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Procedural Decisions of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Decisions adopted by the Committee at its eighteenth session, U.N. Doc. E/1999/22, paras. 515-17 (1998).



Decisions adopted by the Committee at its eighteenth session : . 15/05/98.
E/1999/22,paras.515-517. (Decision)

Convention Abbreviation: CESCR
A. Decisions adopted by the Committee at its eighteenth session

Globalization and its impact on the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights

515. As a result of the rich exchange that took place during the day of general discussion held on 11 May 1998 (see chap. V above, paras. 436 to 461), the Committee adopted the following statement.

"1. On the eve of the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights it is essential to reflect upon the impact of globalization on the economic, social and cultural rights recognized in the Universal Declaration and further developed in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Although it is capable of multiple and diverse definitions, globalization is a phenomenon which has wrought fundamental changes within every society.

"2. It is usually defined primarily by reference to the developments in technology, communications, information processing and so on that have made the world smaller and more interdependent in very many ways. But it has also come to be closely associated with a variety of specific trends and policies, including an increasing reliance upon the free market, a significant growth in the influence of international financial markets and institutions in determining the viability of national policy priorities, a diminution in the role of the State and the size of its budget, the privatization of various functions previously considered to be the exclusive domain of the State, the deregulation of a range of activities with a view to facilitating investment and rewarding individual initiative, and a corresponding increase in the role and even responsibilities attributed to private actors, both in the corporate sector, in particular to the transnational corporations, and in civil society.

"3. None of these developments in itself is necessarily incompatible with the principles of the Covenant or with the obligations of Governments thereunder. Taken together, however, and if not complemented by appropriate additional policies, globalization risks downgrading the central place accorded to human rights by the Charter of the United Nations in general and the International Bill of Human Rights in particular. This is especially the case in relation to economic, social and cultural rights. Thus, for example, respect for the right to work and the right to just and favourable conditions of work is threatened where there is an excessive emphasis upon competitiveness to the detriment of respect for the labour rights contained in the Covenant. The right to form and join trade unions may be threatened by restrictions upon freedom of association, restrictions claimed to be 'necessary' in a global economy, or by the effective exclusion of possibilities for collective bargaining or by the closing off of the right to strike for various occupational and other groups. The right of everyone to social security might not be ensured by arrangements which rely entirely upon private contributions and private schemes. Respect for the family and for the rights of mothers and children in an era of expanded global labour markets for certain individual occupations might require new and innovative policies rather than a mere laissez-faire approach. If not supplemented by necessary safeguards, the introduction of user fees, or cost recovery policies, when applied to basic health and educational services for the poor can easily result in significantly reduced access to services which are essential for the enjoyment of the rights recognized in the Covenant. An insistence upon higher and higher levels of payment for access to artistic, cultural and heritage-related activities risks undermining the right to participation in cultural life for a significant proportion of any community.

"4. All of these risks can be guarded against, or compensated for, if appropriate policies are put in place. The Committee is concerned, however, that while much energy and many resources have been expended by Governments on promoting the trends and policies that are associated with globalization, insufficient efforts are being made to devise new or complementary approaches which could enhance the compatibility of those trends and policies with full respect for economic, social and cultural rights. Competitiveness, efficiency and economic rationalism must not be permitted to become the primary or exclusive criteria by which governmental and inter-governmental policies are evaluated.

"5. In calling for a renewed commitment to respect economic, social and cultural rights, the Committee wishes to emphasize that international organizations, as well as the Governments that have created and manage them, have a strong and continuous responsibility to take whatever measures they can to assist Governments to act in ways which are compatible with their human rights obligations and to seek to devise policies and programmes which promote respect for those rights. It is particularly important to emphasize that the realms of trade, finance and investment are in no way exempt from these general principles and that the international organizations with specific responsibilities in those areas should play a positive and constructive role in relation to human rights.

"6. Thus, for example, the Committee welcomes the increasing importance being accorded to human rights in the activities of the United Nations Development Programme and hopes that appropriate emphasis will be accorded to economic, social and cultural rights. It also welcomes the initiatives taken by the Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development to explore more fully the linkages between the principal concerns of the organization and respect for the full range of human rights.

"7. The Committee calls upon the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to pay enhanced attention in their activities to respect for economic, social and cultural rights, including through encouraging explicit recognition of these rights, assisting in the identification of country-specific benchmarks to facilitate their promotion, and facilitating the development of appropriate remedies for responding to violations. Social safety nets should be established by reference to these rights and enhanced attention should be accorded to such methods of protecting the poor and vulnerable in the context of structural adjustment programmes. Effective social monitoring should be an integral part of the enhanced financial surveillance and monitoring policies accompanying loans and credits for adjustment purposes. Similarly the World Trade Organization should devise appropriate methods to facilitate more systematic consideration of the impact upon human rights of particular trade and investment policies. In that regard the Committee urges the Secretary-General to undertake, if possible in collaboration with WTO, a careful study of the potential impact upon respect for economic, social and cultural rights of the draft multilateral agreement on investment being negotiated within OECD.

