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Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights holds discussion with Non-Governmental Organizations

Committee on Economic, Social 
  and Cultural Rights  30 April 2012

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights this afternoon held a discussion with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Slovakia, Peru and Ethiopia, whose reports will be considered during the session.

On Slovakia, NGO representatives spoke about reproductive and sexual health rights and the prohibitively high cost of oral contraception, which put many young women at risk of unwanted pregnancy.  The segregation in schools of Roma children was discussed, which often led to an inferior education for them, while the growing influence of the Catholic Church on the Government’s sexual health policy was also raised. 

Turning to the situation of economic, social and cultural rights in Peru, NGO representatives raised issues such as discriminatory access to reproductive health services and sexual healthcare, forced sterilization, and prohibition of therapeutic abortion even in cases of rape.  Access for victims of torture to rehabilitative services was highlighted, as was the right to food and rural poverty in Peru.  Another organization spoke about the right of indigenous peoples to consultation when it came to the mining sector. 

Regarding economic, social and cultural rights in Ethiopia, NGO representatives raised the situation of food insecurity and large-scale displacement as a result of the Government’s land policy framework, which involved the lease or sale of huge areas of land to foreign investors.  Human rights violations in the Ogaden, Oromia and Somali regions of Ethiopia were also discussed. 

Representatives of two non-governmental organizations spoke generally about the dramatic new wave of land grabbing across the world, especially in Africa, and also about equality of access to healthcare for men and women. 

Spain and New Zealand will also be presenting reports during the Committee’s session but there were no representatives from non-governmental organizations in those two countries present at the meeting today.

Representatives of the following non-governmental organizations took the floor: Centre for Reproductive Rights Slovakia, Amnesty International, Citizen and Democracy, Centre for Reproductive Rights Peru, PROMSEX, DEMUS, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Manuela-Ramos Movement of Peru, International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims in a joint statement with Peru-based Centro de Atencion Psicosial (CAPS), FIAN International, International Committee of Jurists, CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation, African Rights Monitor, FIAN International, in a joint statement with La Via Campesina and CETIM and Citizens of the World.

The next meeting of the Committee will be at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 1 May, when it will begin consideration of the second periodic report of Slovakia (http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cescr/docs/AdvanceVersions/E.C.12.SVK.2.doc E/C.12/SVK/2).

Presentations by Non-Governmental Organizations


Centre for Reproductive Rights Slovakia spoke about the prohibitively high cost of oral contraception in Slovakia, which was rendered further inaccessible by a new Government bill which expressly forbid contraceptives from public health insurance, as the Slovak Government considered them ‘lifestyle drugs’ rather than essential medicine.  Slovakia stood in stark contrast to many other European Union Member States on the issue and put young women at the risk of unwanted pregnancy.  Slovakia did not apply mandatory sexual education in schools, and when it was taught it was under the subjects of Biology or Ethics.  The Centre hoped the Committee would ask the State party about its data collection on reproductive issues. 

Amnesty International said it had documented discrimination against, and racial segregation of, Roma children in education since 2006, which often led to an inferior education for these children.  There was a gap in monitoring and sanctioning of segregation, and no political will to tackle the issue.  Thousands of Roma children across Slovakia were trapped in segregated education.  Amnesty International called on the Government of Slovakia to eradicate and reverse segregation in education via four concrete steps: definition of segregation in legislation, strengthening of oversight of anti-discrimination provisions, introduction of a clear legal duty on all schools to desegregate education, and adoption of a concrete plan and timeline of desegregation.

Citizen and Democracy, in a joint statement, said that reproductive rights were fundamental to women’s health, equality, and enjoyment of other rights.  The organization raised three shortcomings by Slovakia’s Government: the absence of a comprehensive State sexual health policy effected by the increasing and continued influence of the Catholic Church over Government policy; there was a lack of accurate, unbiased and comprehensive information available on family planning; and the issue of abortion availability was a serious problem.

Centre for Reproductive Rights, in a second statement, said that Roma children did not receive the same standard of education as non-Roma children just because of the colour of their skin.  Roma parents believed their children had the right to be integrated and educated alongside non-Roma children.  Separated classes supported intolerance among Roma and non-Roma children.

Dialogue with Committee Experts

An Expert said that by emphasising the issues of reproductive health and segregation in schools the non-governmental organizations gave the impression that they were the most pressing issues for the Committee to look at, which was not necessarily the case.  The Committee had not been given a bigger picture of the broader economic, social and cultural rights challenges facing people in Slovakia.  Another Expert asked about the general cost of contraceptives and about the influence of the Catholic Church on policy-making.  Slovakia was party to the jurisdiction of the European Court for Human Rights, an Expert noted, and asked if any of the cases raised had been referred there. 

