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    HR/4529
    14 May 2001

    COMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS
    CONCLUDES TWENTY-FIFTH SESSION

    Issues Concluding Observations on Situation in Venezuela, Honduras,
    Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong, Republic of Korea, Bolivia, and Togo

    (Reissued as received.)

    GENEVA, 11 May (UN Information Service) -- The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights today concluded its twenty-fifth session by issuing its concluding observations and recommendations on how the rights in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights are protected in Venezuela, Honduras, China: Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, the Republic of Korea, and Bolivia whose reports were considered by the Committee during its three-week session. In addition, the Committee offered conclusions and recommendations on the situation in Togo, which, although a party to the Convention, had not yet filed its initial report.

    Also, the Committee decided to delay its consideration of additional information which had been received from the Government of Israel on how it implements the Covenant in the occupied territories. The Committee chose to wait until the information had been translated into all the United Nations languages, and opted to review the situation at its next session in August.

    The Committee also adopted a statement on poverty which maintained that the right to work, an adequate standard of living, housing, food, health and education, which laid at the heart of the Covenant, had a direct and immediate bearing upon the eradication of poverty.

    In addition, the Committee held a one-day "international consultation" on development activities of international institutions by focusing on the need to improve coordination efforts to ensure that the rights guaranteed in the various treaty bodies were better respected. Among the participants were Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Bertrand Ramcharan; Juan Somavia, Director-General of the International Labour Organization; Jean Louis Bianco, President of the High Council for International Cooperation (France); and Rubens Ricupero, Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference for Trade and Development, as well as representatives of various international organizations and financial institutions.

    Miloon Kothari, the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, addressed the Committee this morning, telling the Experts that while there had been much progress on normative aspects of the right to adequate housing, the actual realization and implementation of the right remained far from reality for the majority of the poor and the vulnerable throughout the world. While the task seemed daunting, the plight of the poor and the vulnerable living in appalling conditions throughout the world could not be ignored. He requested the Committee’s aid and guidance as he tried to fulfill his mandate.

    Concerning the situation in Venezuela, the Committee welcomed the adoption of the new 1999 Constitution which incorporated a wide range of human rights, including a number of the economic, social and cultural rights enshrined in the Covenant. It expressed concern about the discrimination against indigenous people, particularly with regard to access to land ownership, housing, health services and sanitation, education, work and adequate nutrition. Amongst its recommendations was that Venezuela organize an awareness-raising campaign to educate the public at large on their economic, social and cultural rights.

    On Honduras, the Committee noted with satisfaction that the Covenant was a part of national law and that it could be invoked before a court of law. There was concern about the fact that the minimum wage of workers was insufficient to provide for an adequate standard of living. The Committee, among several suggestions, urged Honduras to implement more vigorously existing legislation and to incorporate a gender perspective in legislation.

    On the situation in China: Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, the Committee, citing positive aspects, commended Hong Kong’s efforts to provide adequate housing for its residents. The Committee, however, was deeply concerned about the hardship arising from Hong Kong’s policies on permanent residence and split families. Making suggestions and recommendations, the Committee called upon Hong Kong to extend its prohibition of race discrimination in the private sector, and also urged it to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and age.

    The Committee, after its review of the report of the Republic of Korea, commended the significant and rapid economic recovery from the 1997-1998 financial crisis in the country, and the present open climate towards human rights generally. It expressed concern about the unequal status of women, and regretted that the specific conditions of work to which the irregular workers were subject had not been clarified. The Committee, in its suggestions and recommendations, urged the Government to accord the Covenant a legal status that would enable it to be invoked directly within the domestic legal system.

    Regarding Bolivia, the Committee noted with satisfaction the enactment of laws and the establishment of a number of programmes and policies for promoting equality between men and women. It did, however, express deep concern about allegations of corruption against certain Supreme Court judges, as well as the extent of poverty in the country. Among recommendations, the Committee urged the Government to ensure that the minimum wage was sufficient to provide an adequate standard of living for the worker and his family.

