers noted that short-term fixes introduced in times of crisis, including this one, often are unacceptable and unhelpful. The global scope of this crisis demonstrated the need to put in place permanent social safety nets to protect the most vulnerable.

This crisis was not a surprise to many heterodox economists, some speakers said, who had been calling attention to the fragility of the system for many years, and highlighting the need to put in place greater regulation. The financial and economic structures’ framework made it inevitable that such a crisis would occur, but it was important to show that such human rights violations are not inevitable.

Panelists urged that the links between economic analysis and human rights obligations be strengthened and mainstreamed, to ensure a more secure macroeconomic that would avoid future catastrophic collapses, and to secure basic human rights, especially economic and social rights, for all.

The panelists agreed that a key element is to bring the state back into its role as primary rights duty-bearer. Now is the time for NGOs to put forward concrete proposals on how to reorganize a system based squarely on a human rights framework.

CESR Research Director Sally-Anne Way also presented a new CESR briefing, "Human Rights and the Global Economic Crisis: Consequences, Causes and Responses."

In a follow-up interview, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Olivier De Schutter emphasized the important role of NGOs in effecting change. “I think that NGOs should abandon the defensive posture [of] preserving rights against current threats and be offensive, by putting concrete proposals forward, such as for instance a global reinsurance fund to promote the adoption of ambitious social protection schemes or mutual information on food reserves,” he said. “States are looking for solutions to improve their resilience in the face of shocks such as the one we’ve seen. NGOs can help.”

CESR thanks our event co-sponsors ESCR-Net and the Center of Concern.

Posted by Shira Stanton and Kevin Donegan on November 11th, 2009

UN Human Rights Council Investigates Links Between Extreme Poverty and Human Rights

In October 2009, the Human Rights Council requested the Independent Expert on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty, Magdalena Sepulveda, "to submit a progress report presenting her recommendation on how to improve the draft guiding principles on extreme poverty and human rights to the Council no later than its fifteenth session (September 2010), to allow the Council to take a decision on the way forward with a view to a possible adoption of guiding principles on the rights of persons living in extreme poverty by 2012."

According to ATD Quart Monde, these guiding principles are necessary to identify human rights violations as a root cause of extreme poverty and an obstacle to its eradication; to reinforce human rights conventions such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and help ensure their implementation in the context of extreme poverty; to set out guidelines for designing and implementing policies and programs to ensure the full enjoyment of human rights, especially by people living in extreme poverty; to emphasize that priority should be given to people in extreme poverty, as extreme poverty constitutes a threat to life and is a violation of human rights. These draft guiding principles approach the issue based on the most basic human rights issues: the indivisibility of human rights, participation and non-discrimination.

For more information on the background of the DGPs and how you and/or your organization can influence and participate in the current drafting, see ATD Quart Monde's brochure in English and en français.

Posted by Shira Stanton on November 5th, 2009

Event: Human Rights and Financing for Development

"Human Rights and Development: Towards Realizing the Right to Development" is being held on 26 October 2009, from 1:25pm-2;45pm in CR E at the UN Headquarters in New York.

A parallel event to the UN General Assembly's 64th session, it intends to raise awareness about the implications and potential of human rights, including the right to development, for the Financing for Development follow up process.

The Financing for Development Conference held in 2002 produced the Monterrey Consensus, which brought together all development actors in an inclusive and multi-stakeholder process, under the auspices of the United Nations, with the purpose of holistically addressing and mobilizing all available sources of finance for development.

The Doha Review Conference, held in 2008, reaffirmed the global partnership for sustainable development that had been launched in Monterrey. It recognized the importance of respect for all human rights, including the right to development, in such endeavor. Indeed, it has been well-accepted, for a long time, that human rights not only provide shared values but also define obligations of the States and the international community in serving the cause of development.

What is the significance of the human rights and right to development agenda for the Financing for Development process and what value does it add? What is the significance of the Financing for Development process for the human rights agenda, especially taking into account the FFD concept of a “global compact” of development? How can all stakeholders, concretely through the FFD follow up process, promote a more concrete integration of human rights in financing for development?

Introduction by Moderator: Mr. Craig Mokhiber, Deputy Director, OHCHR NY Office

Panelists:

§ Mr. Ayuush Bat-Erdene, Human Rights Officer, OHCHR HQ, Geneva (12 min)

Operationalizing human rights, including the right to development, in the Financing for Development agenda: an OHCHR perspective

§ Mr. Hazem Fahmy, DESA - UN FFD Office (12 min)

The “Global Compact” in the Monterrey Consensus and its relevance for the realization of human rights including the right to development

§ Ms. Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, Member of the UN High-Level Task Force on the implementation of the Right to Development (12 min)

Development priorities and human rights including the right to development:  Towards a better synergy

§ Ms. Carolina S. Ruiz Austria, Senior Lecturer, College of Law, University of the Philippines (12 min)

Human rights in the Financing for Development Process:  a law and gender perspective

For more information, see Center of Concern and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Posted by Shira Stanton on October 20th, 2009

Malawi government works to fulfill the human right to adequate food

According to the New York Times, Malawi's policy to prioritize agriculture and offer financial and other help to its farmers has resulted in an increase in productivity. As well as an improved ability by small farmers to be able to feed themselves and their families, and even sell surplus food. It has turned Malawi from a food-importing country to one that is now exporting to neighboring Swaziland, Lesotho and Zimbabwe, as well as being better able to plan for any future food emergency. 

The government's program to provide fertilizer has been criticized by Western donor nations and agencies who see subsidies as going against free market principles. Such subsidies has meant that the goverment is able to fulfill its obligation to ensure everyone's human right to adequate food (see the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights' General Comment 12 on the Right to Adequate Food). That such complaints by Western nations about subsidies appear on the same day that the Times also reports that the French government promised support to the French farmers in the face of lower prices is ironic.

For more information and resources on the subsidies Western nations provide for their own industries, see the Third World Network and the UN Human Development Report from 2005 on extreme inequalities in trade due to the subsidies provided by rich countries. According to the HDR, in 2005, donor countries spent a little more than US$1 billion on agricultural aid for poor countries, and a just under US$1 billion every day of the same year on domestic agricultural subsidies. Even the food aid provided often comes with stipulations, such as requiring that allocations be from domestic products, thus subsidizing its own farmers even more, and drowning out competition in the recipient country. More information also can be found on ActionAid's Web site.

Posted by Shira Stanton on October 16th, 2009
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Human Rights Council to hold a panel discussion on the global economic crisis

One of the seven resolutions adopted at the end of the 12th session of the Human Rights Council was to hold a panel discussion during the high-level segment of its 13th session in March 2010 to discuss and evaluate the impact of the financial and economic crisis to the realization of all human rights worldwide.

The panel discussion will be held with a view to contribute to the work of the Open-ended Working Group of the General Assembly to follow up on the issues contained in the outcome document of the Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and its Impact on Development. It is also planned that the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights present a report at the 13th session on the impact of the crises on the realization of all human rights and on possible actions required to alleviate it. This report will be done in consultation with Member States and all other relevant stakeholders.

The resolution also reiterated its invitation to all relevant special procedures mandate holders, within their respective mandates, to report on the impact of the global economic and financial crises on the realization and effective enjoyment of all human rights, building on the deliberations of the 10th special session of February 2009.

