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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

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


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

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

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

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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