The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to Create an Office of the Special Rapporteur on ESCR
Taking into account the interdependent and indivisible nature of human rights, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) decided to initiate a process to create an Office of the Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ESCR), under the coordination of Commissioner Paulo Vannuchi.
The process begins with the establishment of a special fund to raise the financial resources needed to create the Office of the Special Rapporteur. The IACHR invites the OAS Member States to contribute to this fund, which will also help finance the activities of the existing ESCR Unit, coordinated by Commissioner Paulo Vannuchi.
"This decision is historic, said the IACHR Chair, Commissioner Tracy Robinson. "This is the first time since the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression was established in 1998 that the Commission is making a decision to replicate this experience. This reflects the fundamental importance the Inter-American Commission places on the protection and promotion of economic, social, and cultural rights in the region. A Special Rapporteurship implies that there will be a full-time Rapporteur, which will make it possible to delve deeper into the cross-cutting work the Commission does in this area."
Commissioner Paulo Vannuchi, who will coordinate this process, agreed with the historic nature of the decision and said the hope is that the new Office of the Special Rapporteur will be able to be in operation toward the end of 2015. "In the last few years we have seen significant progress. Between 2002 and 2008, some 40 million people in the region overcame poverty, and there has been some reduction in the levels of inequality in the distribution of income," Commissioner Vannuchi said. "But Latin America continues to be the region with the highest levels of inequality in the world, while in recent decades the United States has seen an increase in inequality in income distribution. These facts simply reaffirm the overriding need to give priority to the protection of economic, social, and cultural rights, and the decision to create a Special Rapporteurship reflects that need," he said.
Economic, social, and cultural rights are contemplated in the OAS Charter, which establishes significant binding goals for the States with regard to economic, social, and cultural rights, particularly with the amendments put forward through the Protocol of Buenos Aires. Along the same lines, the American Declaration recognizes a range of economic, social, and cultural rights. For its part, the American Convention on Human Rights states that the ideal of free persons "enjoying freedom from fear and want can be achieved only if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his [or her] economic, social, and cultural rights, as well as his [or her] civil and political rights." Moreover, in 1988 the OAS Member States adopted the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, "Protocol of San Salvador," a text based on a draft prepared by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The Protocol of San Salvador recognizes the right to work; the right to just, equitable, and satisfactory conditions of work; trade union rights; the right to social security; the right to health; the right to a healthy environment; and the rights to food, education, and the benefits of culture, among other rights.
In 2008, the Commission published the "Guidelines for Preparation of Progress Indicators in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights." This document was prepared to help the States Parties to the Protocol of San Salvador carry out the mechanism established in Article 19, whereby the States undertake to submit periodic reports on the progressive measures they have taken to ensure due respect for the rights set forth in the Protocol. The IACHR is part of the Working Group responsible for analyzing the periodic reports of the States Parties to the Protocol of San Salvador and ensuring that the follow-up mechanism to the Protocol of San Salvador is complete and in operation. The Protocol of San Salvador has thus far been ratified by Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, and Uruguay.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has devoted attention to the respect for and guarantee of economic, social, and cultural rights in the region through its various mechanisms. In 2012, the Commission created an ESCR Unit, which was initially under the responsibility of Commissioner Rose-Marie Antoine and since January of this year has been overseen by Commissioner Paulo Vannuchi. The Commission has also carried out a consultation process on ESCR in Argentina and is planning similar consultations for Colombia, Brazil, Mexico, the United States, and one country in the Caribbean.
The IACHR has also published a number of thematic reports on economic, social, and cultural rights, including: "Access to Justice as a Guarantee of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights"; "Access to Information on Reproductive Health from a Human Rights Perspective"; "The Work, Education and Resources of Women: The Road to Equality in Guaranteeing Economic, Social and Cultural Rights"; "Access to Maternal Health Services from a Human Rights Perspective"; "Indigenous and Tribal Peoples' Rights over their Ancestral Lands and Natural Resources"; and the recently published report on "The Right of Boys and Girls to a Family," among others.
In recent years, the Commission has held many thematic hearings that address economic, social, and cultural rights. For example, during the 150th session currently underway, information was received on the labor conditions of workers in the meatpacking and poultry industry in the United States; the alleged practice of forced evictions that affect campesinos in Paraguay; barriers in access to maternal health services in Mexico; the lack of access to adequate food, housing, and medicine for migrant Haitian workers in the Dominican Republic; and obstacles to holding strikes or otherwise demanding labor rights in Venezuela. In the previous period of public hearings, during the session held in October and November of 2013, a hearing was held on the situation of economic, social, and cultural rights of campesinos in Latin America, in which the Commission received information on the disproportionate impact that economic policies and crises have on rural populations. Another hearing provided information on obstacles and restrictions that affect workers' rights to unionize in several countries of the region.
With the decision adopted, the Inter-American Commission seeks to strengthen and expand its work of defending and protecting the economic, social, and cultural rights of the people of the Americas. The IACHR trusts that it will be able to continue to count on the support of the Member States and of the region's civil society in carrying out this task.
A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.