Governance Session 1: Key Functions and Future Development of ESCR-Net

1.   Moderators: Juana Sotomayor, UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Geneva and Ignacio Saiz, Center for Economic and Social Rights, Spain

Juana introduced the governance session on Key Functions of the Network by asking: What should the functions of ESCR-Net be in the future? She listed the principle functions of the Network to this point, which include:

  •  Information and strategy exchange
  •  Development and dissemination of new tools
  •  Capacity building
  •  Advocacy
  •  Enhancing grassroots and social movements participation
  •  Mobilizing and facilitating solidarity and support within the Network.

For the session discussion, Juana asked the participants to be engaged and to propose, challenge, illustrate and prioritize when making suggestions regarding future functions of the Network.

2.   Comments and Discussion

Andrew Anderson, Frontline, Ireland: The first comment has to do with the geographic spread of participants and Members. There are some parts of the world that are not very well represented. I am struck by the little representation of Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Middle East (only a couple of countries); there is no representation of China. There should be something in the directions of the organization which is putting a priority on broadening and strengthening the membership of the Network in parts of the world where it is not so well represented. Frontline and I am sure other organizations will be willing to support the Secretariat and the Board in this process, offering contacts, etc. The second point is to say that we should prioritize actions to defend defenders of economic, social and cultural rights. This should be a basic function of any membership group.

  • Juana Sotomayor, OHCHR, Geneva: This last commentary reminds me of an important point for the rest of the comments. When we speak about ESCR-Net, some people refer to the Network as such, others to the Secretariat, others to the Board, or to the Members. I ask those which speak about the distinct functions of the Network, to please distinguish which part of the Network you are referring to.

Tricia Feeney, RAID, UK: I would like to encourage and this message came out from the sessions of the Corporate Accountability Group about the importance of the Secretariat, with permission of the Board and the members, to make collective statements. I think it is becoming increasingly important. We need a good system to decide how and when but certainly we want to have a strongly, unified and identifying campaign that will pulls together many different strands of the work of the members in the different working groups. Some many exciting ideas came out from the working sessions.

Elin Wrzoncki, FIDH, France: We have to think which has been the value added of the Network during the past years. I would say that strengthening the function of information and strategy exchange is really a key point. So I would strongly say that this should be a priority of the Network and also development and dissemination of new tools and resources. On advocacy, I think that it should not be in everything. It should be focused. The most natural campaign for the Network to take up is the ratification campaign for the OP.

Suzanne Shende, Comité de Emergencia Garífuna de Honduras: We have already heard the 6 proposals by the social movements in the other plenaries, but I just want to say that there is a good convergence between the enumerated functions there and those coming up now. I hope that these proposals are included in the record of this discussion as well, and to recognize that they fit well.

Zoe Goodman, 3D, Switzerland: I think we as a network need to think about how we want to engage in improving the quality of the Committee of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. All of us in our work use the Committee in some way. There a lot of other organizations that have been very effective in influencing who is appointed to the Committee and in improving the quality of the day of general discussion day and the general comments that come out from those discussions. And we as a Network has a very important role to play in probably doing the same thing.

Salih Booker, COHRE, Switzerland: This is a proposal to the Board, the Secretariat and the membership as well. I think this is a unique moment of a global economic crisis where the Network has a tremendous opportunity to advance its power as a force for social change. My proposal is that we consider a single ESCR-Net Campaign, a global campaign for ESC rights, which in essence does not require us to change our work, but to change the way we think about our work. All of our activities can fit under the framework of this global campaign. Currently, all efforts to respond to the global crisis completely devoid on any human rights based approach discourse. Responses will be more of the same and will make matters worse. I think the other opportunity is to join human rights movement with the more broad and stronger global justice movement, which is often times skeptical of the human rights legal framework. We have an opportunity to integrate those movements, raise our visibility and achieve real change. I am not proposing any centralization. Everything that we are doing already constitutes a Campaign for ESCR will help us to magnify all our efforts. Simply change the frame. Everything we are doing already, litigation, education, etc. constitutes a single global campaign for ESC rights. This will help us magnify our efforts.

Eitan Felner, CESR, Spain: I want to "cuestionar", or question, whether the five categories that have been the various roles of the Network, whether by trying to do all of them, there is a price that the Network pays, particularly in terms of advocacy. My question is whether it is possible to be effective in having a genuine and very powerful impact, in advocacy campaigns with such limited resources in terms of the Secretariat, such varied and loose relation between various organizations that are part of the Network etc. Global campaigns that have been very effective, have been first of all, very focused. Whether is the question of landmines or even the OP. My concern is whether trying to do that at the same time information and strategy -exchange and capacity-building, whether the Network pays a price in terms of capacity for trying to do everything very good. I wonder whether, given the limitation of capacity that every group has, whether it is not better to focus in the areas that have to do more with exchange of information and capacity-building and then members can decide to take up campaigns, but not as the Network.