Posted by Shira Stanton on October 12th, 2009

LA CRISIS ECONOMICA PROVOCA QUE CADA MINUTO 100 PERSONAS CAIGAN EN LA POBREZA EN EL TERCER MUNDO

Aunque muchos periodicos y politicos dicen que ya hay "brotes verdes", que indican el fin de la crisis, mucha gente aún está sufriendo todavía baja de los efectos de la crisis. Según estimaciones del Banco Mundial, entre 50 y 100 millones de personas podrían engrosar las listas de los más pobres tan sólo durante este año.

Segun el diaro El País, Intermón Oxfam en España "ha enviado recientemente una carta al presidente del Gobierno español en la que le pide que actúe 'para garantizar que los logros de los diez últimos años en la lucha contra la pobreza no desaparecen en unos meses'."

Oxfam International está llamando al G-20, que se reunirá en Pittsburg (EEUU) esta semana, que libere US$290 million para los países en desarrollo. Este conjunto de medidas incorpora una "Tasa Tobin", que establezca impuestos á los flujos financieras internacionales, una mortatoria de la dueda de países pobres, y un férreo control de los paraisos fiscales.

Leer más información de Intermón Oxfam sobre la crisis y sus affectos a los más pobres y vulnerables.


Posted by Shira Stanton on September 24th, 2009

Event: Enforcing Economic, Social and Cultural Rights - The Hope and Challenge of the Optional Protocol

About the event:

On September 24th, 2009, the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights will be opened for signature at a ceremony at UN headquarters in New York. Once operational, this new international mechanism will provide victims of economic, social and cultural rights violations who are not able to get an effective remedy in their domestic legal system with tangible legal options for redress. In doing so, it will correct a historic imbalance in human rights protection, which has long marginalized economic, social and cultural rights.

On the eve of this historic occasion, CHRGJ and the NGO Coalition for an OP-ICESCR will host a discussion among three of the international human rights experts who were pivotal in moving the Optional Protocol forward. Please join us as CHRGJ’s faculty chair, Philip Alston, engages Catarina de Albuquerque and Bruce Porter in a conversation about the evolution of the Optional Protocol, its possible impacts, and the implementation challenges it is likely to face.

When: Wednesday 23 September 2009, 5:00pm-7:00pm

Where: Furman Hall 212 (245 Sullivan Street, NYU School of Law)

RSVP: to ryank@exchange.law.nyu.edu

Event to be followed by a brief reception.

Background on the Optional Protocol

Countless people around the world suffer violations of their economic, social and cultural rights, including violations of their rights to adequate housing, food, water and sanitation, health, work and education. Discrimination in accessing public services such as health, education or food distribution systems, working without any labor protections, and forced evictions are only a few examples of the abuses faced by many people. Access to justice is a right of all victims but in many parts of the world, individuals are unable to hold governments, companies, and others accountable for violating their rights. In many countries, most of the economic, social and cultural rights are not recognized or enforceable by law, leaving people with little hope of an effective remedy. Existing remedies may also be ineffective or inadequately enforced.

The United Nations has created a new international mechanism through the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to address these shortcomings. The Optional Protocol aims to enable those whose economic, social and cultural rights are violated—and who are denied a remedy in their countries—to seek justice at the international level. It also stands to influence decisions by judicial bodies at the national and regional levels and create more opportunities for people to advocate for the enforcement of economic, social and cultural rights within their own countries.

On September 24th, 2009, the Optional Protocol will be opened for signature and ratification at a ceremony at UN headquarters in New York. It will not come into force until ten states have ratified it.  Victims of violations of ESC rights can only utilize the procedure after their state has ratified the Optional Protocol.

How the Optional Protocol works

 *   States Parties to the Covenant joining the Optional Protocol recognize the competence of the UN Committee on ESCR to receive and consider communications from individuals or groups of individuals alleging violations of the economic, social and cultural rights recognized in the Covenant on ESCR.

 *   The Optional Protocol provides for the possibility of interim measures by providing that the Committee may transmit to the State Party concerned for its urgent consideration a request that the State Party take the necessary steps to avoid possible irreparable damage to the victims of the alleged violations.

 *   The Optional Protocol also creates an inquiry procedure, setting out that if the Committee receives reliable information indicating grave or systematic violations of the Covenant, the Committee shall invite that State Party to cooperate in the examination of the information and to this end to submit observations with regard to the information concerned. The inquiry may include a visit to the territory of the State Party concerned.

 *   The Optional Protocol requires that States take all appropriate measures to ensure that individuals under its jurisdiction are not subjected to any form of ill-treatment or intimidation as a consequence of communicating with the Committee pursuant to the Optional Protocol.

About the Panelists:

Philip Alston is the Faculty Director and Chair of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU School of Law, where he also serves as John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law. He is currently the Special Adviser to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Millennium Development Goals, and UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. From 1991 to 1998 Philip was Chair of the UN Committee on Economic, Social & Cultural Rights.

Catarina de Albuquerque is a Portuguese lawyer, currently working as a senior legal adviser at the Office for Documentation and Comparative Law (an independent institution under the Portuguese Prosecutor General’s Office) working in the area of human rights. She is an Invited Professor at the Universities of Lisbon and Coimbra in her country. For more than ten years she has represented her country in international negotiations and conferences in the area of human rights at the UN, Council of Europe and European Union.

From 2004-08 she was the Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on an Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In September 2008, she was appointed Independent Expert on the issue of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation by the Human Rights Council.

Bruce Porter is a human rights consultant, researcher, and well-known advocate for the rights of poor people in Canada and internationally.  He is the Director of the Social Rights Advocacy Centre and the Co-ordinator of the Charter Committee on Poverty Issues (CCPI), for which he has co-ordinated 11 interventions at the Supreme Court of Canada. He is also a member of the Steering Committee of the NGO Coalition for an Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which led the campaign for a complaints procedure under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 2008.

Posted by Shira Stanton on September 21st, 2009

Equatorial Guinea: resource cursed

Tutu Alicante and Lisa Misol explain in their article in Foreign Policy how the country's leaders have squandered the wealth made from its vast oil and gas reserves, leaving the majority of the people to suffer in extreme poverty. 

"Imagine a tiny country flush with oil money, where the wealth per person is on par with that of Spain or Italy. Now picture a place quite the opposite, where nearly two-thirds of the population lives in extreme poverty and infant and child mortality rates are on par with those of the war-ravaged Democratic Republic of the Congo." The article goes on to describe how powerful governments support the current Obiang dictatorship and ignore its human rights violations in order to get full advantage of its exports. 

For more on Equatorial Guinea and its human rights violations, see CESR's work on the country. 

Posted by Shira Stanton on September 9th, 2009

La crisis aumenta la esclavitud

En su articulo "La crisis aumenta la esclavitud", Ana G. Rojas y Lali Cambra del periodico español El País, describen como milliones de personas en India estan atrapadas en servidumbre por deudas, y como esta esclavitud moderna podría crecer con la crisis económica y financiera.

La Organización Mundial del Trabajo (OIT) estima que hay 12.3 milliones personas en el mundo atrapadas por deudas, y que 77% de ellos estan en Asia y en el Pacifico. Hasta el 50% de los que son explotados podrían ser niños. Estos datos segun el informe de la OIT "El coste de la coacción".