The Centre for Reproductive Rights said they believed it was the Government’s responsibility to provide as broad an information as possible on economic, social and cultural rights, and they regretted that the Government did not support non-governmental organizations to cover other issues.  Contraception cost around €15 per month, which may not be so high, but for students, women living in violent relationships, women who were unemployed or who were living in poor Roma communities, it was prohibitive.  Surveys of doctors had confirmed that many women decided whether or not to use contraceptives depending on cost.  The Catholic Church had always had a strong influence on the Government, but that had increased since the new Government came into power in April 2012.  The Government invited the Catholic Church but not non-governmental organizations to attend a round table meeting on forming reproductive health policy.  Amnesty clarified that its global campaign on dignity for Roma through their economic, social and cultural rights meant that issues facing Roma was currently its priority in Slovakia, hence the focus.  No case concerning segregation in schools had yet been raised at the European Court of Human Rights


Centre for Reproductive Rights Peru, in a joint statement, said that Peru must adopt a protocol that would guarantee women non-discriminatory access to legal reproductive health services, and highlighted two case studies.  The first was of a teenager (petitioner K.L.) carrying an anencephalic foetus, which was a foetus that had no chance of surviving more than a few days outside the womb.  In 2005 the Human Rights Committee determined that Peru’s failure to guarantee K.L. access to a therapeutic abortion violated her right to be free from cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.  K.L. was forced to breastfeed the baby until it died four days after birth.  Another example concerned a teenager, L.C., who became pregnant as a result of rape and attempted suicide by jumping off a roof.  She survived and needed immediate spinal surgery, which the hospital refused to provide her because they feared it would interrupt her pregnancy.  As a result L.C. is now quadriplegic.  The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women ruled that Peru had violated L.C.’s right to health and non-discrimination.  The Committee was asked to recommend that Peru adopt a national protocol for therapeutic abortion that has a comprehensive interpretation of legal abortion. 

PROMSEX spoke about legal barriers to sexual healthcare in Peru.  Today all sexual relationships between anyone 18 years or younger were deemed to be a crime of rape, whether there was consent or not.  Previously the age was 14, but it had recently been raised.  Teenagers were at higher risk of exposure to sexually transmitted infections, especially as they had to be accompanied by the parents when they wished to access family planning and sexual healthcare advisory services. 

DEMUS spoke about cases of forced sterilization in Peru and highlighted that to date the State party had not provided any information in that field, despite requests by the Committee.   There were cases of forced sterilization taking place without any permission sought, and often under inadequate medical conditions, which led to the women’s death. 

Planned Parenthood Federation of America spoke about a resolution by the Ministry of Health, which prohibited free distribution of the morning-after-pill in public health facilities and clinics, causing problems for Peruvian women who obtained their birth control methods from public clinics.  In 2009 approximately 27,231 morning-after-pill kits were taken in Peru, and it was especially important that it was available to women who were victims of rape to avoid an unwanted pregnancy. 

Manuela-Ramos Movement of Peru said that five per cent of women experienced an unwanted pregnancy as a result of sexual violence, which related to 35,000 annual pregnancies because of sexual aggression.  Peru continued to criminalize abortion in cases of rape.  The Human Rights Committee recognized the links between equality between men and women, and women’s denial of access to abortion following rape, which led to thousands of dangerous clandestine abortions.   

International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, in a joint statement with Peru-based Centro de Atencion Psicosial (CAPS), said it was an international umbrella organization that had over 140 members in 70 different countries.  In Peru torture victims had very little access to rehabilitation, which caused them to live in a constant state of ill-health.  The health impacts of torture negatively impacted on victims’ enjoyment of other rights, such as getting a job or education: in losing the ability to work, victims of torture easily ended up in poverty. 
FIAN International, in a joint statement, spoke about the right to adequate food in Peru and the need for affirmative action.  Over the past ten years Peru had seen a real Gross Domestic Produce (GDP) increase of 7.1 per cent annual growth.  However in 2010 poverty levels stood at 11 per cent in urban areas and 54 per cent in rural areas.  The rate of chronic malnutrition for girls and boys in rural areas was five times that of children in urban areas.  FIAN called on the Committee to ask Peru what actions it was taking to eradicate the differences between urban and rural populations, and also discrimination towards indigenous communities. 

