COMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS MEETS WITH CIVIL SOCIETY REPRESENTATIVES FROM TURKMENISTAN, CABO VERDE AND SOUTH AFRICA

This post was originally published on this site

1 October 2018

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights this morning heard from civil society organizations on the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Turkmenistan, Cabo Verde, and South Africa, whose reports the Committee will review this week.

Civil society organizations from Turkmenistan highlighted the problems of access to basic foodstuffs and suspension of benefits for the most vulnerable groups due to the very harsh economic and financial conditions that the country was currently going through. The organization also highlighted limitations on the freedom to information and freedom of speech, as well as the demolition of homes in the capital without the provision of new homes.

In Cabo Verde, speakers pointed out the slowness of the justice system and the lack of funds for support to victims, especially victims of gender-based violence. They also underlined the problem of the high unemployment rate among women and their salaries being lower than that of men. Other problems included discrimination against patients with HIV/AIDS, against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, lack of support for female-headed households, and the difficult situation of women and girls with disabilities. Although the country’s national legal framework was in line with the requirements of international instruments, the main challenge was implementation through policies and administrative measures due to a weak economy and lack of inspection, monitoring, and follow-up in order to achieve those rights.

Civil society organizations from South Africa drew attention to food and nutrition insecurity, which continued to be underpinned by rising poverty and inequality. Land distribution was inextricably linked to the right to food and water. In South Africa, resolving the land question was not only about addressing the material issues of poverty and inequality, but also involved identity and citizenship. Speakers also discussed access to the Internet, particularly for disadvantaged and marginalized persons and groups, including those living in rural and remote areas, school enrolment policies and school fees, unsafe abortions and persistent barriers to reproductive health services, marginalization of diverse gender identities, gender expressions and sex characteristics, women’s access to housing, land and property, refugees’ rights to work and study, children living below the food poverty, the right to education of children with disabilities, and social assistance through social grants.

The Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights spoke on Turkmenistan.

Speaking on Cabo Verde were the Cabo Verde National Commission for Human Rights and Citizenship, as well as Cape Verdean Association to Fight Gender-Based Violence, Organization of Women of Cape Verde, Association of Disadvantaged Children, and Association for the Promotion and Inclusion of Women with Disabilities via video link.

Speaking on South Africa were Section 27, Legal Resources Centre, Alternative Report – Child Rights South Africa, Human Rights Watch, Dullah Omar Institute, and International Commission of Jurists, as well as Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies, Association for Progressive Communications, Equal Education and Equal Education Law Centre, and Amnesty International via video link.

The Committee will next meet in public today at 3 p.m. when it will consider the second periodic report of Turkmenistan (E/C.12/TKM/2).

Opening Remarks

MARIA VIRGINIA BRAS GOMES, Committee Chairperson, welcomed all those present in the room and those following the meeting online, and she thanked them for their interest in the work of the Committee.

Statement by Civil Society Organization from Turkmenistan

Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights said that Turkmenistan was going through a very harsh economic and financial crisis, which was why the authorities had decided to suspend benefits for the most vulnerable groups. There were a lot of unemployed persons, and those employed received their wages very late. Many had left the country to Turkey and Russia. Big queues could be seen in the capital for flour, cooking oil, eggs, and other basic stuffs. Those goods could be only obtained by presenting the national passport. The country remained rather closed; human rights organizations and journalists could not get in and were forced to work underground for fear of being arrested. Freedom to information and of speech was completely absent, and the Internet was controlled. The intelligence service was cracking down on civil rights activists and all those who expressed dissent. Representatives of the authorities forced citizens to express reverence towards the President and his family. There was also a problem of the demolition of homes in the capital without the provision of new homes. New flats tended to be of a lower quality than those demolished, which did not look good in the President’s opinion. The authorities left many families squeezed in fewer apartments. The President had recently spoken at the United Nations General Assembly about food security without mentioning his own country.

Questions by the Committee Experts

Committee Experts inquired about the withdrawn benefits for the most vulnerable groups. Had child and disability allowances also been withdrawn? How had the benefits been withdrawn? On whose orders?

Had there been any censuses in the country? Was it true that a whole city had been constructed but no one lived there?