La crisis empeora la situacíon en los países en desarrollo por la caída del comercio, precios de materias primas a la baja, menor acceso a crédito, menor envío de dinero por familiares en el extranjero, y menor ayuda exterior, segun Hans van de Glind, expero en tráfico infantil de la OIT. Los niños tienen que dejar la escuela por el trabajo, y el riesgo de explotación laboral sube.


Posted by Shira Stanton on September 7th, 2009

Rich countries lagging on economic and social rights?

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently launched the report "Growing Unequal?", which highlights an increasing gap between rich and the poor in most OECD countries. Countries with a wide distribution of income tend to have more widespread income poverty. Social mobility was found to be lower in countries with high inequality, such as Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States, and higher in the Nordic countries where income is distributed more evenly.

The OECD comprises most countries in western and central Europe, North America, as well as Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

The report found that while pensioner poverty has decreased in the past two decades, child poverty has increased.  Children and young adults are now 25 percent more likely to be poor than the population as a whole. On average, one out of every eight child in an OECD country was living in poverty in 2005.

The report suggests using resources to address the changes in the labor market, working to increase employment and better educate the population.

For country-specific data, go here. To access the report, go here. To discover the interaction between income distribution and poverty rates over time in OECD countries, see the Gapminder graph to track each country's performance over time. It illustrates that incomes are more equally distributed where social spending is high.

Posted by Shira Stanton on August 28th, 2009

UN opens doors to dialogue and action on global economic crisis

The UN Human Rights Council will hold the annual Social Forum at the end of this month. The Social Forum is a unique space for open and interactive dialogue between the representatives of Member States, civil society, including grass-roots organizations, and intergovernmental organizations on issues linked with the national and international environment needed for the promotion of the enjoyment of all human rights by all.

This year, the focus will be on the global financial and economic crises. Specifically, it will discuss the negative impacts of the financial and economic crises on efforts to combat poverty; national anti-poverty programs and States' best practices in implementing social security programs from a human rights perspective; and international assistance and cooperation in combating poverty.

Keynote speaker will be world renowned author and UN Messenger of Peace, Paulo Coelho. Panelists will include Magdalena Sepulveda, UN Human Rights Council's Indpendent Expert on the question of human rights and extreme poverty; Cephas Lumina, Independent expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoymnet of human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights; Rudi Muhammad Rizki, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity; representatives from the ILO, WHO, UNCTAD; various Member States; representatives of civil society, including South Centre, Amnesty International, 3D, and the Lutheran World Federation, among others. The Social Forum will provide time for thematic discussions and interactive debate, resulting in an outcome report for the Human Rights Council.

To find out more about the financial and economic crises and their impact on human rights around the world, see CESR's resource page on the human rights crisis, including information about events regarding the crisis, which rights are affected where, and what the human impact is.






Posted by Shira Stanton on August 21st, 2009

Egypt's first arrest in enforcing ban on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting

Egypt made its first arrest of someone to violate its complete ban of female genital mutiliation/cutting (FGM/C), Al Arabiya reports. Hospital staff alerted authorities after an 11-year-old girl was admitted with heavy bleeding following the FGM/C, and a 69 year-old-man was arrested and charged with carrying out the FGM/C. For the full story, go here.

The harmful custom of FGM/C is still practiced widely in Egypt, especially in rural areas. In rural Upper Egypt, 84 percent of girls aged 13-17 have already undergone FGM/C, and this number is expected to reach 89 percent by the time these girls reach the age of 18 (Demographic Health Surveys 2008).

Physical health risks of FGM/C include trauma and bleeding, difficulties in childbirth and heightened risk of sexually transmitted diseases (WHO).

Some signs of improvement are evident, however: 84 percent of women under 25 have undergone FGM/C, compared to 94-96 percent of women aged 25-49 (DHS 2008), suggesting some decline.

CESR will be submitting a fact sheet to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) on the state of women's economic and social rights in Egypt. For more information, go here.


Posted by Shira Stanton on August 14th, 2009
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Responding to the Global Crisis: Launch lecture of UNCTAD's Trade and Development Report 2009

The launch lecture on 1 September 2009 of UNCTAD's 2009 Trade and Development Report will feature "Responding to the Global Crisis and "Climate Change Mitigation and Development".

Keynote speaker Heiner Flassbeck is Director of the Division of Globalization and Development Strategies, UNCTAD and the principal author of The Trade and Development Report 2009. Details and more information about the lecture can be found here.

The event will focus on the global crisis and its impact on developing countries.  UNCTAD economists currently estimate that it will be virtually impossible for sub-Saharan African nations to achieve such United Nations Millennium Development Goals as halving extreme poverty and hunger by 2015. The report recommends increased development assistance and the granting of moratoria on debt for hard-hit developing countries to limit further damage and to prepare the way for eventual recovery.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development was established in 1964. UNCTAD promotes the development-friendly integration of developing countries into the world economy. It has evolved into an authoritative knowledge-based institution whose work aims to shape policy debates and thinking on development, with a particular focus on ensuring that domestic policies and international action are mutually supportive in bringing about sustainable development.   The Trade and Development Report 2009 is embargoed until 3 September 2009.

For more information and resources on the global economic and financial crisis, and how it is impacting people and their human rights, see CESR's resource page on the crisis.


Posted by Shira Stanton on August 13th, 2009

Input needed for UN Secretary General report on economic crisis and its impact on the world's most vulnerable people

 

The United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon has been requested by the G20 to provide the Group of Twenty Summit in September 2009 with an in-depth examination of the crisis specifically from the perspective of the poor. 

The UN Secretary General has selected Sanjeev Khagram, the Wyss Visiting Scholar at the Harvard Business School Scoail Enterprise Program to be the lead writer on this comprehensive report on the impact of the global financial crisis on the poor and most vulnerable around the world.

In order to produce a comprehensive and meaningful report by the 24-24 September Summit, Sanjeev Khagram has requested any data sets, case studies or rigorous analyses of the impacts on the poor (and the causal mechanisms through which these impacts are occuring), as well as potential innovative or experimental responses that should be highlighted in the report. Also of extreme importance are the voices and experiences of the poor and vulnerable in their own words.

The report will focus on: 

  • Who has been most affected and who has been (or will be) least able to cope (initially most affected were originally less vulnerable -- the export sectors)
  • Identify newly emerging (and unexpected vulnerabilities where these exist (urban working poor, migrants, informal employment)
  • How vulnerable communities and populations have been affected (above and beyond their "existing vulnerabilities") by the economic crisis over the past twelve months
  • How (and how quickly) global events translate into local impacts and shifting vulnerabilities; this could include a "timeline of impact"
  • Explain the overlay and compounding effects of past and current global crises (economic, food, fuel, etc.) and how economic stress facts could translate into increased social, political and even environmental vulnerabilities
  • Assist decision-makers in understanding the complex interplay of multiple stress factors in the lives of vulnerable communities
  • How communities have tried to cope with the crisis' first wave of repercussions
  • Provide decision-makers with a watch list of issues that need to be urgently addressed to prevent graver consequences in the future. 

Sanjeev Khagram is looking for any data, information, and expertise on the above areas. Especially important are the voices of the poor. His contact information can be found here.

If you are interested in learning more about the economic and financial crisis' impacts on the poor and vulnerable and how they have affected people's human rights, CESR has compiled a resource list on who is affected by the crisis, which rights have been affected, which regions are affected and various events that address the crisis.  