International Committee of Jurists spoke about the right of indigenous peoples to consultation when it came to the mining sector in Peru, and on access to water and the legal protection of economic, social and cultural rights in Peru, with a particular focus on constitutional justice.  Since 1995 Peru recognized the right to consultation for indigenous peoples, but translating its legal obligation from theory into practice meant that in reality huge barriers existed.  Due to Peru’s landscape some areas of the country, namely in the Amazon basin, had access to substantial water resources while some populations suffered from drought.  The water was not equally dispersed around the country, and the rush to economic development at all cost undermined the right to water. 

Dialogue with Committee Experts

An Expert asked if he could pass on some friendly advice to the civil society organizations; he said he had noted that five NGOs made statements on sexual and productive health, another spoke about torture, which was not directly related to the Covenant, and only the final statement dealt with the right to food.  Without diminishing the importance of sexual and reproductive health, which would be raised with States parties, it was important to have information on poverty, education, employment, cultural and indigenous rights and other areas.  The Expert said his advice was that in future civil society organizations should coordinate so they could inform the Committee about all aspects of the Covenant, as the Committee members were now left with a large information gap as they prepared to address the State party.  Another Expert said that the NGOs were here raising the issues that concerned them and it was not the local organization’s responsibility – it was for international NGOs to raise other issues.  

An NGO representative replied that together with other organizations they would make information on wider economic, social and cultural rights issues in Peru available to the Committee over the next few days.  The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims said it had submitted a report to the Committee because it thought rehabilitation for torture victims came under health, and therefore under economic, social and cultural rights. 


CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation said that in Ethiopia, where 80 per cent of the adult population was engaged in small-scale agriculture, the Government’s land policy framework had increased food insecurity across the country.  The Government was the sole steward of land as peasant farmers and pastoralists did not have the right to sell, exchange or mortgage land.  Since 2005 the Government had leased over 3.5 million hectares of land to foreign and domestic investors.  By 2015 the total amount of land transferred to investors would measure nearly seven million hectares which was equivalent to 38 per cent of all land currently utilized by smallholders.  CIVICUS called upon the Ethiopian Government to ensure that its land investment policy did not undermine the rights of small-scale agriculturalists to an adequate standard of living, including access to adequate food. 

African Rights Monitor spoke about the situation in the Ogaden, Oromia and Somali regions of Ethiopia, and said there were many violations of human rights there, particularly by military groups akin to the Janjaweed.  Lack of movement for goods and services had impacted the economy of the region.  The risks of sexual exploitation were high for women.  The region was very restricted to international organizations; journalists had little access, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders were expelled from the region while World Food Agency food was distributed by the military. 


FIAN International, in a joint statement with La Via Campesina and CETIM, drew the Committee’s attention to the dramatic new wave of land grabbing.  While precise details were hard to come by some estimates indicated that 70 to 220 million hectares of good agricultural land could have been transferred from peasants to corporations in the last few days alone, and each day more investors joined the rush.  Land grabbing violated the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and directly damaged food security, incomes, livelihoods and environments.  Since large-scale land acquisition was profit-orientated and mainly exports driven, it fostered the introduction and deepening of an industrial agricultural mode of protection in host countries; it was ecologically destructive and unsustainable.  Given the dramatic situation on the ground the Committee was urged to increase the protection of the human rights of peasants, for example by issuing a General Comment on land grabbing; supporting the recommendations of the Final Study of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee on the advancement of the rights of peasants; considering the human rights impact of land grabbing during constructive dialogues with States parties and in concluding observations; and applying the Maastricht Principles of Extraterritorial States Obligations to cases of land grabbing. 

Citizens of the World spoke about equality with regard to health, which did not really exist anywhere in the world.  For example women usually received medical care on the basis of their insurance and also their status in society.  As the right to health was one of the Committee’s responsibilities would it be possible to have more focus on it by the Committee?

Dialogue with Committee Experts

Experts said they were aware of the practice of land grabbing around the world, and it was indeed a worrying issue.  The Committee would like to know more about land ‘leases’ rather than land grabbing, specifically in Ethiopia.  What sort of companies and States were leasing land from the Government of Ethiopia?

FIAN said the issue was land-grabbing was worsening, and although they appreciated that it was a long process for a Committee to issue a General Comment, if they would consider making one on land grabbing in the next year or two it would be welcomed.  CIVICUS confirmed that the State had sole responsibility to allocate land in Ethiopia, and given that 80 per cent of Ethiopians relied on small-scale agriculture that monopoly violated their right to food.  International human rights organizations were criminalized from working in Ethiopia, and any international NGO working in Ethiopia was not allowed foreign funding, so it was increasingly difficult to get reliable data, but it was known that the main nations engaged in land grabbing in Ethiopia were China, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Germany, and they were mainly engaged in harvesting biofuels and food for their own respective domestic markets.


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