What did the authorities cite as the reasons for the demolition of homes in the capital city and were they adhering to due process provisions? Had alternative accommodation been provided? Were there any guarantees for the independence of the judiciary?

Answers

Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights explained that the child allowance had been kept and that it was paid for children under the age of three. It amounted to about 40 USD according to the official exchange rate, but in real value it amounted to 10 USD. In northern Turkmenistan, there were classes of about 45 children, which was far beyond the norm. The pensions were paid on time. Many were receiving pensions in their bank accounts and it was a problem for them to get the money from the banks. Persons with disabilities also received benefits. As for the withdrawal of benefits for cheap goods, it was the consequences of the collapse of the prices of oil and gas. Russia and Iran had stopped buying Turkmenistan’s gas and oil. Only China was still buying it. The elders in the National Council had decided to withdraw the benefits, not the President. The mass demolition of houses had been going on for years and it had reached a peak in 2017 because of the supposed hosting of the Central Asian Games. Only 30 or 40 per cent of people who needed accommodation received it. A census had been carried out in December 2012, but no data could be found. The population had likely dropped because of the sharp increase in the mortality rate and exodus. As for the disappeared city, that was actually a residential neighbourhood in the capital of Ashgabat. The President appointed and dismissed judges at his discretion. There was no independence of the judiciary in Turkmenistan.

Statements by Civil Society Organizations from Cabo Verde

Cape Verdean Association to Fight Gender-Based Violence, via video link, noted that the justice system in the country was very slow. There was a lack of funds for support to victims. The deadlines in law were not met, and hospitals and the police were not sensitive to victims. There was stigma and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons. As for economic empowerment, there was a lack of respect for decent labour, sexual and moral harassment in the workplace, as well as a wage gap between women and men. The basic rights of street children were not met.

Organization of Women of Cape Verde, via video link, said that employment data showed that 53.7 per cent of unemployed persons were women, which had a huge negative impact on households led by women. Over 58 per cent of women in the informal sector only had primary education. They mostly worked in the domestic sector and farming, and they were paid less than men. About 88 per cent of victims of gender-based violence were women, despite the 2011 act that had established punishments for gender-based violence. Justice was slow and women did not approach hospitals and police stations. There needed to be better referral mechanisms for victims and training for relevant staff. In terms of healthcare, there was discrimination against patients with HIV/AIDS. They were often forced to reveal their condition in order to access the basic services. There was a lack of monitoring of people living with HIV/AIDS, who often had a very poor diet.

Association of Disadvantaged Children, via video link, stressed that Cabo Verde had to reform its policies to help female-headed households. Children from such households spent more time on the streets and were exposed to exploitation and violations of their rights. The lack of extracurricular activities for children living in poverty was obvious. There were not enough non-governmental organizations which could help families pay for health fees, nor were there educational facilities that did not charge fees. There was no evaluation of skills acquired through education, which made it difficult for young people to enter the labour market. There were sometimes shortages of medicines and people had to pay for more expensive medicines.

Association for the Promotion and Inclusion of Women with Disabilities, via video link, drew attention to the situation of women and girls with disabilities, namely a lack of teaching equipment for them. Very often it was difficult for them to gain free access, even if access was free of charge. There was a shortage of human resources trained to work with children with disabilities. There was still a shortfall in reproductive healthcare for women, and physical accessibility in most hospital facilities. Women and children with disabilities had to pay charges on healthcare, despite a lack of accessibility. The seven-year timeframe for adapting physical accessibility had expired.

