Decisions adopted and matters discussed by the Committee at its twentieth session
: . 14/05/99.
Convention Abbreviation: CESCR
A. Decisions adopted and matters discussed by the Committee at its twentieth session
Committee proposal for a workshop on indicators, benchmarks and the right to education
417. The Committee considered and adopted a proposal for a workshop on indicators, benchmarks and the right to education, and asked the Chairperson and the secretariat to take up the proposal with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and to begin the appropriate workshop preparations (the workshop proposal is contained in annex VIII below).
418. At its 21st and 22nd meetings, held on 10 May 1999, the Committee considered and adopted General Comment No. 11 (1999) on plans of action for primary education (art. 14 of the Covenant) (see annex IV below). The consideration was by way of follow-up to the day of general discussion held by the Committee on the right to education, enshrined in articles 13 and 14 of the Covenant, on 30 November 1998 (nineteenth session), which was attended by the specialized agencies, non-governmental organizations and individual experts. E/1999/22, paras. 462-514. The Committee wishes to express its gratitude to Mr. Philip Alston who, in 1998, worked on the draft general comment and to all those who submitted written comments on it.
419. At its 22nd and 23rd meetings, held on 10 and 11 May 1999, the Committee considered and adopted General Comment No. 12 (1999) on the right to adequate food (art. 11 of the Covenant) (see annex V below). This consideration was by way of follow-up to the day of general discussion held by the Committee on 1 December 1997 (seventeenth session) on the normative content of the right to food (art. 11 of the Covenant) E/1998/22, paras. 438-503. and to a lengthy process of consultation and discussion (see paragraph 3 of General Comment No. 12). The Committee wishes to express its particular gratitude to Mr. Gerald Moore (FAO), Mr. Asbjrn Eide (member of the Sub-Commission on Promotion and Protection of Human Rights), Mr. Michael Windfuhr (FIAN - Foodfirst Information and Action Network) and Mr. Philippe Texier (Committee member) for their work on the draft, as well as to all those who submitted written comments on it.
Study on treaty body system
420. The Chairperson of the Committee, Ms. Virginia Bonoan-Dandan, introduced Ms. Anne Bayefsky who, with Mr. Christof Heyns, and in collaboration with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, is undertaking a study of the United Nations human rights treaty system.
421. While emphasizing that the treaty system is fundamental to the United Nations human rights programme, Ms. Bayefsky briefly outlined some of the difficulties and challenges facing the treaty system, such as the very large number of overdue reports and the growing backlog of both reports and communications. She explained that the purpose of her study is to provide the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights with a thorough analysis of the operation of the human rights treaty system both at the United Nations and in the field. The study has two dimensions. First, it will examine the impact of human rights treaties, and the recommendations of treaty bodies, within a sample of 20 countries selected on the basis of geographical distribution. These country-impact studies will be prepared in conjunction with independent national correspondents. Secondly, the study will undertake an operational analysis of the capacities and needs of all treaty bodies. Contact was being made with all the major stakeholders and Ms. Bayefsky encouraged Committee members to share their views, orally or in writing, with her. She confirmed that the study, which is funded largely by the Ford Foundation and scheduled for completion late in 1999, will formulate concrete recommendations for improving implementation strategies for human rights treaties.
422. The Chairperson welcomed the study and opened the floor for a wide-ranging discussion. Other Committee members also welcomed the timely and highly ambitious study, and suggested additional methodologies, such as interviews with former and current treaty body members. It was suggested that the study might have a greater regional orientation as the challenges confronting implementation of the treaties are not uniform across all regions. In the course of discussion, some of the shortcomings of the current treaty system were considered, including the issues of overlapping treaties and the dearth of resources available to treaty bodies. Some of the innovative working methods of the Committee were discussed, such as its openness to contributions from non-governmental organizations and the practice of the pre-sessional working group of identifying a "list of issues" to be forwarded to a State party some months prior to its appearance before the Committee. The Committee did, however, face particular difficulties, including the reluctance of United Nations specialized agencies and programmes, with the notable exception of the ILO, to engage with the Committee as envisaged by Part IV of the Covenant. Committee members expressed the hope that they might receive an interim report on the study's progress at the Committee's next session.
423. Ms. Bayefsky remarked that the treaty system had reached a crossroads and the study she has embarked upon was designed to identify practical recommendations to strengthen the current treaty regime. She confirmed that Mr. Philip Alston's studies on treaty reform provided an important basis for her work. Further, the views presented by the Committee were extremely important and would certainly be taken into account during the preparation of the study.
Revised methods of work
424. The Committee considered the practice it had provisionally adopted at the previous session to improve the questioning and dialogue with government delegations. In order to avoid repetitious questions and too much emphasis being put on opening questions referring to very general matters, it was considered expedient to adopt a different approach: Committee members would be invited, before the beginning of the dialogue, to indicate which article(s) they would prefer to comment on. If several Committee members put down their names for one article, the Chairperson should try to arrange who should be the main questioner.
425. This would not, of course, affect the right of any member to raise questions additionally or spontaneously, but it could help to ensure that more equal weight is placed on all articles of the Covenant.
The incorporation of economic, social and cultural rights into the United Nations Development Assistance Framework process: briefing by the Research and Right to Development Branch of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
426. On 7 May 1999, the Committee was briefed on the Common Country Assessment/United Nations Development Assistance Framework process and recent developments by the Research and the Right to Development Branch of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The United Nations Development Group, of which the Office of the High Commissioner is a member, is in charge of the elaboration of the Framework, which is intended to bring greater coherence to the United Nations programmes of assistance at the country level … with common objectives and time-frames in close consultation with Governments. Provisional Guidelines were developed for the process, which were being tested in relation to 18 countries that have agreed to participate in the pilot phase. In the long term, the Framework would also serve the objective of developing regional approaches, similar to the other activities of the Office of the High Commissioner in the Asia-Pacific region. It was indicated that the expert advice and the cooperation of the Committee would be most appreciated. The Committee, in turn, has welcomed further cooperation in the Development Assistance Framework.
427. During its eighteenth session, on 15 May 1998, the Committee stated with regard to the place of economic, social and cultural rights in the Framework process that [it] 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. E/1999/22, para. 516.
Therefore, the Committee recommended that the Framework Guidelines be revised:
"(a) To make specific reference to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as part of the essential framework;
"(b) To 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 United Nations Development Assistance Framework process such as non-discrimination and the rights to adequate food, adequate housing, health care, and primary and secondary education;
"(c) To 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 United Nations Development Assistance Framework strategies."
428. The most recent version of the Framework Guidelines still makes no explicit mention of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, nor of the Committee. However, the Covenant is mentioned in the Common Country Assessment Guidelines and it takes into account 11 categories of socio-economic indicators, including food security and nutrition, health and mortality, reproductive health, education, housing and basic household amenities, and employment and sustainable livelihood.
429. The Committee expressed the hope of continuing its involvement in the framework of the Common Country Assessment/United Nations Development Assistance Framework process, and to be kept abreast of its developments.