Decisions adopted and matters discussed by the Committee at its twenty-first
session : . 03/12/99.
Convention Abbreviation: CESCR
B. Decisions adopted and matters discussed by the Committee at its twenty-first session
Meeting of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights with the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
430. Ms. Mary Robinson, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, met with the Committee on 19 November 1999, to discuss substantive issues as well as current developments in relation to the promotion and protection of economic, social and cultural rights. Among the issues discussed were: the right to education; the workshop on benchmarks and indicators for the right to education; the right to development; cooperation between the Committee and mechanisms established by the Commission on Human Rights regarding economic, social and cultural rights; and the further development of cooperation between the Committee and United Nations specialized agencies and other bodies.
431. The High Commissioner drew to the attention of the Committee the particular importance of its cooperation and participation in relation to the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. In that connection the High Commissioner recalled that the General Assembly, in its resolution 52/111, decided to convene a World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, the preparation of which is being coordinated by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Assembly, in the above-mentioned resolution, as well as the Commission on Human Rights, in resolution 1998/26, request, inter alia, concerned United Nations bodies to participate actively in both the preparatory process of the World Conference, including by assisting the Preparatory Committee to undertake reviews and studies and to submit recommendations concerning the Conference and its preparations through the Secretary-General to the Preparatory Committee.
432. The High Commissioner welcomed the Committee's support for the memorandum of understanding between her Office and UNDP, which aims to strengthen cooperation on various issues, including the implementation of international human rights instruments and the work of treaty bodies. She expressed her appreciation for the cooperation established between the Committee and UNDP to assist the Solomon Islands, a non-reporting State party to the Covenant, in complying with its reporting and other obligations under the Covenant, and she encouraged comparable activities in the future.
433. Furthermore, the High Commissioner invited the Committee to assist her Office in improving the promotion and protection of human rights in the Asia-Pacific region, and particularly in the preparations for the next Asia-Pacific Workshop on economic, social and cultural rights and the right to development, to be held on 5-6 February 2000, in Sana'a.
434. The High Commissioner also stressed the importance of the various mandates of special rapporteurs and independent experts to economic, social and cultural rights, and observed that the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the work of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights form the bedrock of all activities relating to economic, social and cultural rights in the Office of the High Commissioner.
435. The Committee expressed its willingness to contribute to the World Conference and decided to include in the programme of work of its twenty-first session a separate item entitled "Contribution of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance".
436. The Committee reaffirmed its commitment to further develop its relationships and cooperation with the other human rights treaty bodies, the special mandates of the Commission on Human Rights and its Sub-Commission on Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in the area of economic, social and cultural rights, as well as with the United Nations specialized agencies and other bodies.
437. Some Committee members also brought forward the suggestion of the publication by the Office of the High Commissioner of a world human rights report, providing an overview of human rights activities worldwide, and which would contribute significantly to the work of all parties in the field of human rights and usefully assist the Committee in the discharge of its monitoring functions under the Covenant.
438. Some members also advanced the idea of the merging of the two main monitoring bodies - the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Human Rights Committee. The merging of the two Committees would strengthen the principle of the interdependence and indivisibility of all human rights.
439. Other issues discussed were: the impact of activities of the international financial institutions and the WTO on the enjoyment of human rights, and particularly economic, social and cultural rights; the Programme of Action to strengthen the implementation of the Covenant; promotion of economic, social and cultural rights of elderly persons; improvement of the Office of the High Commissioner's country analysis system; and promotion and protection of economic, social and cultural rights at the regional and subregional level.
Draft general comment on intellectual property rights (art. 15, para. 1 (c) of the Covenant)
440. On 16 November 1999, the Committee held an informal discussion with Ms. A. Chapman, expert of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, on a draft general comment on the right of everyone "to benefit from the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author" (art. 15, para. 1 (c) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights). The expert presented a list of general principles, which should form the point of departure in the drafting of a general comment on intellectual property rights. She elaborated on various issues of the subject matter, inter alia, the fact that a human rights approach to intellectual property requires different standards than those set by intellectual property law, and that a human rights approach has significant policy implications.