    And concerning the situation in Togo, the Committee noted, among positive aspects, that the country had embarked upon technical cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights with a view to strengthening the rule of law there. Among the concerns was the deteriorating general human rights situation in Togo in the last three years, during which large-scale human rights violations, such as killings, extra-judicial executions, rapes, and bombing of houses had allegedly taken place. The Committee recommended that the Togolese Government address the persistence of societal discrimination patterns, in particular in relation to women and girls, and between the various ethnic minorities living in Togo, with a view to eliminating such discrimination patterns.

    Venezuela

    On the second periodic report of Venezuela, which was presented on 24 and 25 April, the Committee welcomed the adoption of the new 1999 Constitution which incorporated a wide range of human rights, including a number of the economic, social and cultural rights enshrined in the Covenant. It also noted with appreciation the establishment of the National Plan of Action for Human Rights of 1997, the establishment of an independent Ombudsman’s Office, and the adoption in September 1998 of the Violence against Women and the Family Act and the Equal Opportunities for Women Act.

    Cited among the Committee’s subjects of concern was the discrimination against indigenous people, particularly with regard to access to landownership, housing, health services and sanitation, education, work and adequate nutrition. It was alarmed about the high rate of domestic violence, the extent of child prostitution and of trafficking in children, and was also deeply concerned that the efforts of the Government to improve the situation of its people were inadequate and that there was still an alarmingly high level of poverty in the country.

    The Committee recommended that Venezuela organize an awareness-raising campaign to educate the public at large on their economic, social and cultural rights. It also recommended that the Government take effective action to reduce the unemployment rate by providing training for young people and protection against unwarranted dismissal for workers, and by conducting regular reviews of the minimum wage levels to enable workers to attain an adequate standard of living. Further, the Committee recommended that it implement, with the assistance of UNESCO, a comprehensive National Education for All Plan, and that it develop a more elaborate system of national statistics on all the rights enshrined in the Covenant.

    Honduras

    Regarding the positive aspects of the initial report of Honduras, which was presented on 25 and 26 April, the Committee noted with satisfaction that the Covenant was a part of national law and that it could be invoked before a court of law. It also noted with appreciation the country’s declaration of support for an optional protocol to the Covenant, and noted with satisfaction the establishment of several human rights institutions and the adoption of several human rights laws. Further, the Committee noted with appreciation the family subsidy programmes that aimed to benefit the poorest and most vulnerable groups, and that the percentage of the national budget allocated to education had increased continuously since 1996.

    Cited among the Committee’s principal subjects of concern was the fact that the minimum wage of workers was insufficient to provide for an adequate standard of living. The Committee was alarmed about the high number of children who were forced to work to support themselves, and in particular the serious situation of street children and the existence of street gangs. It expressed its concern about the extent of domestic violence and the apparent inability of Honduras to implement legislation against this phenomenon, particularly due to the lack of appropriate training of police and other law enforcement officials. And there was particular concern about the extremely negative effects of the use of pollutants and toxic substances in specific agricultural and industrial sectors.

    Among the suggestions and recommendations made by the Committee was the improvement in the human rights training programmes in such a way as to ensure better knowledge, awareness and application of the Covenant and other human rights instruments, particularly among the judiciary and law enforcement officials. The Committee urged Honduras to implement more vigorously existing legislation and to incorporate a gender perspective in legislation. It also strongly recommended that the Government implement existing legislative and administrative measures to avoid violations of environmental and labour laws by transnational companies. And the Committee strongly urged the Government to adopt and implement legislative and other measures to protect workers from the occupational health hazards resulting from the use of toxic substances such as pesticides and cyanide in the banana growing and the gold-mining industries.

    China: Hong Kong Special Administrative Region

    Listed among the positive aspects of the initial report of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, submitted by China, which was considered on 27 and 30 April, was a commendation for Hong Kong’s efforts to provide adequate housing for its residents. In particular, the Committee noted with appreciation that the old temporary housing accommodations had been demolished with their occupants adequately housed in interim housing while waiting to be permanently housed. The Committee also commended Hong Kong’s programme for training unskilled and unemployed workers with the objective of finding employment for them.