Statement by the Cabo Verde National Human Rights Institution

Cabo Verde National Commission for Human Rights and Citizenship stated that Cabo Verde was at a crossroads with the submission of its initial report, which revealed that a positive change was beginning with greater commitment to obligations under international human rights law. The Commission underlined some of the most pressing issues, namely the fact that the Covenant was not properly disseminated and owned. Accordingly, in 2019 the Commission would conduct a diagnostic study about that document and other international conventions among courts, judges and prosecutors. They ignored some of the very important provisions set out in those documents. Generally speaking, Cabo Verde respected human rights. The national legal framework was in line with the requirements of international instruments. The main challenge was implementation through policies and administrative measures due to a weak economy and lack of inspection, monitoring, and follow-up in order to achieve those rights. As for equality between men and women, there was a need to adopt the Gender Parity Act, which was still being discussed in Parliament, as well as a law to combat gender-based violence. In terms of labour equality, Cabo Verde should ratify the International Labour Organization’s Convention No. 189 on decent work for domestic workers. The Commission was also concerned about maternity leave, noting that the current four months should be the minimum. Fathers should be more involved when babies were born; they currently had the right to only three to four days of parental leave. There were a number of restrictions to include persons with disabilities in the labour market. University graduates could not find jobs. There should be better protection of workers from accidents at work. Older persons and pensioners found it difficult to meet their needs, which meant that there should be an increase in non-contributory pensions. Cabo Verde had faced a difficult situation in 2017 due to drought, leading to people facing very tough living conditions. The Government’s support for farmers was limited. The Commission was also concerned about the lack of access to water in rural areas. Electricity had not reached all communities either. In some remote areas in the country (the Boa Vista Island) people lived in slums and lacked access to basic services. There were also high rates of violence and crime due to those precarious conditions. New buildings were being constructed in line with accessibility standards, but they were not many. Cabo Verde had faced natural disasters, but it had no evacuation plans taking into account persons with disabilities. The country had only two central hospitals, with several regional hospitals, and few general practitioners in local communities. In addition, there was a serious problem of street children and sexually abused children.

Questions by the Committee Experts

An Expert asked whether articles of the Covenant could be invoked when a complaint was made to the authorities. What was the minimum salary in Cabo Verde? Did current public policies address the specific needs of women and children living in poverty?

What should be the main premises for revising the social policies addressing children living in female-headed households? Was there a national plan of action to combat poverty and was it cross-cutting in its approach?

Experts further inquired about the strategic plan for sustainable development. What were its basic chapters?

MARIA VIRGINIA BRAS GOMES, Committee Chairperson, asked about the reasons for the lack of cooperation between the authorities and non-governmental organizations. Could civil society representatives supplement the provided information with some more specific data?

Answers

Civil society representatives from Cabo Verde explained that a law from 2014 had established a minimum salary, which was not always respected, for example in the case of domestic workers. The municipal authorities did not pay their workers the minimum wage either. In line with article 12 of the national Constitution, ratified international treaties were part of domestic law, but in practice conventions were not invoked in court rulings. As for improving the cooperation between the State and civil society, non-governmental organizations had to be able to raise funds through international partners. There was a national strategic plan for sustainable development, which covered issues of poverty and it would run from 2017 to 2022. Statistical data on women with disabilities was difficult to find. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had also issued a recommendation that Cabo Verde conduct a survey on such women and their needs. There was no access to information for each kind of impairment.

Cabo Verde National Commission for Human Rights and Citizenship explained that the strategic plan for sustainable development was a Government plan that covered five years. The Commission was concerned that the Government had approved the second plan on human rights, without the implementation of guidelines. There should be appropriate alignments of all relevant plans.

Statements by Civil Society Organizations from South Africa

Section 27 underlined that many of the human rights victories in the post-apartheid society were under threat in South Africa, such as public healthcare and educational outcomes, resulting in poverty, inequality and violence. The key reason was the failure of the Government to use the maximum resources to achieve the rights under the Covenant. The recent austerity measures were guided by private rating agencies despite the fact that they had been found unsuccessful in advising developing countries in their social policy choices. Longstanding patterns of poverty and inequality had been on the rise in recent years. Youth, women and black South Africans were hit the hardest by poverty. Progressive taxation was essential to provide resources necessary to guarantee basic rights. Corruption undermined the Government’s ability to maximize resources. Poor governance also ate away public finances. The adoption of austerity measures had failed to achieve sustainable growth, but it had continued due to the pressure from international creditors and neo-liberal orthodoxy. Yet it was not too late for the Government to chart a different course and rights-based fiscal policies.

Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies, via video link, noted that South Africa’s complex food and nutrition insecurity continued to be underpinned by rising poverty and inequality. About a quarter of the country’s population was living below the food poverty line in 2015. That pointed out to people’s inability to feed themselves either through the procurement of food or their own production. The failure of the Government to enact a right to food specific legislation had exacerbated policy incoherence. With the land question again on top of the agenda in the country, the focus continued to be on land redistribution and addressing major inequalities in access to and right over land between the black majority and white South Africans. Land was in many cases necessary for the realization of other economic, social and cultural rights, and it was inextricably linked to the right to food and water. In South Africa, resolving the land question was not only about addressing the material issues of poverty and inequality, but also involved identity and citizenship.

