SECTION 8: UNITED NATIONS MECHANISMS AND ESC RIGHTS
Other Contents of Section 8: General Comment 1
MODULE 24 (continued)
UNITED NATIONS MECHANISMS AND ESC RIGHTS
The Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination
CEDAW and the Indian Women's Groups
India ratified CEDAW in July 1993, soon after the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna. This was clearly an outcome of the pressure and influence exerted by women's rights groups at the world conference. CEDAW subsequently became a crucial component during the preparations for the Women's Conference in Beijing in September 1995. Several orientations on CEDAW were held. A comprehensive "shadow report" was prepared with contributions from women's groups throughout the country in anticipation of the Indian government's initial report to the CEDAW committee, which was due in August 1994.
The initial orientation workshops on CEDAW were difficult. Both resource persons and participants on each occasion found it hard to make CEDAW relevant to grassroots action. Over the years, the workshops became more "concept"-centered, with group work designed to link law and policy with local case studies. This helped transform CEDAW into a monitoring tool in community work rather than a piece of international law. In 1997, the International Women's Rights Action Watch (IWRAW) Asia Pacific undertook a project on CEDAW monitoring with some national partners. This, together with the long delay by the Indian government in preparing its initial report, gave space and time to popularize CEDAW and to design monitoring systems. During this period, the Supreme Court of India also passed landmark judgments citing CEDAW; this highlighted its relevance and potential to transform existing domestic norms and practices. Local groups too have translated CEDAW, citing CEDAW before district-level authorities to challenge practices and to assert their claims-successfully.
In 1999, when the Indian government submitted its initial report to the CEDAW committee, there was enthusiasm among women's groups to prepare an alternative or "shadow" report. A large number of groups who had been involved in preparing for and participating in the Beijing conference and appreciated both the relevance of lobbying the international system and the use of international law instruments came together in an effort coordinated by the National Alliance of Women (NAWO) and helped by IWRAW Asia Pacific. This coming together, however, does not mean that all women's groups in India-or even all the groups that participated in the alternative report writing-have complete faith in CEDAW or international processes. There continues to be skepticism about the relevance of international law. However, a large majority of the sixty organizations that came together felt it was important to use whatever avenues of lobbying are available to pressure the government.
A national-level workshop was organized in November 1999 with a view to discussing the modalities of preparing an alternative report. The objectives in preparing the report were:
1. To use the CEDAW framework and processes to pressure the government
to take action in neglected areas concerning women's rights
The workshop included government representatives from the Indian Department of Women and Child, a retired judge known for applying CEDAW in a landmark case, and two experts from the CEDAW committee. The meeting discussed different chapters prepared by different authors and made comments for improving them. Once the rewritten chapters were submitted, an editorial team worked to ensure a uniform format of presentation. An eleven-member team was sent to submit the alternative report to the CEDAW committee. The members of the team included those who wanted to learn about the committee and its working.
The following steps, undertaken once the team was in New York, directly impacted on the review of India's report:
Organization of the information in the shadow report to
correspond to the different articles of CEDAW
The Indian NGO experience at the CEDAW review was extremely positive. The committee members made a special mention of the role of the Indian NGOs in assisting them and raised all matters brought to their attention with the Indian government delegation. This experience has reinforced the need for partnership with groups and systems at the regional and international level for successful monitoring of a state's performance of its obligations.5
The work of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is also relevant for NGOs looking at the implementation of ESC rights. The CSW was established as a functional commission of the Economic and Social Council in 1947. Its initial mandate was to prepare recommendations and reports to the council on promoting womens rights in the political, economic, civil, social and educational fields. The commission was also required to make recommendations to the council on urgent problems requiring immediate attention in the field of womens rights. The mandate of the CSW has been consistently broadened. In 1987 its mandate was extended to include the promotion of equality, development and peace, and the monitoring of the implementation of measures for the advancement of women.
After the Beijing Conference, the General Assembly mandated the CSW to integrate into its work a follow-up process to the recommendations contained in the wide-ranging Platform of Action adopted at Beijing. Among the issues considered by the CSW in its March 1999 sessions were women and health, and national institutions for gender equality.
NGOs are allowed to lobby the CSW at its annual sessions and time is set aside in the commissions agenda to meet with NGOs.
The CSW, which began with fifteen members, now consists of forty-five members elected by ECOSOC for a period of four years.
The UN Commission on Human Rights is the UNs primary body for the protection and promotion of human rights. It played a significant role in the drafting and adoption of international standards on human rights in a number of areas.