    Under items of concern, the Committee greatly regretted that some judgements of Hong Kong’s High Court expressed the opinion that the Covenant was "promotional" or "aspirational" in nature. The Committee expressed its regret that in relation to the care of persons with mental illness, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region was reluctant to authorize the prescription of new drugs that were more costly but more effective, and had been shown to produce fewer side effects for the mentally ill. It was concerned that many individuals, including women who were homemakers, persons with disabilities, and older persons, were excluded from the Mandatory Provident Fund Scheme. And the Committee was deeply concerned about the hardship arising from Hong Kong’s policies on permanent residence and split families.

    The Committee called upon Hong Kong to extend its prohibition of race discrimination in the private sector, and also urged it to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and age. Further, the Committee urged Hong Kong to establish a national human rights institution consistent with the Paris Principles of 1991. In addition, it recommended that Hong Kong adopt a comprehensive pension system that provided adequate retirement protection for the entire population and, in particular, for housewives, self-employed persons, older persons and persons with disabilities.

    Republic of Korea

    For positive aspects of the second periodic report of the Republic of Korea, which was presented on 30 April and 1 May, the Committee commended the significant and rapid economic recovery from the 1997-1998 financial crisis in the country, and the present open climate towards human rights generally. It noted with satisfaction the adoption of a wide range of laws and programmes aimed at ensuring an adequate standard of living for all persons, and it took note of the recent establishment of the Ministry for Gender Equality. Further, the Committee welcomed the recent opening of an office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Seoul.

    The Committee was concerned that the Government did not take into account its Covenant obligations when negotiating with international financial institutions to overcome its financial crisis and restructure its economy. The Committee noted with deep concern the continued unequal status of women, and regretted that the specific conditions of work to which the "irregular workers" were subjected had not been clarified. The Committee was alarmed at the rising incidence of industrial accidents in recent years, which appeared to be the result of a relaxation of the standards governing industrial safety and of the insufficient number of on-site inspectors.

    Regarding recommendations, the Committee urged the Government to accord the Covenant a legal status that would enable it to be invoked directly within the domestic legal system. It recommended that the Republic of Korea take more effective measures to combat sexual trade of children and child labour, and that it expand its programmes directed at the protection and rehabilitation of such victims. The Committee also stated that in so far as traditional practices posed an obstacle to the fulfillment of some rights or perpetuated discrimination of any kind, including the preference for sons and the abortion of girl fetuses, the State party should carry out large-scale public campaigns to promote understanding among the general public about human rights.

    Bolivia

    The Committee, after reviewing the initial report of Bolivia on 2 and 3 May, cited several positive aspects, among them the creation of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights in 1994, and the establishment of the People’s Defender in 1997. It also appreciated the elaboration by the Government of a comprehensive and multi-disciplinary "Promotion and Defense of Human Rights" project with the assistance of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the United Nations Development Programme. Also, the Committee noted with satisfaction the enactment of laws and the establishment of a number of programmes and policies for promoting equality between men and women.

    The Committee, however, expressed deep concern about allegations of corruption against certain Supreme Court judges, as well as the extent of poverty in the country. The Committee was particularly concerned about the marginalization of, and discrimination against, indigenous communities in Bolivia, who constituted the majority of Bolivia’s rural population. The Committee said it deplored the de jure discrimination of salaried domestic workers established in the General Labour Code, with regard to daily and weekly rest and annual paid vacation, dismissal, social benefits and salary. It also deplored the practice of child labour and the exploitation of children in domestic work.

    The Committee urged the Government to ensure that the minimum wage was sufficient to provide an adequate standard of living for the worker and his family. It also urged Bolivia to combat violence against women by initiating a campaign with a view to combatting negative traditional practices and prejudices and their effects and consequences. Further, it urged the country to ratify ILO Convention 182 on the worst forms of child labour, and to pursue land reform as a priority in its agenda. Further, the Committee urged Bolivia to address the problems and shortcomings facing children and affecting their welfare, beginning with the varied ways of child exploitation such as trafficking of children, their sexual exploitation and domestic maltreatment.