Meghna Abraham, Amnesty International, UK: I do think that we are entering a stage in the Optional Protocol that is really critical to all organizations here. It is not just a legal instrument. It is a mechanism which is at the core of all of our work, which is remedies for violations of ESCR. In my mind that is the challenge of next stage of this work. This is a cross-cutting issue that the entire Network is building into their work, to think about how to make States accountable violations for ESCR, not only at the international level but also at the national level. That is real the challenge of the campaign. For us it is very important for us to consider how ESCR-Net, which has already played an important role, can take a greater role. Very interesting if the new Board, can consider how this could work, what it will mean in terms of resources and funding, not just within the Adjudication working groups, but others, because it is a cross-cutting issue. And social movements are key, in light of some of debates we have had, we do not want this to be a top down instrument. At the level of the membership I think this is key. This next stage of ratification is key because we need 10 states to ratify for it go into force and we need a mixture of organizations across all regions of the world working on it. And afterwards we need to consider what types national campaigns for implementation are taken up as well. 

  • Juana Sotomayor, OHCHR, Geneva: Before continuing, I would like to mention that we have asked you to question, prioritize, as you have done; but we have also asked you to illustrate; give examples of how other Networks have done things similarly or differently and what other functions they have undertaken. Also, the issue of urgent actions have not been treated sufficiently.

Héctor Juancayo, ILSA, Colombia: I would like to raise the issue of the relationship of this Network with other networks, in topics that can be similar or collateral. There would be an immediate relationship between this Network and the Inter-American Platform of Human Rights. A mandate should be given to the Secretariat or to the Board to establish this type of relationship in order to plan common activities, exchange information, etc. There are other Networks with which we can have a relationship. For example, in Latin America, the Social Continental Alliance working on the issue of free trade. Finally, there is a Network in Latin America on the issue of International Financial Institutions. One of the activities that we have planned here is to organize a parallel event to the meeting of the Inter-American Development Bank that is celebrating 50 years of existence. We are thinking on an international activity that allows us to challenge the Bank's policies during these years.

Hamdi Al Khawaja, Democracy & Workers' Rights Center in Palestine: Let me just elaborate something about our concerns in the Middle East. There is one point concerning peace and security and relationship with ESCR. Peace and security issues are a priority for us. Secondly, I want to insist on the diversification of membership. I do not see lots of organizations that are dealing with workers rights. This is a very important topic to also tackle. It is also very important for the Network with similar organizations dealing with this topic. Also, coordinating with international organizations, such as the ILO, is very important to try to come up with something really international, not only concerning members concerning members of the Net. Another issue that is really concerning me is reporting. Sometimes I do not feel ownership of being a member in the Network, maybe because I lack the information, specifically on the financial and administrative aspects. Maybe it is because I do not review the website or what is coming out from the Net. It is important to also take responsibility for being members of the Net. It is important to think how we can feel ownership of the Network.

Miloon Kothari, HRLN, India: I am just going to say something that will probably be very unpopular. This overwhelming focus of the Net on Optional Protocol that people are proposing is somewhat misplaced. There is too many expectations riding on the OP. It will be a long battle to get complaints in. What I see as the strength of ESCR-Net is the possibility for a group of members to take issues forward which they feel very strongly about. I disagree with Eitan that we need to narrow the scope of the Net's work.. There are huge areas that are missing, such as forced evictions. I do not think that ESCR-Net should just focus on one issue, or the OP. But, if there is going to be one focus, I will support was Salih was proposing and what I was trying to raise in the plenary yesterday. We do have an historic moment with the economic crisis and I do not know how long it will last. If some of us can come together and try to articulate what kind of work we need to do, both conceptually and providing an alternative blueprint, I really see the strengthen of the Network as being able to do many things. I feel that not all the energy should go to the OP, even though I am very committed to it.