441. The Committee took note of the presentation made by the expert and extended its appreciation to the invited expert for her longstanding cooperation with the Committee and a positive response given to the Committee's request to assist it in the drafting of a general comment on intellectual property human rights. The Committee emphasized the timeliness and appropriateness of providing an authoritative interpretation - through its general comments - to the provisions in article 15, paragraph 1 (c ) of the Covenant. The Committee agreed that the issues outlined by the invited expert should be taken into account in a draft general comment and recommended that the draft general comment be prepared in conformity with its Outline for drafting general comments on specific rights of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (see annex IX below).
442. The Committee, with reference to Economic and Social Council decision 1995/303, also decided, in order to promote a better understanding by States parties and the general public of intellectual property rights as human rights, enshrined in the Covenant, to invite the expert to prepare a study on the topic prior to the next session of the Committee, to be held from 25 April to 12 May 2000. The Committee particularly emphasized the importance of cooperation in this endeavour with WIPO.
443. The Committee took note with appreciation of the distribution to the members of the Committee by the WIPO representative of a publication, "Intellectual Property and Human Rights", published jointly by WIPO and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Support for the Committee
444. The Committee took note with appreciation of the measures taken by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights under the Programme of Action to strengthen the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, adopted by the Committee in 1997. E/1997/22, annex VII.
At the same time, the Committee noted that the measures taken represent only a partial implementation of the Programme of Action and do not provide a long-term resolution to the problems outlined by the Committee in its Programme of Action. Therefore, the Committee recommends that further steps be taken by the Office of the High Commissioner in order to ensure its full implementation.
445. The Committee noted that partial implementation of the Programme of Action has significantly improved the efficiency of the Committee and it emphasizes that full implementation of the Programme would further greatly enhance the Committee's efficiency.
Methods of work
446. At its twenty-first session the Committee, in response to Economic and Social Council decision 1999/287 and in accordance with its own practice, continued to explore ways and means to improve the efficiency of its methods of work, particularly as far as its dialogue with States parties and the problem of the backlog of reports pending consideration are concerned.
447. With respect to the former, the Committee decided that, as from its twenty-second session the following would apply to its consideration of reports submitted by States parties in accordance with articles 16 and 17 of the Covenant:
(a) Members of the Committee are requested to be brief and concise in their formulation of questions, and to avoid repetition. Any statement by a Committee member during the dialogue with the State party delegation should be limited to five minutes;
(b) The Committee requests States parties to comply strictly with the deadline set by the Committee in its letter for the submission of written replies to the Committee's list of issues in order to allow its timely translation into the working languages of the Committee. The Committee stresses that the written replies are the basis of its constructive dialogue with States parties, and that the absence of such written replies translated into all the working languages impedes a constructive dialogue;
(c) The Committee appeals to States parties presenting a report to the Committee to comply with the following procedure in order to make the optimal use of the limited time for discussion:
(i) Introductory statements should not exceed 15 to 20 minutes;
(ii) Replies to questions asked by Committee members should be concise and precise;
(iii) Replies containing statistical data should be provided to the Committee in writing whenever possible;
(iv) The Committee encourages States parties to ensure the expertise of their respective delegations designated to conduct a dialogue with the Committee, to ensure and maintain a high-level dialogue, which should be as constructive as possible.
448. With respect to the problem of a backlog of reports pending consideration, the Committee considers that the most effective solution to that problem is to have a third regular session each year (see chap. I above).
List of issues
449. The Committee also decided that henceforth its pre-sessional working group should draft and approve lists of issues with respect to initial reports not exceeding 60 questions, while for periodic reports lists of issues should be limited to 30 questions where possible. The Committee hopes that this measure will considerably lessen the burden imposed on States parties, will allow the Committee to have more focused dialogue with a State party, and permit the Committee to make more effective use of the time available to it during the sessions.
