HRC adopts resolutions on economic, social and cultural rights

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

GENEVA: The UN Commission on Human Rights on 22 April adopted a number of decisions and resolutions in the area of economic, social and cultural rights, including on the right to adequate housing, on unilateral coercive measures, on structural adjustment policies and foreign debt, and on globalization issues.

Other resolutions and decisions adopted in this area of economic and social rights related to illicit movement and dumping of toxic and dangerous products and wastes, globalization and its impact on full enjoyment of human rights, the right to drinking water and sanitation, and the right to food.

On adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, the resolution, adopted without a vote, encouraged the Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing to strengthen integration of the right into the Global Campaign for Secure Tenure launched by the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat). The Special Rapporteur was also encouraged to enter into a dialogue with governments, and to give emphasis to practical solutions to achieving housing rights.

On the right to education, also adopted without a vote, the Commission urged all states to give effect to the right and guarantee it was exercised without discrimination of any kind, and take all appropriate measures to eliminate obstacles limiting effective access to education, notably by girls, including pregnant girls, children living in rural areas or belonging to minority groups, indigenous, migrant or refugee children and those internally displaced or affected by armed conflict.

In a resolution against unilateral coercive measures, adopted by a roll-call vote of 38 in favour, 6 opposed (Canada, Croatia, Germany, Japan, Sweden and the UK) and 9 abstentions, the Commission urged all states to refrain from adopting or implementing such measures. Member states were called upon to neither recognize nor apply such measures, and consider adopting measures to counteract the extra-territorial application of such measures. Rejecting the use of such unilateral coercive measures, particularly against developing countries, because of negative effects on human rights, the Commission reiterated its call to member states which have initiated such measures to revoke them and insisted that no state could use or encourage use of economic, political or any other type of measures to coerce another state to obtain subordination of its sovereign rights or secure from it advantages of any kind.

By a decision on another roll-call vote, the Commission approved the proposal of the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights to appoint El Hadji Guisse as Special Rapporteur to conduct a detailed study on the promotion of the realization of the right to drinking water supply and sanitation.

In a resolution, adopted without a vote, on realization in all countries of economic, social and cultural rights, and for study of special problems faced by developing countries to achieve these rights, the Commission reaffirmed that the ideal of free human beings enjoying freedom from fear and want could be achieved only if conditions were created for everyone to enjoy economic, social and cultural rights.  The resolution also affirmed the inextricable link between full respect for the rights contained in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the process of development.

On the right to food, in another resolution adopted without a vote, the Commission reaffirmed that hunger constituted an outrage and violation of human dignity and reaffirmed the right of everyone to have access to safe and nutritious food. It is intolerable, said the resolution, that there were 815 million undernourished people in the world and that 36 million died every year, directly or indirectly, as a result of hunger and nutritional deficiencies particularly in developing countries, and that in a world that produced enough food to feed the whole global population. The resolution also called for mobilization and for optimizing the allocation of resources from all sources, including on external debt relief for developing countries, to reinforce national actions for sustainable food security policies.

On the adverse effects of illicit movement and dumping of toxic and dangerous products and wastes, in a resolution adopted on a roll-call vote by 37 in favour, 14 against (industrialized nations) and 2 abstentions, the Commission categorically condemned such activities and reaffirmed such illicit traffic as a serious threat to the right to life and enjoyment of the highest standards of physical health. All governments were urged to take measures to prevent such trafficking. Japan and the EU members contended that they recognized the ill effects but claimed that the Commission was not the appropriate forum.

Globalization and human rights

On globalization and its impact on full enjoyment of human rights, the Commission, in a roll-call vote of 38 in favour and 15 against, recognized that globalization may affect human rights, and that states had a  collective responsibility to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity at the global level and the commitment to create an environment at national and international levels conducive to development and elimination of poverty; and that in the absence of a framework based on fundamental principles underpinning human rights, “globalization would continue on its inherently asymmetrical course.” The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was asked to study and clarify the fundamental principle of non-discrimination and its application at global level with a view to recommending measures for its integration and effective implementation in the debate on globalization.

The Special Rapporteurs of the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights were asked to take into account the Commission’s resolution in finalizing their study on globalization.

On structural adjustment policies and foreign debt, in a resolution adopted on a roll-call vote (29 in favour and 15 opposed, with 9 abstentions), the Commission stressed that these policies had serious implications for the ability of developing countries to abide by the Declaration on the Right to Development and formulate national development policies. The Commission said that structural adjustment policies gave inadequate attention to the provision of social services and that only a few countries had been able to achieve sustainable higher growth under such programmes. Concern was also expressed at the persistence of the external debt problem and over the debt overhang that affected most least developed countries and remained an obstacle to their development. The Commission reiterated its view that a permanent solution has to be found to the foreign debt problem by establishing a just and equitable international economic order.

Other resolutions in this area adopted without a vote included one on human rights  and  extreme  poverty and another on access to medication in the context of  pandemics  such as HIV/AIDS.

Under the latter, states were called upon to promote availability in sufficient quantities of medication and treatment and promote accessibility to all, and ensure that such medications and treatment were scientifically and medically appropriate and of good quality. States were asked to refrain from measures that would deny or limit equal access to such treatments and medications and safeguard such access from limitations of any third parties. The Commission stressed the need for the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) to be part of the wider national and international action to address these problems. While recognizing that protection of intellectual property rights was important for development of new medicines, the Commission also recognized the concerns about its effects on prices and that TRIPS did not and should not prevent members from taking measures to protect public health and to promote access to all. (SUNS5106)

From TWE No. 279 (16-30 April 2002)