"8. Finally, the Committee emphasizes the need for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to develop an enhanced capacity to monitor and analyse trends in relation to these issues. Regular briefings should be provided to the Committee to enable it to take full account of relevant policies and trends in carrying out its responsibility for monitoring State parties' compliance with their obligations contained in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights."

The incorporation of economic, social and cultural rights into the
United Nations Development Assistance Framework process:
comments adopted by the Committee on Economic,
Social and Cultural Rights

516. The Committee, after considering the draft comments on taking economic, social and cultural rights into account in the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) process, adopted at its 28th meeting on 15 May 1998 the following comments.

"A. Human rights and development

"1. The Committee considers that development activities which do not contribute to respect for human rights, either directly or indirectly, are not worthy of the name. It therefore welcomes the commitment of the Secretary-General to ensure that human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights, are part of the mainstream of all United Nations activities.

"2. Similarly the Committee welcomes the statement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to the Round-table on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty, in Geneva on 24 March 1998, in which she suggested that decisions as to appropriate priorities in the quest for development can be made easier by using the language and standards of human rights and placing the decision-making process firmly in the context of the Government's international human rights obligations. These obligations stretch also to international organizations.

"B. United Nations reform and the UNDAF process

"3. One of the most important manifestations of this new approach has been the establishment of the United Nations Development Group's Ad Hoc Working Group on the Right to Development to develop a common approach for enhancing the human rights dimension in development operations in the process of elaborating a United Nations Development Assistance Framework to apply in relation to the country-level activities of the United Nations, including in the work of UNDP, UNICEF and UNFPA. This process was initiated by the Secretary-General with a view to achieving 'goal-oriented collaboration, programmatic coherence and mutual reinforcement' (see A/51/950, para. 161, decision 10./ and has been endorsed by the General Assembly).

"4. One of the major steps has been the development of a set of Provisional Guidelines for the process. These are currently being tested in relation to 18 countries which agreed to participate in a pilot phase. It is expected that in due course the Guidelines will be refined in the light of experience gained in this phase and will be adopted and applied generally.

"C. The place of economic, social and cultural rights in the process

"5. The Committee welcomes these steps but it notes with surprise that the Provisional Guidelines contain no explicit reference to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, although mention is made, appropriately, of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The principal reference document that appears to be used in relation to human rights is the Declaration on the Right to Development. This Declaration is of major importance but it was not designed to be operational in a context such as this. Its great strength lies more in stating broad principles than in identifying specific measures to be taken at the country level. The Declaration rightly emphasizes the hitherto long-neglected international dimensions of human rights promotion. When addressing individual rights concerns and the matters that are of operational significance in the development process at the national level, the Declaration correctly relies upon the existing categories of rights, particularly those contained in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Thus the UNDAF process should proceed on the basis of the broad principles contained in the Declaration and add to those the operational dimension to be found in the core human rights treaties.

"6. The Committee therefore urges the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the other participants in the UNDAF process to pay particular and explicit attention to economic, social and cultural rights in general, and the framework of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in particular, in the future elaboration of the Guidelines. In this regard, attention could be given to the incorporation of these rights in the statement of objectives to be sought and the specific policy issues to be addressed. This would involve the elaboration of benchmarks for the realization of these rights and the development of specific programmes to achieve these goals in line with the human rights obligations of the States concerned. In relation to States which are parties to the Covenant, account should also be taken of any relevant concluding observations adopted by the Committee. In this regard, the Committee will henceforth include a paragraph in its concluding observations in relation to countries in which the UNDAF process is being applied that the United Nations partners should take full account of the concluding observations in their activities.

"7. In concrete terms therefore the Committee recommends that the UNDAF Guidelines be revised to:

"(a) Make specific reference to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as part of the essential framework;

"(b) Require States to establish specific benchmarks against which they propose to measure their own performance in promoting realization of economic, social and cultural rights and particularly in relation to those issues which are at the heart of the UNDAF process such as non-discrimination and the rights to adequate food, adequate housing, health care, and primary and secondary education;

"(c) Provide that the concluding observations of the six human rights treaty bodies be treated as essential reference documents in the drawing up of country-specific UNDAF strategies."

Day of general discussion

517. The Committee decided to devote the day of general discussion during its nineteenth session to the right to education (arts. 13 and 14 of the Covenant), and to aim particularly to include this discussion within the framework of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the right to education recently named by the Commission on Human Rights. The Committee invites the Special Rapporteur to participate in the day of general discussion on the right to education, scheduled for 30 November 1998.

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