    Togo

    Concerning the situation of the implementation of the Covenant in Togo, which the Committee examined on 4 May without a report, it noted, among positive aspects, that the country had embarked upon technical cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights with a view to strengthening the rule of law there. The Committee noted that the Government established a National Human Rights Commission in 1987, and a Ministry of Human Rights in 1992, with a view to protecting the rights of citizens. And the Committee acknowledged the efforts undertaken by the Government to address the problems of trafficking in children and female genital mutilation.

    Among the principal subjects of concern of the Committee was the deteriorating general human rights situation in Togo in the last three years, during which large-scale human rights violations, such as killings, extra-judicial executions, rapes, and bombing of houses had allegedly taken place. The Committee was concerned about the position of women in Togolese society, where they continued to face wide-spread discrimination, especially in relation to the rights to education, social security, family protection and in traditional law practices. The Committee also noted with concern that trafficking in women for the purpose of forced prostitution and of non-consensual labor as domestic servants persisted. It also noted that children as young as two years old were sold for future work on plantations or as house servants. Allegedly, these children were extensively exploited, fed poorly, crudely clothed and inadequately cared for.

    The Committee suggested that the Government actively participate in a constructive dialogue with the Committee on how the obligations arising from the Covenant could be fulfilled in a more adequate manner. It recommended that the Government avail itself of the advisory services of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, so that it may submit, as soon as possible, a comprehensive report. It recommended that the Togolese Government address the persistence of societal discrimination patterns, in particular in relation to women and girls, and between the various ethnic minorities living in Togo, with a view to eliminating such discrimination patterns.

    The General Assembly adopted and opened the Covenant for signature, ratification and accession in 1966. It entered into force on 3 January 1976.

    Article 1 of the Covenant states that the right to self-determination is universal and calls upon States to promote the realization and respect of that right. Article 3 reaffirms the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all human rights and enjoins States to make that principle a reality. Article 5 provides safeguards against the destruction or undue limitation of any human right or fundamental freedom, and against misinterpretation of any provision of the Covenant as a means of justifying infringement of a right or freedom or its restriction to a greater extent than provided in the Covenant. It also prevents States from limiting rights already enjoyed within their territories on the ground that such rights are not recognized, or recognized to a lesser extent, in the Covenant. Articles 6 to 15 recognize the right to work; to the enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work; to form and join trade unions; to social security, including social insurance; to the widest possible protection and assistance for the family, mothers, children and younger persons; to an adequate standard of living; to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; to an education and to take part in cultural life.

    The Economic and Social Council established the Committee in 1985. Elected by secret ballot from a list of persons nominated by State parties to the Covenant, its 18 members are human-rights Experts serving in their personal capacity. The Committee is composed of the following Experts: Mahmoud Samir Ahmed (Egypt), Clement Atangana (Cameroon), Rocio Barahona Riera (Costa Rica), Virginia Bonoan-Dandan (Philippines), Dumitru Ceausu (Romania), Abdessatar Grissa (Tunisia), Paul Hunt (New Zealand), Valeri I. Kouznetsov (the Russian Federation), Giorgio Malinverni (Switzerland), Jaime Marchán Romero (Ecuador), Sergei Martynov (Belarus), Ariranga Govindasamy Pillay (Mauritius), Kenneth Osborne Rattray (Jamaica), Eibe Reidel (Germany), Waleed M. Sa'di (Jordan), Philippe Texier (France), Nutan Thapalia (Nepal), and Javier Wimer Zambrano (Mexico).

    States Parties to Covenant

    The Covenant has been ratified or acceded to by the following 144 States: Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, China, Colombia, Congo, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Gabon, Gambia, Germany, Georgia, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, India, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Mongolia, Morocco, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Somalia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Yemen, Yugoslavia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

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