450. The Committee regrets that summary records were not available in time for consideration in connection with the drafting and adopting of concluding observations on States parties' reports, and that, in fact, some of the summary records of the previous sessions are still outstanding. This seriously affects the proper functioning of the Committee's work.
Contribution of the Committee to the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance
451. The Committee, having considered a background paper prepared by the secretariat on this subject, decided, at its 56th meeting, held on 3 December 1999, that at this stage General Comment No. 13 (1999) on the right to education (art. 13 of the Covenant) adopted by the Committee at its twenty-first session, should be submitted as the Committee's initial contribution to the Preparatory Committee of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance and to the World Conference itself.
452. The Committee also designated its Chairperson, Ms. Virginia Bonoan-Dandan, to represent it at the Preparatory Committee and at the World Conference, to be held in 2001 in South Africa.
453. The Committee further entrusted its Chairperson and representative to the World Conference with the task of drafting the Committee's Conference statement for consideration and adoption by the Committee at its next session, to be held from 25 April to 12 May 2000.
454. Finally, the Committee decided that in its consideration of States parties' reports, it would request States parties to provide it with information on measures taken within the framework of the preparatory activities for the World Conference and, after the World Conference, on follow-up at the national level to the recommendations by the Conference, particularly in respect of its implications for the effective promotion and protection of economic, social and cultural rights enshrined in the Covenant.
Draft general comment on the right to education (art. 13 of the Covenant)
455. After holding a day of general discussion on the right to education (arts. 13 and 14 of the Covenant) during its nineteenth session, and adopting its General Comment No. 11 (1999) on plans of action for primary education (art. 14 of the Covenant) (see annex IV, below) at its twentieth session, the Committee considered and adopted, at its 48th and 49th meetings, held on 29 November 1999, General Comment No. 13 (1999) on the right to education (art. 13 of the Covenant) (see annex VI below).
456. Mr. Paul Hunt, Rapporteur of the Committee, was responsible for the draft general comment on the right to education and, during the drafting, Mr. Hunt worked in close cooperation with UNESCO and in consultation with Ms. Katarina Tomasevski, Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the right to education, Mr. Mustapha Mehedi, expert of the Sub-Commission on Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, as well as with numerous other experts, notably from non-governmental organizations.
457. The draft general comment was distributed among the Committee members, specialized agencies, non-governmental organizations and individual experts, who were asked for comments.
458. Comments have been received in written form from the following specialized institutions, individuals and non-governmental organizations: ILO, UNESCO; Mr. Jaap Doek, Rapporteur of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, Ms. Katarina Tomasevski, Special Rapporteur of the Human Rights Committee on the right to education; Mr. Vassil Mratchkov, former member and Rapporteur of the Committee (University of Sofia); American Association for the Advancement of Science, International Anti-Poverty Law Centre, International Organization for the Development of Freedom of Education (with Association de volontaires pour le service international and New Humanity), OXFAM, World Association for the School as an Instrument of Peace, World University Service; Mr. Fons Coomans (Maastricht University, the Netherlands), Mr. Patrice Meyer-Bisch (University of Fribourg, Switzerland), Mr. Yogesh K. Tyagi (Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi).
459. The comments received in written form were compiled, analysed and made available to the Committee at its twenty-first session. These comments were taken into consideration by the working group of the Committee entrusted with the task of finalizing the initial draft and submitting it for the Committee's consideration on 29 November 1999.
460. At the Committee's invitation, the following organizations and institutions attended and participated in the consideration of the draft general comment on 29 November 1999: ILO, UNESCO; UNDP; International Organization for the Development of Freedom of Education, New Humanity, OXFAM, World Association for the School as an Instrument of Peace, World University Service; Association Montessori Internationale and the faculty of law of the University of Geneva.
461. Oral statements were made by: Mr. John Smyth and Ms. Annar Cassam (UNESCO), Mr. Lee Swepston (ILO), Mr. Jean-Daniel Nordmann (International Organization for the Development of Freedom of Education), Ms. Wieke Wagenaar (World University Service), Mr. Ramdane Babadji (World Association for the School as an Instrument of Peace), Ms. Sian Lewis-Anthony (OXFAM), Mr. André Kalende (New Humanity), Ms. Elisabeth Coquoz (Association Montessori Internationale) and Mr. Giorgio Malinverni (University of Geneva).
462. The Committee acknowledges with deep appreciation the contributions made by experts who attended the session and participated in the discussion, as well as those who submitted their comments in writing or provided expert assistance to the Committee in the course of the drafting process.
Informal high-level meeting/consultation of the Committee and UNDP
463. On 25 November 1999, an informal consultation took place between members of the Committee, representatives of UNDP and representatives of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights within the context of the Office of the High Commissioner/UNDP memorandum of understanding concluded in March 1998, with the aim of identifying concrete areas for further cooperation between the Committee and UNDP. The participants of the consultation were provided with a draft list of proposals, prepared by the secretariat of the Committee, and a background note on the task force for implementation of the Office of the High Commissioner/UNDP memorandum of understanding, prepared by the secretariat of the task force.
464. All participants welcomed the opportunity to discuss in an informal setting ideas to strengthen cooperation between the Committee and UNDP, whose fields of work are closely related. The Committee affirmed the significance of UNDP's activities and expressed its gratitude for UNDP's willingness to work with the Committee in a more structured and sustained manner. In turn, UNDP expressed its appreciation for the work of the Committee in the field of economic, social and cultural rights, and acknowledged the mutual benefits of cooperation between the two entities.
465. Several ideas were brought forward by the participants which could be of use in the structured approach to cooperation, such as a more systematic input of information by UNDP field offices regarding States parties whose reports are to be considered by the Committee, and the formulation of the Committee's concluding observations so that they reinforce UNDP's mandate and country-specific activities. However, it was emphasized that enhancing cooperation between the Committee and UNDP should be a learning process, which advances incrementally on the basis of theory and practice. The following points were deemed to be suitable for short-term implementation:
(a) The systematic provision of documents of the Committee to UNDP: the secretariat of the Committee would continue to provide the UNDP office in Geneva on a systematic basis with the relevant Committee documents regarding the examination of a report of a State party (country report, concluding observations and summary records, as well as the annual report of the Committee);
(b) Selection of one or two countries per year where UNDP would focus its efforts with regard to the reporting and implementation process: UNDP could select one or two countries from among those whose reports are due to be examined in an upcoming session, and also from among those which are long overdue in the submission of their initial reports. UNDP could make a particular effort to brief the Committee on the selected countries, especially by the provision of national human development reports (if available), reports of UNIFEM on women's issues, and other reports concerning specific aspects of economic, social and cultural rights. The UNDP resident representative or the United Nations resident coordinator could also provide specific information on the countries selected;
(c) Regular provision of the Human Development Report to the Committee: it was also agreed that UNDP would provide the Committee on a regular basis, through its secretariat, with 20 copies of the Human Development Report upon its publication;
(d) Continuation of the informal meetings between the Committee and UNDP: there was general agreement that in the long term cooperation between the Committee and UNDP should be enhanced and maintained in a structured manner. In the future, meetings should be held between the Committee and UNDP on a regular basis, in order to further discuss strategies of cooperation and to consult on issues regarding States parties.
Assistance by the secretariat
466. The Committee expressed its appreciation for the high level of professionalism
and efficiency of the secretariat, particularly in its two recent sessions.
Throughout this year, Committee members have received comprehensive and targeted
information relating to State party reports which were gathered by the secretariat
from various sources. In addition to this, background papers on substantive
issues have been of exceptional quality, and have made a marked difference in
the quality of the work of the Committee. The Committee attributes these improvements
to the fact that the secretariat staff has been reinforced, particularly through
its Programme of Action to strengthen the implementation of the Covenant, which
includes the services of a professional expert on economic, social and cultural
rights, as well as those of a junior professional whose services have generously
been provided by Finland. In this regard, the Committee expressed its hope that
these temporary arrangements be made permanent.