Malcolm Langford, NCHR & Hakijamii, Norway: Two comments. 1. On the campaign, it is important to recognize the type of projects or campaign we have already. We have some campaigns that come of the working groups themselves, others where the campaigns extend across working groups or the entire Network. There are also urgent action appeals. This proposal on a unified campaign, it has to come from somewhere in the Network. Someone has to take leadership. I think you could focus on the economic crisis, but I want to note that there are a number of crises: one is the finance crises; two, what the IMF has done in response to that - conditionalities have come up again. Third is the food price crisis which has been forgotten in the midst of this and to some extent benefited from the financial crisis because oil prices have fallen. These are complex relationships. One idea is to put it under the theme of human rights and economy policy and set some clear targets. There will be a G-20 meeting when Barack Obama is President. Ok, what are we saying to that? Maybe all the working groups can come up with key proposals on what we can say in response to that meeting. The second point is: please change the name of this Network in English. It has not work. DESC works very well in Spanish and French. Wants the Network to come up with something that we can use which is simpler.

Esperanza Giraldo, CLADEM, Guatemala: The proposal of the women's Group is to issue a statement on the 30 years of CEDAW and ask which the advances and retrogressions in relation to discrimination against women. I would like to take advantage of this meeting so that a statement could be issued on the situation of women, but also men, on deportations and migrations, particularly to USA and Europe and on the process that those people live during their detention and the separation with theirs sons. They do not know what happen with them. They get lost in the space.

Ignacio Saiz, CESR, Spain: I do not want to stop the flow of this discussion by spending very long summarizing. I do not want to attempt to relay everything that has been said. I want to highlight your reflections about the strengths of ESCR-Net and also where some of the challenges lie as a lens for trying to summarized what has been said. I have heard strong consensus that this is an excellent venue for exchange of ideas, resources, strategies, and capacity. ESCR-Net's strength is being at the interface of work going on at the national level and international level. Some of the challenges that I am hearing are regarding the capacity or the desirability of operating with one unified voice. We heard many people discuss how that challenge should be addressed, for example the extent to which ESCR-Net should mobilize around one specific campaign. A number of people have spoken to the multi-faceted nature of this Network. Are we talking about initiatives and functions of the Secretariat, functions of individual members, or are we talking about something else? Those for me are the key strengths but also the challenges. Let me stop there. So let me take more ideas, suggestions, reflections, etc. I am now chairing the remaining of the session.

Brenda Campbell, IWRAW-AP, UK: I want to speak on behalf of IWRAW-AP and also as a member of the steering committee for the NGO Coalition on the OP. I want to come back to Miloon's comment. We are not suggesting is that the OP Campaign becomes an overwhelming campaign which overtakes other work. What we are suggesting is that there is a need for a campaign for the ratification of the OP and that campaign can one that enhances all of the work that is undertaken. We are now at a critical moment after 6 years of lobbying. We cannot allow it at this stage to fall flat, this would be a very negative step for litigating ESCR. Also, no one working on this issue believes the OP offers a panacea to curtail violations of ESCR. What we need is direction, resources, and a coordinated campaign, taking into consideration all the resources that ESCR-Net can allow, what we would propose will be more in line with a Working Group. A campaign that complements what ESCR-Net is doing and not overtaking other areas.

Michelle Kagari, Amnesty International, UK: I just want to support what Miloon and Salih said, because within the Trade and Finance Group, while the importance of the social movement groups was noted, we also discussed that what is currently happening globally is extremely important. We suggest, not that the Network as a whole takes this up, but that groups which are interested on this get together to work on this issue. Amnesty would be interested in discussing this possibility with others.

Felipe Galvis, Comisión Colombiana de Juristas, Colombia: I would like to raise an issue that has not been addressed very much during these days of discussions-the methodology of indicators to assess the satisfaction of ESCR. This is a key topic because it tends to build bridges between rights and public policies developed by States. While public policies keep on being defined by standards developed by multilateral bodies, we will be missing a space for discussion that is very important. Therefore, I think that it is necessary either develop a new working group or include in this task in the new strategies for the enjoyment of ESCR category. I made this proposal because there is a working group that has to do with budget analysis. This is a very important aspect, but is only one aspect of the monitoring and the complete assessment of public policies. The range of monitoring is much broader.

Legborsi Saro Pyagbara, MOSOP, Nigeria: Within the context of information-sharing and capacity building, I want to emphasize the importance of the Network addressing the impact of climate change on ESC Rights. I believe the Network should take up this area of work.

Carolina Fairstein, CELS, Argentina: I would like to raise a question that occurred to me listening to the African colleagues in the group of Adjudication in relation to the judgments and somebody asked if Kenyan public authorities have been present in the event. I would like to ask if any contact has been made with the press to give visibility to the issue and put it in the public agenda at least for one day. And I would also like to ask if in future activities from the Secretariat press strategies and contact with public authorities can be developed to communicate the things we are doing.

Odindo Opiata, Hakijamii, Kenya: The media is covering the event. The media was here on the opening day and some are working on a document that they will produce as a feature in the local daily which appears on Sunday, but it should be available on the internet.