Association for Progressive Communications, via video link, focused its presentation on access to the Internet in South Africa, particularly for disadvantaged and marginalized persons and groups, including those living in rural and remote areas, and the extent to which the Government was ensuring that people were able to benefit from the potential of the Internet as an enabler of economic, social and cultural rights. Of primary concern was that the words “Internet,” “broadband,” and “ICTs” did not find reference in either South Africa’s initial or supplementary report, and no direct reference was made to those technologies. The Government did not consider access to the Internet as a relevant enabler of economic, social and cultural rights, despite the Government’s policy directed at developing, among others, the right to education. The organization sought the Committee’s assistance in understanding how the Government of South Africa sought to bridge the digital divide, particularly in relation to cultural minorities, older persons, and disadvantaged and marginalized groups, including women and children.

Equal Education and Equal Law Centre, via video link, recommended that the Committee urge the South African Government to withdraw the declaration it entered upon ratifying the Covenant. By adding qualifiers such as “progressive effect,” “within available resources,” and “within a national legislative framework”, the declaration contradicted South Africa’s Constitution, which made the right to education immediately realizable, without any qualification. With regard to school fees, the two organizations recommended that South Africa ensured a more robust enforcement of the progressive “no fee” policy. Some schools had illegal practices that forced poor parents to pay amounts equivalent to school fees. The Government should implement measures to enable poor parents, especially single women, to obtain school fee exemptions. Foreign migrant and undocumented learners currently faced discrimination, with many schools refusing to enrol them. In terms of Government-subsidized scholar transport, the two organizations recommended that South Africa ensure that all provinces had clear and publicly accessible scholar transport policies, which specifically ensured that learners with disabilities had access to transport. In terms of school infrastructure, the Regulations on Minimum Norms and Standards should be implemented within the relevant deadlines. Implementing agents, who built schools, should be held to account for non-delivery, while private actors in education should be accountable to human rights standards.

Amnesty International, via video link, voiced concern that the failure to protect the most disadvantaged in South Africa had increased inequalities, resulting in violations of the rights to housing and health. Research conducted by Amnesty International in the past four years had documented persistent barriers to reproductive health services, including timely ante-natal care and safe abortion. While recognizing South Africa’s progress in improving access to HIV services and treatment, on visiting health facilities in 2014, the organization had found breaches in the right to privacy and confidentiality, including the lack of informed consent around HIV testing during ante-natal care. A high number of births continued to take place outside of health facilities, reflecting the catastrophic transport costs and a lack of emergency medical transport in rural areas. Unsafe abortions were frequently occurring in the country, contributing to high rates of avoidable maternal mortality and morbidity. Only 7 per cent of the country’s public health facilities offered abortion services. The Government had further failed to tackle the stigma towards women and girls seeking abortion services.

Legal Resources Centre reminded that persons with diverse gender identities, gender expressions and sex characteristics remained generally marginalized and invisible in South Africa due to the continued and overt dominance of heteronormative conceptions of sex and gender. One of the pressing needs was legal gender recognition, as envisaged in the Alteration of Sex Description of 2003, which remained poorly implemented with unreasonably long periods of processing of applications. Transgender and gender diverse persons had to navigate a healthcare system which was unresponsive to their specific needs. Intersex children were often subjected to non-consensual, medically unnecessary and physically harmful sex assignment surgeries and treatments during infancy and childhood. Turning to women’s access to housing, land and property, the organization encouraged the Government to take active steps to develop and implement land, property and housing policies with a gender lens that recognized women’s vulnerability. On refugees and asylum seekers, the organization was concerned that the Refugee Amendment Bill sought to limit their rights to work and study.

Alternate Report Coalition – Child Rights South Africa focused on key socio-economic challenges facing children that required immediate attention from the Government. About 7 million children in South Africa lived under the poverty line. The child support grant did not provide sufficient income to ensure that children living below the food poverty line could at least access sufficient food. The Government should take legislative and other measures to increase the child support grant to ensure that no child was living below the food poverty line. Accessing birth registration remained challenging for a number of children, including abandoned or orphaned children, children of one or both non-South African parents, and children of unmarried or single fathers.