Posted by Shira Stanton on August 10th, 2009

The NGO Coalition for an Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (OP-ICESCR) launches petition

Human rights violations occur every day in different countries and regions around the world. The victims all have one thing in common: they are denied access to justice

The NGO Coalition for an Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (OP-ICESCR) has launched a petition in support of the Optional Protocol to the ICESCR, asking States of the world to ensure that access to justice and the right to an effective remedy become a reality for victims of all human rights; urging them to become a party to the OP-ICESCR when it opens for signature on September 24, 2009; to ensure that it enters into force as soon as possible; and to take all necessary steps to fully implement the OP-ICESCR without delay. In addition we call on those countries that are not yet a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to ratify or accede to this treaty immediately and to also sign to its Optional Protocol in September 24.

How you can get involved:

- Endorse the petition: go here to sign the petition, on behalf of your organization or in your own individual capacity. The petition is available in Spanish, English and French.

-Add information to your website and/or email information to your networks and partners, requesting that they do the same.

- Collect signatures at meetings, gatherings, events in your community and school, etc. A printable version of the petition is available here.

For more information, please visit the NGO Coalition website, or contact them at op-coalition@escr-net.org

Deadline to take action is August 19! Having your endorsement by this date will allow the NGO Coalition to communicate with States, share with them the results of the action and still generate enough pressure for them to commit to sign.




Posted by Shira Stanton on August 5th, 2009

Implementing Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

 The recently released "Report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Implementation of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights" presents concepts related to implementing and monitoring economic, social and cultural rights.

It addresses the specific challenges posed by the complex array of obligations that stem from economic, social and cultural rights, including progressive realization and non-discrimination. It also outlines various ways of monitoring legislation and other normative measures, such as regulations, policies, plans and programs, and elaborates on monitoring the realization of rights, paying particular attention to human rights impact assessments, the use of indicators, benchmarks and budget analysis. Finally, it addresses the issues of monitoring economic, social and cultural rights violations. 

The report can be downloaded in English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic and Russian here.


Posted by Shira Stanton on August 4th, 2009

Exploring the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

The Nordic Journal of Human Rights, in their special issue Volume 27, No: 1, 2009, published eight articles on the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Available here for download, these articles address various perspectives on this new complaint and inquiry procedure. 

The Optional Protocol to the ICESCR was unanimously adopted by the General Assembly on 10 December 2008. The Optional Protocol will be open for signing by Member States on 24 September 2009. The Optional Protocol will enable the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to receive and consider communications by or on behalf of individuals or groups of individuals claiming to be a victim of a violation of any of the economic, social and cultural rights set forth in the Covenant by that State Party.

The articles in the special issue are:

Malcolm Langford
Closing the Gap? An Introduction to the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 

Pius Langa
Taking Dignity Seriously. Judicial Reflections on the Optional Protocol to the ICESCR 

Bruce Porter
The Reasonableness of Article 8(4). Adjudicating Claims from the Margins 

Christian Courtis and Magdalena Sepúlveda
Are Extra-Territorial Obligations Reviewable under the Optional Protocol to the ICESCR? 

Beth A. Simmons
Should States Ratify? Process and Consequences of the Optional Protocol to the ICESCR

Stein Evju
Should Norway Ratify the Optional Protocol to the ICESCR? That is the Question 

Inge Lorange Backer
Ideals and Implementation: Ratifying Another Complaints Procedure? A Reply to Evju 

Martin Scheinin and Malcolm Langford
Evolution or Revolution? Extrapolating from the Experience of the Human Rights Committee 

Legal Materials
Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 

Posted by Shira Stanton on July 23rd, 2009

Economic Crisis and Human Rights

The global economic and financial crisis is fast becoming a human rights crisis.

At the start of the 'UN conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and its Impact on Development' in New York, CESR urged world leaders in New York to sieze the opportunity to place human rights principles, not profit, at the heart of crisis responses, economic policy and global economic governance.   See CESR's public statement in our News Room

At CESR, we are working to ensure that human rights are not forgotten as governments meet to discuss what can be done to respond to the crisis.  A human rights approach challenges complacency over the terrible consequences of the economic crisis on human lives and human dignity. Many organizations are estimating how many millions of people will lose their homes, their livelihoods, their incomes, their health and education. The World Bank, for example estimates that up to 400,000 children will die this year as a result of the crisis. 

But these terrible consequences of the crisis often are accepted as inevitable, as if there is nothing that we can do about them. A human rights approach challenges this complacency - it is not inevitable, and nor is it acceptable to accept these losses to human life and dignity. We have to reorder our priorities and put people first. Indeed governments have obligations under human rights conventions to prioritize the fulfillment of "minimum essential levels" of economic and social rights, to guard against any discrimination and to target the most vulnerable. These obligations are not derogable - they become even more essential in times of crisis. It is not acceptable that governments can allocate billions of dollars for banking bailouts, yet make few resources available to prevent as many as 400,000 children from dying during the crisis.

See our Rights in Times of Crisis page for more resources on human rights and the economic crisis. 

 

 

Posted by Sally-Anne Way on June 24th, 2009

Wiwa v Shell settlement just one small step toward ending corporate impunity

The pay-out by Shell to the families of nine executed Nigerian activists who brought a lawsuit against the oil company in the US has been rightly hailed as a victory for the relatives. But it is only a very small step along the road to justice and redress for human rights abuses committed in the context of oil exploitation.

Relatives of author Ken Saro-Wiwa (pictured) and eight other Ogoni activists hanged by the Nigerian government in 1995 accused Shell and its subsidiaries of complicity in the activist’s deaths and other human rights abuses in the oil-rich Niger delta.

On Monday evening, Shell agreed to pay US$15.5 million to the families of the victims as part of an out-of-court settlement dismissing their claims. Shell denies “any wrongdoing or liability”, claiming that the pay-out is a “humanitarian gesture”. The settlement forestalls trial proceedings which would have exposed the oil company’s collusion in the brutal crackdown against the Ogoni movement by the military regime of the time.

The settlement can be seen as a partial step towards holding companies such as Shell accountable for the human rights impact of their operations. It will hopefully make the extractive industries more sensitive to the risk of possible human rights claims in future. Part of the pay-out will be used to establish a trust fund for social development programs in the Ogoni region.

But the settlement makes only a small dent in the impunity surrounding human rights violations in the context of oil exploitation by multi-national companies in Nigeria and elsewhere.

Shortly after the execution of the Ogoni activists, the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) and the Nigerian human rights organization Social and Economic Rights Action Center (SERAC) brought a complaint against Nigeria before the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights. The petition highlighted the devastating impact of oil exploitation on the rights to health, housing, food and livelihood of the Ogoni population.

In a ground-breaking decision, the African Commission held the military government responsible for violating the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and called on the newly-democratic government to take remedial action.

CESR and SERAC brought the case because we were adamant that the execution of Saro-Wiwa would not kill the struggle for the basic economic and social rights of the Ogoni people. The Commission’s findings upheld the demands which cost him and his fellow activists their lives. However, eight years on, the Nigerian government has still not heeded the Commission’s call to compensate those affected, to clean-up the environmental damage and to curb the oil industry’s destruction of livelihoods. The result has been ongoing economic and social rights violations as well as continued repression.

The lawsuit – brought by Nigerian plaintiffs in a US Court against an Anglo-Dutch corporation - shows that the search for accountability can also be multi-national. Victims denied justice and redress in their own country will continue to take their struggle to international human rights commissions and foreign courts in the hope of making their voices heard.

It can take years of tireless and sustained campaigning for these efforts to yield results - five years in the case of CESR/SERAC v. Nigeria, and thirteen in the case of Wiwa v. Shell. The small but significant victory achieved by the Ogoni plaintiffs and the lawyers and NGOs who worked with them proves that these efforts are not in vain.

For further background and documentation on Wiwa v Shell, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights and EarthRights International.

You can also read more on the CESR and SERAC v Nigeria case.

Posted by Ignacio Saiz on June 10th, 2009

Bangladesh questioned on respect, protection and fulfillment of children's rights

The Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is currently in the middle of its 51st session, at which Bangladesh presented its third and fourth consolidated report

The Committee members questioned the delegation, including members from the permanent mission in Geneva and experts from Dhaka, on their record in respecting, protecting and fulfilling children's human rights. Many questions focused on the high drop-out rate in primary school, on child malnutrition, and on protection of children in the penal system.The discussion was constructive and the Bangladeshi delegation acknowledged that they had more progress to make. At one point, a Committee member apologized for asking so many questions so quickly, saying "we are just concerned with protecting half your population." The Bangladeshi delegation agreed that both the State Party and CRC had the same aims and goals.

Recently, CESR produced a new analysis on the realization of economic, social and cultural rights of children in Bangladesh. It found that child malnourishment has increased in Bangladesh despite rising national income. Meanwhile, the fact sheet revealed, some serious gender inequalities persist: more girls are malnourished than boys. Check back on CESR's blog in mid-June for a summary of the Committee's Concluding Observations.

Posted by Shira Stanton on June 3rd, 2009

The 11th session of the Human Rights Council begins

The 11th session of the Human Rights Council opened today in Geneva. Lasting from 2-19 June 2009, the session will assess the human rights situation is various countries.

The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the UN system made up of 47 States responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe.  The Council was created by the UN General Assembly on 15 March 2006 with the main purpose of addressing situations of human rights violations and make recommendations on them. 

Special Representative of the Secretary-General on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, John Ruggie, presented his report "Business and human rights: Towards operationalizing the 'protect, respect and remedy' framework." The report outlines how such a mandate can be translated into a framework of practical guiding principles. At its core is the basic expectation that the state is responsible for the standards that should protect people from any sort of corporate culture that infringes or violates their human rights. Ruggie stressed that remedy, as provided by the state, should not comprise only punishment, but importantly, prevention and mediation.

The full programme of work of the 11th session of the Human Rights Council is available online. Also, see here for the full list of reports by all the Special Rapporteurs and Representatives.

Posted by Shira Stanton on June 2nd, 2009

Human rights an essential framework for the global economic crisis

UNCTAD, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, held its first public symposium on 18-19 May 2009 on the global economic crisis and development. Focused on three themes, the symposium brought together members of civil society, international organizations, Member States, other United Nations agencies, parliamentarians, members of the private sector, academia and the media.

Participants discussed the crisis' causes and impacts, assessed current responses to the crisis at the international, regional and national levels for any limitations or best practices, and made proposals for the way forward, including possible obstacles and opportunities.

CESR made an oral statement to the discussion on ways forward, reminding fellow participants of the importance of action from a human rights framework. Its contribution (delivered by Shira Stanton) can be heard here.

The Chairperson of the third Plenary Session, Martin Khor, the Executive Director of South Centre, recognized the need for such a human rights framework in his summary remarks. His remarks can be heard here.

Posted by Shira Stanton on May 26th, 2009

MDGs and Human Rights - A report on the right to water

The Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions recently released a report analyzing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) related to improved water and sanitation access.

The report, entitled "The significance of human rights in MDG-based policy making on water and sanitation: An application to Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, Sri Lanka and Laos" identifies current trends and critical gaps in such policies related to human rights standards. It also discusses how any gaps in the MDG-based policies can be filled through more explicit and systematic usage of human rights principles.

The report can be accessed here

Posted by Shira Stanton on May 26th, 2009

World's largest environmental lawsuit in Ecuador against Chevron

With $27 billion in potential damages, the lawsuit being brought against Chevron is one of the biggest environmental lawsuits in the world. The lawsuit is being brought in the town of Lago Agrio, where its population, many in slums, have long suffered the consequences of Texaco's polluting actions and dumping of oil waste. Many residents have suffered and/or died of cancer caused by the pollutants illegally dumped. 

While the judge is expected to rule against Chevron, there is lobbying already happening in Washington, which is expected to pressure Ecuador to rule otherwise. Appeals are expected, as is possible international arbitration. 

For the full story, see the New York Times article. For more background information, see CESR's past work on such devastating environmental actions in Ecuador. CESR's report Rights Violations in the Ecuadorian Amazon: The Human Consequences of Oil Development charged the government of Ecuador and US oil companies with violating the rights to health and a healthy environment. This report strengthened local efforts to confront irresponsible oil development by providing two critical elements: an international human rights framework and credible scientific evidence of violations.

Posted by Shira Stanton on May 15th, 2009

The Global Economic Crisis and Development - the way forward

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in cooperation with the United Nations Non-Governmental Liaison Service (NGLS) is organizing a public symposium "The Global Economic Crisis and Development - the way forward" on 18-19 May 2009. 

UNCTAD’s first public symposium is intended to provide a platform to people and organizations whose perspectives have not been heard enough in the debate on the causes and effects of the current global financial turmoil - and what policy changes are needed to avoid such a crisis in the future.

 Key topics will cover the crisis' causes and impacts; assessment of responses to the crisis at the international, regional and national levels, including limitations and best practices; and proposals for moving forward, including possible obstacles and opportunities.

You can download the symposium flyer in English, Français, or Español. Further background documents can be found here.

Posted by Shira Stanton on May 14th, 2009

SOS Racismo: "La crisis económica y financiera global provoca un aumento del racismo institucional"

El País informa en su artículo de 13 mayo 2009 que la ONG SOS Racismo avisa que la crisis económica y financiera global está provocando un aumento del "racismo institucional". 

La portavoz de SOS Racismo criticó el Plan Retorno del Gobierno de España: " [el programa] ha sido anunciado en un entorno de crisis y ha fomentado la vinculación de inmigración con crisis y la división de la sociedad en ciudadanos de primera y de segunda".

La portavoz también dijo que el racismo no afecta solamente a los inmigrantes, sino también a los gitanos.

Lea el artículo aquí


Posted by Shira Stanton on May 13th, 2009

Cambodia is questioned by UN on economic and social rights record

Cambodia ratified the Convenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1992, but this week was the first time the country had to appear before the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights for review.

Seventeen years later, Ambassador Sun Suon faced that committee in Geneva Monday and Tuesday, but there were no representatives or experts from Phnom Penh that could answer many of the Committee's questions. This made constructive dialogue difficult and many questions left unanswered. Committee members expressed concern that this reflected the lack of  importance the State Party places on its obligations to protect, respect and fulfill economic, social and cultural rights.

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights requires states to report on their progress within one year of the covenant coming into force.

Committee members also questioned the lack of statistics and data supplied by the State Party. Instead, the state report focused on policies it has just implemented or plans to implement. One Committee member compared this to a story of a person who falls ill, goes to the doctor and get receives treatment...end of story. The Committee member said that the real ending should include whether the patient recovered or died. The whole point of the story is to see if the treatment worked. The Committee member said that by submitting public policy plans without basic socioeconomic data, one does not know if these policies have served their purpose.

Various Committee members used CESR's fact sheet on Cambodia to question the State Party. Questions included issues related to the right to adequate housing and the rising inequality that accompanies the steady GDP per capita growth.

See CESR's Web page on Cambodia for more information, and check back in a few weeks for the Committee's Concluding Observations on Cambodia, which will be posted on the CESR Web site.

Posted by Shira Stanton on May 13th, 2009

North Belfast Goes to the United Nations

Over the weekend, four residents from Belfast, Northern Ireland, traveled to Geneva, Switzerland. They hope to influence the review of the United Kingdom by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR).

Angie McManus, Bertie Atkinson, Gerard McCartan (pictured) and Margaret Valente, are part of the Participation and the Practice of Rights Project. It's an NGO that works to empower residents to advocate for their economic and social rights in north Belfast in Northern Ireland.

They are shooting video and live-blogging about their experience while they are there.

Meanwhile CESR's Shira Stanton is also at the CESCR, attending Cambodia's appearance before the committee this morning. Look out for her posts on our blog..

Posted by Kevin Donegan on May 11th, 2009

Public health policies suffering from effects of global financial crisis

Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan of the World Health Organization (WHO) addressed the 12th World Congress on Public Health on 27 April 2009 in Istanbul, Turkey. Entitled "Steadfast in the midst of perils", Director-General Chan discussed the threats to public health in the current global situation.

She commended the commitments to official development assistance for health. But she warned about the necessity to guard against the threats to public healthcare in the face of the various crises of the past couple years: the fuel crisis, the food crisis and the current financial crisis.

Dr. Chan urged a basic rethinking of our global system, saying that "the market does not solve social problems. Public health does". She expressed frustration that health has had to be sold to ministers of finance as "a good economic investment". Instead, she reminded her audience that in addressing the current global problems, health must be treated as the basic human right that it is, "pursued for its own sake, its own intrinsic worth as a condition that allows people to develop their human potential".

Go here for Dr. Chan's full speech.

Posted by Shira Stanton on May 8th, 2009

Human Rights and the G20 - the gap in accountability

A new recent human rights analysis of the G20 communiqué shows that states are not owning up to their human rights obligations.

The article, "A Human Rights Analysis of the G20 Communique: Recent Awareness of the 'Human Cost' Is Not Quite Enough," discusses the disconnect between the reasons G20 states say they are acting to save those hit by the current financial and economic crisis ("enlightened self-interest") and their actual obligations under various human rights treaties. The article is by New School Professor of International Affairs and CESR Board Member Sakiko Fukuda-Parr and Senior Law Lecturer at the London School of Economics Margot E. Salomon.

The authors point out that according to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), states with the resources to assist are responsible for contributing to the realization of minimum essential levels of economic and social rights around the world. The G20 states should not approach their contribution to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as an act of charity or decency, for example, the authors argue.

Fukuda-Parr and Salomon commend the G20 communiqué for offering social protection for the poor and vulnerable affected by the crisis, but urge that structural changes shaped by human rights law are put in place.


Posted by Shira Stanton on May 5th, 2009

Accessing education as a human right

Gay McDougall, the United Nations Independent Expert on Minority Issues and former member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights,  writes an article in the Human Rights Law Resources Centre Ltd. bulletin about access to a quality education.

She explains that minority and indigenous children are disproportionately denied their basic human right to a quality education. She discusses the consequences for such a human rights denial and what policy focus is necessary to address such discrimination.

Independent Expert McDougall recognizes that the principle of "progressive realization" depends on available resources, but reminds policy makers that the principle of non-discrimination is immediate and there must be no delay in ensuring non-discriminatory policies because on budget shortfalls. She holds governments fully responsible for both ensuring such a right, and for any failures to guarantee these rights.



Posted by Shira Stanton on May 1st, 2009

Learn how to work with the UN Human Rights Programme

The Handbook includes information on:

  • OHCHR’s mandate, role and activities
  • OHCHR’s fellowship and training programmes
  • OHCHR’s publications and resource materials
  • The Human Rights Treaty Bodies
  • The Human Rights Council
  • The Special Procedures
  • The Universal Periodic Review
  • How to submit complaints on alleged human rights violations; and
  • Funds and grants available to civil society.

This is key reading for NGOs and other civil society actors who are interested in promoting and protecting human rights by working with the UN. The handbook provides further links and readings from other resources.


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Financial crisis affecting children's right to food and health

New York Times Opinion Editorial Columnist Bob Herbert reports that the financial crisis is claiming more than banks and corporate profits. Around 12.5 million American children were living in poverty before the crisis hit, and this number is expected to rise to around 17 million by the end of 2009. 

Many of these "recession generation" children have no access to health care, except to visit the emergency room. Man rely largely on food stamps. The numbers of homeless families with children is also growing. With growing budget deficits, local governments are cutting basic social services, leaving children vulnerable. 


Posted by Shira Stanton on April 21st, 2009

Durban Review Conference to have live webcast

The Durban Review Conference will review progress and assess implementation of Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA), assess effectiveness of existing follow-up mechanisms, promote universal ratification and implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and identify and share best practices in the fight against racism.

The DDPA  provides various means and proposals to fight racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and other related forms of intolerance. It was adopted at the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (WCAR), held in Durban, South Africa.

All conference proceedings can be viewed on the live webcast, starting at 9am (GMT +2) on 20 April 2009.




Posted by Shira Stanton on April 17th, 2009

Human rights abuses in Nigeria: "Ogoni 9" trial against Shell to begin April 27 in New York

Three lawsuits charge the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company and Shell Transport and Trading Company (Royal Dutch Shell), the head of Royal Dutch Shell's Nigerian operations, and the company's Nigerian subsidiary with complicity in human rights abuses against the Ogoni people in Nigeria.

Ken Saro-Wiwa, one of the nine executed Ogonia activistsThe case, brought in the United States, is set to begin April 27 in New York. It was filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and co-counsel EarthRight International on behalf of the families of activists murdered in 1995 while fighting for human rights and environmental justice in Nigeria. The charges ranges from complicity in human rights abuses, summary executions, crimes against humanity, torture, inhuman treatment, arbitrary arrest, wrongful death, assault and battery and infliction of emotional distress.

The Center for Constitutional Right's has made a full summary of the case and its history available.

Also see CESR and Social and Economic Rights Action Center's (SERAC), a Nigerian-based human rights organization, own legal communication submitted to the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights in 1996.  In 2002, the African Commission found the former Nigerian military government guilty of economic, social and cultural rights violations.

You can also visit the web site dedicated to remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa (pictured above) and the eight other activists who were executed in 1995 by the Nigerian state.




Posted by Shira Stanton on April 2nd, 2009

The global economic crisis will cause an additional 22 children to die per hour in 2009

The global economic crisis could lead to an addition 400,000 child deaths this year, reports New York Times Op-Ed columnist Nicholas Kristof. In his column, Kristof outlines the dire outcomes if the world leaders cannot reach a multilateral solution. Child malnutrition rates are already rising, leading to long-term effects on cognitive abilities and learning capabilities. He reminds the world about the millions of lives, not just million dollar bonuses, that are at stake in this summit. 

Posted by Shira Stanton on April 2nd, 2009

Undocumented children in Europe: lacking their basic economic and social rights

PICUM, the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants, recently published the report "Undocumented Children in Europe: Invisible Victims of Immigration Restrictions". 


This report provides a general overview of the conference it held in January 2009, when more than 150 representatives of NGOs, local authorities, social workers, policy makers, researchers and other involved actors discussed the situation of undocumented children and how policies meant to control undocumented migration in Europe affect them. The conference highlighted how these policies lead to various violations of undocumented children's human rights, especially economic and social rights.

The report highlights the many obstacles undocumented children face in trying to access education, health care and housing, and the recommendations made at the conference to address these economic and social rights violations.


Posted by Shira Stanton on March 27th, 2009

A land lease to ensure a rich country's food security at Indonesians' expense?

The Saudi Arabian BinLadin Group has announced it will invest in two million hectares of land in Indonesia for the cultivation of rice and other staples. This would make Indonesia the world's largest rice exporter in 2009 and ensure that Saudi Arabia can continue to obtain rice for its population in the future. The duration of the lease was not disclosed.

In 2008, Saudi Arabia imported over one million tons of rice, Gulf News reported, while Reuters said the country is one of the world's top ten rice importers.

In Indonesia, however, over half of the population lives on under $2 a day, and 28 percent of children under five are malnourished, as measured by being underweight for age, according to the UNDP 2007/2008 Human Development Report.

This trade deal suggests that Saudi Arabia is ensuring the security of its food supply at the expense of local Indonesians who could benefit from the food their own country produces.

Excerpt from a United Nations Special Program for Food Security documentary on its work in Indonesia:

Posted by Shira Stanton on March 23rd, 2009

India gets richer, yet more than 40 percent of its children are malnourished

While India's growth rate has been impressive over the years, its failure at lowering child malnutrition is astounding. Its neighbor, China, has managed to lower child malnutrition rates to under seven percent. More than 42 percent of India's children are malnourished.

One-fourth of the world's hungry people live in India, 230 million people in all. Anemia is growing among rural women of childbearing age and gender discrimination persists, with women often being the last to eat in their homes and not getting the proper food and rest needed during pregnancy.

Go here for the link to the full New York Times article.

Posted by Shira Stanton on March 13th, 2009

Kenya Human Rights Activist Assassinated

Mr. Kingara's Oscar Foundation Free Legal Aid Clinic published a report last year criticizing the Kenyan government of executing or torturing to death Kenyans in extra-judicial processes. 

His killing led to student clashes with police near the site of his death. 

The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitary executions, Philip Alston published a report last week on police abuses of power, saying that Kenyan police act as a law unto themselves.

 For more, see BBC News.

Go here for more information on the Oscar Foundation and Mr. Kingara.

Posted by Shira Stanton on March 6th, 2009

La justicia internacional no da inmunidad a gobernantes

La Corte Penal Internacional (CPI) ha emitido una orden de arresto contra el presidente sudanés, Omar Hasan al Bachir, por crímenes de guerra y de lesa humanidad en la región sudanesa de Darfur.

Hoy en el periodico español Público la periodista Isabel Coello escribe que la orden de arresto dictada ayer por la Corte Penal Internacional "consagra en la práctica... el principio de que no hay inmunidad, ni siquiera para jefes de Estado en activo, ante crímenes de la magnitud del genocidio y los crímenes contra la humanidad".

Posted by Kevin Donegan on March 5th, 2009

Oxfam: Los mitos sobre la asistencia sanitaria privada en países pobres

Oxfam Internacional acaba de publicar un documento muy interesante: OPTIMISMO CIEGO: Los mitos sobre la asistencia sanitaria privada en países pobres. Ofrece una gran cantidad de argumentos en contra, con datos y hechos, de los servicios privados de atención sanitaria en países pobres.

Resumen: Hacer realidad el derecho a la salud para millones de personas en los países pobres requiere expandir los servicios sanitarios para lograr un acceso universal y equitativo. Son cada vez más los donantes internacionales que promueven una expansión de la asistencia sanitaria privada para alcanzar este objetivo. El sector privado puede cumplir un papel en la prestación de salud, pero este documento demuestra que hay una urgente necesidad de volver a examinar los argumentos utilizados en favor del aumento de la provisión de asistencia sanitaria privadaen países pobres. Los datos muestran que dar prioridad a este enfoque hace extremadamente improbable que se proporcione salud a las personas pobres. Los gobiernos y los donantes de países ricos deben fortalecer las capacidades del Estado para regular y centrarse en extender rápidamente la asistencia sanitaria gratuita y pública, una medida probada para salvar millones de vidas en todo el mundo.

Posted by Shira Stanton on March 3rd, 2009

The right to housing and the current financial crisis

The current Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Raquel Rolnik, just presented this report to the Human Rights Council on the consequences of the current financial situation for the right to adequate housing. She discusses how various economic, financial and housing policies over the past decade may have contributed to the current crisis.

Report of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing - Current crisis in the housing and financial sector

Highlighted in the report is the widely perceived notion that housing is simply a commodity and financial asset, ignoring the need for possible public intervention to ensure this basic human right.

The Special Rappoteur offers some possible suggestions for ways forward, including news ideas for how public housing can help ease the current housing crisis.


Posted by Shira Stanton on February 27th, 2009

Economics and Human Rights: Never the Twain shall meet?

An new report entitled 'Rethinking Macro Economics from a Human Rights Perspective' by Radhika Balakrishnan, Diane Elson, and Raj Patel suggests that a conversation between human rights advocates and economists is not only possible but essential, especially in these times of economic crisis. 

Drawing on the lessons learned from a pilot project in the United States and Mexico, this report shows how human rights advocates and economists - especially progressive heterodox economists - can work together. 

Learning from both disciplines, the report outlines a methodology for evaluating macroeconomic policies from the perspective of compliance with the obligation of the progressive realization of economic and social rights.

Posted by Sally-Anne Way on February 24th, 2009

Abusos de Wal-Mart contra mujeres y adolescentes en México

Investigadores de organizaciones de derechos económicos y sociales en México han denunciado las violaciones cometidas contra mujeres y adolescentes de la cadena comercial Wal-Mart, así como las transgresiones sistemáticas a la legislación laboral, informa el periódico La Jornada en México D.F.

En la investigación, una investigadora da cuenta de la discriminación y explotación a que son sujetas las trabajadoras de dicha cadena comercial. Para entrar a laborar, se les exige certificado de no embarazo y se les discrimina a la hora de ascender en el escalafón. Además, son sujetas a acoso sexual y algunas han sido violadas por sus supervisores.

La Jornada ha dicho que en el caso de los menores trabajadores (“cerillos” o empacadores) Wal-Mart se aprovecha de sus necesidades económicas y los obliga a firmar contratos de trabajo sin sueldo, prestaciones ni servicio médico. Con 895 tiendas en 141 ciudades de México, dicha trasnacional es "la principal empleadora de mujeres en el país."

Las organizaciones Proyecto de Derechos Económicos, Sociales y Culturales (Prodesc), y Sociedad Mexicana pro Derechos de la Mujer (Semillas), así como la investigadora independiente Shaila Toledo presentaron ayer el informe “Lo barato cuesta caro: violaciones a derechos humanos en Wal-Mart México.

Posted by Kevin Donegan on February 20th, 2009

Chevron wants $500,000 from Nigerian villagers who sought justice in human rights case

Chevron Corp., which prevailed in a human-rights lawsuit seeking to hold it responsible for the shooting of Nigerian protesters at an oil platform, is seeking nearly $500,000 in legal costs from the villagers who brought the suit, the Los Angeles Times reported this week.

Lawyers for the villagers had sought to hold the oil giant responsible for the 1998 shooting and mistreatment of protesters by Nigerian soldiers at the Parabe oil rig off the coast of Nigeria. They have filed an appeal in the case, which is scheduled to be heard next month.

Advocates and lawyers for the Nigerians said they were outraged by Chevron's attempt to seek money from the plaintiffs, including one who was shot and wounded, another who was arrested and tortured and others whose husbands or fathers were killed.

Laura Livoti, founder of San Francisco Bay Area-based Justice in Nigeria Now, said the $485,000 sought by Chevron, California's largest company, would constitute a fortune for the Nigerians. That sum would be enough to sustain at least four villages in the Niger Delta for a year, she said.

"Chevron's attempt to squeeze nearly half a million dollars out of poor villagers who don't even have access to clean drinking water and who had wanted jobs with the company is a dramatic illustration of Chevron's heartlessness," Livoti told the Los Angeles Times.

In 2002, the Center for Economic and Social Rights and the Social and Economic Rights Action Center prevailed before the African Commission on Human and People's Rights in a legal case against the Nigerian government, for violations of the economic and social rights of the Ogoni people in the Niger Delta committed more than six years earlier.

The Commission acknowledged that the military government of Nigeria was directly involved in oil production through the state oil company, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC), the majority shareholder in a consortium with Shell Petroleum Development Corporation (SPDC), and that these operations caused environmental degradation and health problems resulting from the contamination of the environment among the Ogoni People.

Further, the Commission found the Nigerian government guilty of economic, social and cultural rights violations against the Ogoni people in connection with state violence and abuses around oil development in the Niger Delta. The Commission also made recommendations for the current government to take remedial action for those violations.

Posted by Kevin Donegan on February 12th, 2009

What is the new U.N. optional protocol on economic, social and cultural rights?

On December 10th, 2008, on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

The adoption of the Optional Protocol represents a historic advance, confirming the equal value and importance of all human rights. Forty-two years after a similar mechanism was adopted for civil and political rights, those who suffer from violations of their economic, social and cultural rights now have a complaints mechanism that is of equal status in the UN human rights system. Their right to an effective remedy is recognized.

"The approval of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is of singular importance by closing a historic gap," Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the UN General Assembly.

The Optional Protocol is important because it provides victims of economic, social and cultural rights violations who are not able to get an effective remedy in their domestic legal system with an avenue for redress. The adoption of the OP was the result of decades of advocacy by civil society organizations from around the world including the OP-ICESCR Coalition, of which the International Network for Economic, Social & Cultural Rights is a member.

Through review of cases, an international complaints mechanism will also contribute to clarifying the content of ESC rights and related states' obligations, as well offer guidance to national courts and human rights institutions.

What is the Optional Protocol (OP)?

The OP allows individuals to bring complaints about violations of their economic, social, and cultural rights to the attention of the Committee on Economic, Social & Cultural Rights. The Committee is the main monitoring body for the International Covenant on Economic, Social & Cultural Rights.

The Optional Protocol also provides for an inquiry procedure, which will allow the Committee to initiate an investigation if it receives allegations of grave or systematic violations of the ICESCR (although this is subject to an opt-in clause by governments). 

Why is it important?

There are three basic reasons why it is important to allow individual complaints under the Covenant:

  • First, individuals now have a venue in which to seek justice for ESCR violations. Any individual or group of individuals can now lodge a complaint to allege a violation of their economic, social or cultural rights.  As with other individual complaint mechanisms at the international level, individuals would have to exhaust domestic remedies and their government would have to be a party to the ICESCR.
  • Second, the OP gives equal value and importance to ESC rights as human rights, equal in status to civil and political rights. Despite a tremendous amount of international rhetoric on the importance of ESC rights, these rights long remained the only group of rights without an international individual complaints mechanism. Introducing such a mechanism puts ESCR on par with civil and political rights, and finally gives meaning to the rhetoric of indivisibility.
  • Third, an individual complaints mechanism strengthens the body of law surrounding specific human rights. The value of an OP allowing individual complaints is clear from the experience of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The Human Rights Committee, which monitors the ICCPR, has developed a solid body of jurisprudence relating to specific rights found in the Covenant. That elaboration has strengthened the rights by clearly defining their parameters, and assisted with national advocacy for enforcement of the rights. Economic and social rights have so far been deprived of this opportunity to develop jurisprudence, and an OP provides such an opportunity.

How would the Optional Protocol work?

As its name states, any Optional Protocol is optional. Governments are not forced to become legally obligated to its terms. An Optional Protocol is a treaty and governments that support the OP may choose to sign and ratify (or accede, if the signature period has expired) to its terms. Once a government has ratified a treaty, that treaty is legally binding.

Individuals who are nationals of the governments that ratify or accede to the Optional Protocol would have the option of bringing an individual complaint to the attention of the Committee on Economic, Social & Cultural Rights. The procedure is set out in the OP itself, and includes certain procedural requirements (for example, the requirement that domestic remedies be exhausted before an individual comes to the Committee). The Committee will review complaints received and write an opinion. Under the current individual complaint mechanism available for the ICCPR, these opinions are much like judicial decisions. Although they are not legally enforceable the way a domestic court opinion is, the governments concerned will have agreed to be legally bound by these decisions.

Check back soon

CESR will be following and analysing further developments as the Optional Protocol is implemented in practice.

See also the updates of the International NGO Coalition on the Optional Protocol to the ICESCR.

Posted by Kevin Donegan on February 5th, 2009

FAQ on ESC Rights

What are ESC rights?  Why are they important?  What are some examples of violations of ESC rights?

Looking for answers to these questions? 

The UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has just published this factsheet on the "Frequently Asked Questions on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights".

Posted by Sally-Anne Way on January 15th, 2009

The Human Consequences of the Financial Crisis

The current financial crisis will have serious impacts on the realization of ESC rights, especially in the poorer developing countries.  As unemployment rises, household incomes drop and food prices rise, families will be forced to reduce consumption of food or take their children out of school.  Government spending on education and health may contract and the poorest will not be able to afford to go to school or seek health care.  Women will bear the brunt. 

CESR's Board member, Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, recently responded to the UN General Assembly's Interactive Panel on the Global Financial Crisis.

Posted by Sally-Anne Way on December 23rd, 2008

Every human has human rights!

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights turns 60 in 2008.  This Campaign calls us each of us to take responsibility for upholding the goals of the Universal Declaration.  See CESR's contribution to the Campaign's goal  - Freedom From Want is the unfulfilled promise of the UDHR that will only become a reality when poverty is understood as a denial of fundamental human rights.

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