Darci Frigo, Terra de Direitos, Brasil: The first issue that I would like to raise is the relationship between ESCR-Net and other networks, as the colleague has already pointed out. This relationship should be handled by the Secretariat so that it adds to the processes already underway, from a regional and thematic perspective. I do not see any problem in adding the forces. The Network has the broader role of gathering human rights movements and organizations from all over the world to develop global common actions and this is the central role of this Network. For this, we need to establish how this process of relations will function. I say this to strengthen what our compañero has already mentioned. Another issue has to do with the need for us to make a stronger effort in associating the functions of the Network with certain readings of the economic and political situation, the financial crisis, the food crisis.

Unidentified Speaker: Interventions made in the next period should take into account these elements which should be transversal to all the actions of the Network. Finally, I just want to see in the building process of this Network, whether we can include other languages, such as Arabic, Portuguese, etc. to expand the possibilities of access to information.

Bukeni Waruzi, Witness, USA: I have a proposal that is along the line of what Miloon was saying. I think that ESCR-Net is so diverse, many different organizations working in different issues, coming from different regions. I suggest that we select a certain number of key campaigns that will allow the ESCR-Net to be more inclusive and make sure that we tackle all the issues and we also try to deal with all the members' concerns. Secondly, when you look at the website, those folks that might speak Arabic, they may not find a place. I will suggest that we have some pages on the website in different languages.

Suzanne Shende, Comité de Emergencia Garífuna de Honduras: To add to what Odindo said about the impact of this conference here and in the press, the social movements of Kenya elaborated the Nairobi Declaration, which you will all consider in the next session de gobierno, was done in order to bring back into their own struggles, campaigns and in their relationships to the press, this declaration, which will continue to strengthen their efforts after we all leave.

Ezekiel Rema, Federation of Slum Dwellers, Kenya: We are addressing the issues of the marginalized people. Therefore, each social movement from each Network should coordinate within the local network before engaging with ESCR-Net internationally. There are some of the social movements that maybe would prefer to go directly to the global ESCR-Net. I am just requesting that social movements work together with their local networks first for better coordination.

  • Ignacio Saiz, CESR, Spain: Juana will now summarize the last discussion points, as I have understood them. 
  • Juana Sotomayor, OHCHR, Geneva: As a first point, it seems to me that some have referred to new issues for Working Groups. So, ESCR-Net's role of working in thematic groups has been brought up, seems to remain important, and could be additionally extended to other areas, such as trade, the financial crisis, climate change, and other methodological areas such as indicators or other ESCR monitoring methodologies. Secondly, I have found interesting to mention here the mention of the different roles members of the Secretariat and in some cases the Board can fulfill. It may seem that there is a tension here, but this is false. Some people have referred to the need to conduct campaigns, collective, joint, like the OP or other large items for a global campaign. Other members have referred to the need for this Network to be inclusive, in which various organizations and social movements, with their different and specific interests can participate and join, for example a WG, but not necessarily all the campaigns, or choose only a few issues. I think this is a tension that does not necessarily contradict itself. It could be that the Network chooses one or two broad themes in which it is hoped its membership will become involved, but this does not weaken the operation of the Network to date, which is that different groups can participate in several of specific topics, such as the Right to Health or Budget Analysis, or can become involved in specific areas of interest in the Network. A third point related to key roles of ESCR-Net that has been mentioned is to create channels, synergies, and bridges to other networks, at the international or regional level, or other thematic networks. This is important because a great emphasis on diversity has been mentioned throughout: greater geographic and language representation. Perhaps part of the role as members of this Network, but also of the Secretary and the new Board would be to look for realistic, practical mechanisms to link to other organizations, other networks, and other regions which perhaps are not represented as they should be here.

Meghna Abraham, Amnesty International, UK: Made a final intervention regarding the Optional Protocol. We have an action suggested by the NGO Coalition for OP. They are concerned that key Latin American and African states have not become co-sponsors of the OP. Although it will pass anyway, co-sponsoring helps to gain leverage to push them to ratify the instrument. They are asking the all African states and the following Latin American states: Argentina, Bolivia, Brasil, Dominican Republic, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Venezuela. They have letters available for participants to use as a template to lobby their own governments. She also stated that they are accepting new members into the NGO Coalition for the OP.

Elin Wrzonki, FIDH, France: Third action the NGO Coalition suggests is that a draft statement supporting adoption of the OP-ICESCR that has been circulated, be supported by all the members of the Network. Elin then read the NGO Coalition Statement to the room.

  • The Membership adopted the statement and the session closed.
Working Group Description: