Collective Engagement to Strengthen the Realization of ESCR via the United Nations

Publish Date: 
Wednesday, May 6, 2020

On March 3, 2020, a group of Strategic Litigation Working Group (SLWG) and Monitoring Working Group (MWG) members discussed working methods and rights enforcement with members of the United Nations (UN) Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR), as well as representatives from the Office of the High Commission on Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva, Switzerland. On March 4th, a  group of members from across the network met to strategize on how we could strengthen economic, social, cultural and environmental rights (ESCER) advocacy at the UN. 

The dialogues on March 3rd  happened in a pair of meetings, one with a broad agenda covering states’ review processes and other working methods, organized by the Committee with the support of the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights – GI-ESCR, and one focused on the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic (OP-ICESCR), Social, and Cultural Rights, hosted by ESCR-Net, in collaboration with GI-ESCR. A brief conversation on data and ESCR also took place as part of the second meeting. Members participating included Allana Kembabazi (Initiative for Social and Economic Rights), Bruce Porter (Social Rights Advocacy Centre), Josep Babot (Observatori DESC), Lucy McKernan (GI-ESCR), Omar Flores (online, Fundación de Estudios para la Aplicación del Derecho), Tim Fish Hodgson (online, International Commission of Jurists), Julieta Izcurdía (online, Asociación Civil por la Igualdad y la Justicia) and Mihir Mankad (online, Center for Economic and Social Rights). A wider group of members, including the Steering Committee, participated in preparatory calls and conversations ahead of the meetings in Geneva.

In the first meeting, several CESCR members presented on processes governing state reporting, communications, and general comments, with an emphasis on entry points for civil society participation. The Committee’s Guidelines on Interim Measures (adopted during its Sep./Oct. 2019 session) were among the updates provided. ESCR-Net members took the opportunity to raise the need for the Committee to find ways to dialogue with national judiciaries and sub-national and local authorities; the enhancing of the simplified reporting process and of the follow-up to concluding observations; and the effects of robust civil society engagement in implementation of the Committee’s determinations in relation to housing in Spain.

The second meeting, concerning the Optional Protocol (OP), afforded a chance for network members to offer their perspectives and questions concerning evolving jurisprudence, the consequence of the deliberate omission of margin of discretion doctrine during the drafting of the treaty, the role of civil society in promoting greater ratification of the OP, the need to strengthen the knowledge of the OP and the Covenant among lower court judges, the desire for greater civil society access to follow-up on final case dispositions (“Views”)—including ongoing robust follow-up to general recommendations—and the standards for the OP’s inquiry procedure on grave or systemic violations of ESCR. Also, at the end of the meeting a few members of the MWG introduced to the Committee their work on a set of principles that should be applied during data collection, analysis and use according to a human rights based approach. The principles seek to enhance the quality, validity, relevance of data used to make decisions on ESCR. The work of the MWG on this issue was presented as a way of introduction to pave the way for further exchanges with members of the Committee 

ESCR-Net members expressed their wish for civil society consultations with CESCR to continue in the future and looked forward to inputting into debates on institutional and procedural matters of the Committee going forward.

The March 4th meeting among members to discuss strategic engagement at the UN was held with the substantive support of Lucy McKernan, Geneva representative of GI-ESCR. Members participating in this short, informal exchange included Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights; Center for International Environmental Law; Initiative for Social and Economic Rights, International Commission of Jurists, FIAN International; Franciscans International; GI-ESCR, Observatori DESCSocial Rights Advocacy Centre, Yves Lador (individual member) and Layla Hughes. The discussion involved three intersecting strands of exchange including, sharing plans for UN engagement in 2020 to explore synergies; exchanging information as well as strategies regarding current openings and threats (both internal developments at the UN and external developments in the human rights landscape that might impact human rights advocacy and action); and brainstorming on how to more effectively center economic, social, cultural and environmental rights in our UN based human rights advocacy/action. In the end,  key recommendations of members on strengthening our strategic engagement at the UN,  included among others, supporting stronger coordination on ESCER issues in advance of UN Human Rights Council sessions; bridging the gap more effectively between social movements and grassroots groups and UN spaces; strategizing further in relation to state champions of ESCER; and considering more targeted and coordinated outreach to special procedures.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is worth recalling that CESCR is able to issue interim measures in relation to ESCR for states that have ratified the OP-ICESCR. CESCR has already issued a pronouncement on ESCR in the present crisis UN treaty bodies have also issued a call to adopt a human rights approach to fighting COVID-19. In our human rights advocacy in the context of COVID-19, the UN could be a key forum concerning related issues.