Human Rights Watch reminded that to date the Government of South Africa had failed to provide an accurate number of children with disabilities who remained out of school. Although the country had had a policy on inclusive education for nearly two decades, it had not been implemented in line with its obligations to immediately realize the right to education of children with disabilities. Many special schools had adopted exclusive enrolment policies, split by types of disability, and many children with disabilities could wait up to four years on waiting lists. Many children with disabilities paid for school fees that other students attending public schools did not pay. The widespread poor quality of education in many public schools affected all children, but the negative impact resulted in many children with disabilities dropping out or leaving schools without benefiting from education, or learning basic skills.

Dullah Omar Institute highlighted the right to social security and the right to adequate housing, reminding that more than 17 million South Africans were reliant on some form of social assistance through social grants. The amount that beneficiaries received was not enough to sustain their basic living needs. The organization recommended that the Government ensure the effective roll out and implementation of the State-led hybrid social grant payment model for beneficiaries to receive the full cash value of their grants, without deductions, excessive bank charges and proper and easily accessible recourse systems. On the right to adequate housing, the organization stressed that the State party had consistently failed to adequately regulate the private sector, which had resulted in the formal housing market being inaccessible to the majority of South Africans. Many poor and low-income households had had to resort to living in growing informal settlements.

International Commission of Jurists recalled that poverty remained high and South Africa was consistently one of the most unequal societies in the world. The crucial context to the rights to work and to an adequate standard of living were the high and increasing unemployment rates. Youth unemployment was estimated at 67.4 per cent. The organization, thus, requested that the Committee recommend that the Government of South Africa accept that its Covenant obligations to realize the right to work exceeded the present protections of rights at work, and to take legal and policy measures to ensure that all workers – whether temporary, permanent, informal or formal – enjoyed effectively legal protection in terms of the right to work consistent with the Covenant. The right to work was a right to decent work, and it required access to work capable of providing workers and their families with an adequate standard of living. The organization’s recommendations had to be understood in the social, political and economic context of post-apartheid South Africa.

Questions by the Committee Experts

Committee Experts asked about the right to food and examples of policy incoherence. He further inquired about land redistribution without adequate support for it. To which extent would affordable access to the Internet enable people to exercise their economic, social and cultural rights? Why was it that undocumented migrant children did not have access to schools? What were the risks of privatization of schools?

What were the reasons behind housing problems (informal settlements) in the mining sector? What was the discrepancy between the target of the land reform and achieved outcomes?

Answers

Association for Progressive Communications, via video link, suggested that affordable access to the Internet was essential for the equal enjoyment of the rights to work, healthcare, education and participation in cultural life. There was concern that the current targets of the Government’s policy would not be met. The organization suggested that the Committee discuss those questions with the South African delegation.

Amnesty International, via video link, clarified that mining corporations needed to fulfil obligations regarding their housing settlements, which were below standard. The Government had failed to enforce corporate responsibility in that sector. The organization recommended that the Government review resources for monitoring and enforcing social labour plans of mining companies.

Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies, via video link, explained that there was no binding instrument to implement the right to food, but there were five departments in charge of implementing the food security programmes. Policy incoherence was highlighted in relation to the agricultural sector and was linked with the land reform process. There was no coordination among the five departments which could lead to increased agricultural production and ensuring of domestic food consumption. The slow pace of the land reform was due to multiple reasons, such as declining budgetary resources, corruption, weak institutions overseeing the process, and weak policies. The Government was currently pursuing a land acquisition strategy.

Equal Education and Equal Education Law Centre, via video link, clarified that migrant and undocumented children included those born in South Africa but without identification papers. Schools were reluctant to enrol them because they feared they would not receive earmarked funds. The authorities had informed schools to renounce undocumented learners. Concerns regarding private actors in education were two-fold: significant sway in the governance of public schools and inadequate regulation of private actors. The organization was also concerned about the vagueness of legislation in such cases. The legislative framework for private education in the country was not sufficiently robust. It only concerned itself with school registration for financial purposes, and less with the rights of children. State-funded schools were subjected to more regulation and monitoring.

For use of the information media; not an official record

CESR18/016E