The commission also addresses ESC rights and is open to lobbying by NGOs. The commission consists of fifty-three member governments elected by ECOSOC and reports to ECOSOC. The commission normally meets once a year in Geneva. From 1992 the commission has also convened special sessions to respond to an emergency or a human rights crisis which required immediate intervention.
The commission has set up a number of special procedures, which are of relevance for the realization of ESC rights. These procedures are of two types:
The special procedures consist of working groups, special rapporteurs, representatives or experts. They provide for a more flexible way of addressing human rights violations and the causes of those violations than is allowed in the commissions meeting as a whole. The persons appointed to working groups, or as rapporteurs, representatives or experts, act in their individual capacity and examine, monitor and publicly report to the commission on their mandates.
As of June 2000 about fifty country and thematic mechanisms had been established by the Commission. The following is a selection of those with a focus relevant to ESC rights:
Certain special mandates are also entrusted to the Secretary General or his Special Representatives, both at the level of the Commission on Human Rights and at the level of the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. These include:
The Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights is the main subsidiary body of the Commission on Human Rights; it also addresses ESC rights. It was previously known as the Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities; it was renamed in 1999. Its main functions are:
1) To undertake studies, particularly in the light of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and to make recommendations to the commission concerning the prevention of discrimination of any kind and the protection of racial, national, religious and linguistic minorities.
2) To perform any other functions which may be entrusted to it by ECOSOC or the commission. The sub-commission is composed of twenty-six experts acting in their personal capacity, elected by the commission with due regard to equitable geographical distribution. Half the members and their alternates are elected every two years and each serves for a term of four years.
Until 2000 the sub-commission held an annual four-week session in Geneva. From 2000 the Sub-Commissions sessions were reduced to three weeks. In addition to the members and alternates, it is attended by observers from states, United Nations bodies and specialized agencies, other intergovernmental organizations and NGOs with consultative status with ECOSOC. At present, the sub-commission has four working groups that meet between sessions:
The Sub-Commission has also established an intra-sessional Working Group on the Methods and Activities of Transnational Corporations, which is beginning to formulate human rights standards relating to companies.
The following is a list of the focus of some relevant studies and special rapporteurs agreed upon by the sub-commission:
The International Labour Organization, established by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, has been one of the most active international organizations in the area of ESC rights. As of May 2000 it had adopted 182 conventions and 190 recommendations in relation to social and economic rights. The organizations structure and process of work is based on the tripartite involvement of trade unions, employers organizations and member states.
The ILO consists of the ILO Conference, the Governing Body and its Secretariat. The ILO Conference, which meets once a year, consists of two government representatives, one employers representative and one workers representative per member state. The Governing Body, which is its executive arm, consists of 56 members, 14 each representing workers and employers, and the balance of 28 representing member states.
Member states are required to submit conventions and recommendations adopted by the ILO for consideration by the states legislative body. The states are required to report to the ILO on the response of the legislative body. This process is unique to the ILO, and allows trade unions and other groups to lobby for the ratification of a new convention or the incorporation of the recommendation as part of state policy.
Member states must also report on the measures they have taken to implement ILO conventions. An important stipulation is that governments must send copies of their reports to national organizations of employers and workers, thus providing the latter with an opportunity to comment on the reports. These comments must be transmitted to the ILO by the government together with its report. On important conventions, such as those dealing with human rights, governments are required to report every two years. On others, member states must report every four years. Reports are reviewed by the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations. This Committee makes "observations on any situation which it regards as not in conformity with the governments obligations under the relevant convention and these form part of its annual report to the International Labour Conference. It may also direct "requests to governments, which gives the government an opportunity to rectify situations that do not comply with its obligations under the particular convention without the matter becoming public. Observations are adopted for more serious cases and are published in the report the Committee of Experts submits.
The report of the Committee of Experts is placed before the Governing Body, which may then invite governments to respond when the committee has established that the provisions of a convention are not being complied with. This allows another opportunity for trade unions and other groups to raise the issue of the lack of compliance with their governments.
The ILO also has a process by which the Governing Body and the Committee of Experts reviews the status of conventions not ratified by member states. In this process the ILO has tended to focus more on those conventions dealing with basic human rights.
There is a specific process within the ILO to look into allegations concerning the violation of the right to freedom of association. Allegations may be submitted by workers groups, employers organizations or governments. They are investigated by a Fact-Finding and Conciliation Commission within the ILO.
Author: The author of this module is Mario Gomez.
3. See also United Nations, Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), Promoting Womens Enjoyment of their Economic and Social Rights. Report of an Expert Group Meeting held at the University of Abo Akemi, Finland, 1-4 December 1997.