|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-sixth General Assembly
29th & 30th Meetings (AM & PM)
Several Aspects of Sexual, Reproductive Health — Providing Information, Using
Contraception, Abortion — Should Be ‘Decriminalized’, Third Committee Told
Rapporteur on Right to Health Says ‘Decriminalization Saves Lives;’ Also
Hears Experts on Human Rights Defenders; Trafficking; Education; Food; Safe Water
Urging States to fully ensure the right to health, the Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on that right called for decriminalizing the provision of information on sexual and reproductive health, the supply and use of all forms of contraception, and abortion today, as the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) began its second week of debate on the promotion and protection of human rights.
“States must remove criminal and other laws restricting access to comprehensive education and information on sexual and reproductive health,” Anand Grover, the Special Rapporteur on the Right of Everyone to the Enjoyment of the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health, said during a day-long debate that also included presentations by United Nations experts on trafficking in persons, the situation of human rights defenders, as well as the rights to food, education and access to safe water.
Mr. Grover said that where criminal law was used as a tool to regulate the conduct and decision-making of individuals regarding sexual and reproductive health, the State coercively substituted its judgment for that of the individual. Laws and other legal restrictions that reduced or denied access to family planning goods and services, including emergency contraception, further violated the right to health and reflected discriminatory notions of women’s roles in the family and society.
“Criminal laws penalizing and restricting induced abortion provide examples of State interference with women’s right to health,” he stressed, adding that such laws restricted women’s control over their bodies, undermined their dignity and infringed on their autonomy.
Because criminal laws were ineffective in discouraging women from seeking abortions, their ultimate impact was only actually determining whether abortion was safe or unsafe since women would seek that procedure anyway, he said. Indeed, a greater number of unsafe abortions — which are estimated to account for 13 per cent of all maternal deaths globally and result in short- and long-term injuries to approximately 5 million women and girls — would likely occur if abortion was restricted.
Arguing that “decriminalization saves lives”, he drew attention to evidence showing that access to voluntary family planning could reduce maternal deaths by between 25 and 40 per cent, while male condom use not only resulted in lower incidences of sexually transmitted infections, but when used correctly and consistently, they were 98 per cent effective in preventing pregnancy.
During a vigorous question and answer session following the Special Rapporteur’s initial presentation, speakers alternately voiced strong support and outright rejection for some of his conclusions, particularly those regarding abortion. A representative of the Holy See said the Special Rapporteur’s report wrongly asserted abortion laws were a violation of the right to health. Moreover, given the right to life elaborated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, abortion violated the right to health for a mother, as well as a child.
Echoing others, Swaziland’s delegate suggested that by focusing on a non-existent right to abortion, the Special Rapporteur’s report largely ignored his mandate. Women who had unwanted pregnancies should have access to reliable information and adequate counselling, while post-abortion counselling and services should be provided to help prevent future abortion, she asserted.
Expressing similar concern over “systematic attempts to reinterpret internationally agreed conventions” and to disregard intergovernmental documents in which the right to health and its derived rights had been clearly defined, Egypt’s representative suggested it was important to make a distinction between sexual and reproductive programmes, and establishing and trying to derive new rights.
Other delegations argued that the report not only fell firmly under the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, but contributed important guidance for States to implement existing human rights conventions. Denmark’s representative said the issues it addressed were fundamental to fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals, particularly on empowering women, reducing maternal mortality and combating HIV/AIDS. Moreover, the report demonstrated that criminal and other legal restrictions on abortion violated the right to health and restricted the freedom of decision-making, thereby reducing human dignity. “We must ensure women have access to safe abortion,” she said, calling on all States to remove barriers in that regard.
Several delegations further underlined the need to boost family planning services. To that end, the representative of the United States noted that access to family planning could prevent 25 per cent of maternal and child deaths in the developing world and was the most effective way of preventing abortion. Chile’s delegate said that while his country neither considered abortion to be a health service nor recognized it as a right, it was providing appropriate education, information and access to contraception since young people were becoming sexually active at increasingly younger ages.
Earlier, Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, had called for a comprehensive and holistic approach aimed at realizing the right to effective remedy for trafficked persons. Among other things, she said accurate identification was a pre-requisite for trafficked persons to be able to exercise that right. They must also be recognized as rights-holders from the moment they were identified.
She also argued that ad hoc measures designed to address only some of those aspects were hardly sufficient. To that end, her annual report included a set of draft basic principles on the right to an effective remedy for trafficked persons. It also reiterated the need for special consideration for trafficked children seeking remedies.
In the afternoon, Olivier De Schutter, the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, said the international community must do more not just to feed the world, but to support each country’s ability to feed itself. The battle against hunger would, he stressed, be won or lost in the rural areas of developing countries, where the majority of the extremely poor resided and from which so many poor people tried to escape.
“This then is the key challenge we are facing: how to move from a system that ruins small-scale farmers in order to feed the cities to a system that provides better incomes for rural households,” he said, noting that his annual report contained seven very concrete recommendations that tried to seize the opportunities of contract farming, while reducing the risks posed to small-scale, often illiterate farmers.
Also today, the Committee heard presentations from and held question-and-answer sessions with Margaret Sekaggya, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders; Catarina De Albuquerque, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Access to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation; and Kishore Singh, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education.
The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. Tuesday, 25 October, to continue its discussion on human rights with a presentation by the Independent Expert on the question of human rights and extreme poverty.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met today to continue its discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights.
It had before it a note by the Secretary-General transmitting the report of the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children (document A/66/283), which covers the period from 1 August 2010 to 31 July 2011. The report is divided into three main sections: an introduction, an outline of the activities undertaken by the Special Rapporteur during the reporting period and a thematic focus on the right to an effective remedy for trafficked persons. It discusses different forms of substantive remedies, including restitution, recovery, compensation, satisfaction and guarantee of non-repetition. It also highlights the importance of procedural rights of access to these substantive remedies, such as the provision of information, legal assistance, interpretation services and regularization of residence status. The Special Rapporteur offers recommendations to States in effectively implementing the right to an effective remedy and includes a draft set of basic principles on the right to an effective remedy in the annex.
Also, the Committee had before it a note by the Secretary-General transmitting the report of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders (document A/66/203). The report addresses the most common restrictions and violations faced by human rights defenders and provides recommendations to facilitate implementation by States. It aims to increase the awareness of States of the rights provided for in the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. It also aims to serve as a practical tool to defenders working to ensure respect for the rights to which they are entitled under the Declaration.
Despite efforts to implement the instrument, human rights defenders continue to face numerous violations of their rights. It is hoped the report will contribute to the development of a safe and more conducive environment for defenders to be able to carry out their work. Among its recommendations, it says States should adopt national laws on the protection of defenders, in consultation with civil society and with technical advice from relevant international agencies, with a specific reference to the work of women human rights defenders.
The Committee also had before it a note by the Secretary-General transmitting the report of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health (document A/66/254), which considers the interaction between criminal laws and other legal restrictions relating to sexual and reproductive health and the right to health. It argues that the right to sexual and reproductive health is a fundamental part of the right to health, and States must therefore ensure it is fully realized.
In the report, the Special Rapporteur considers areas such as the impact of criminal and other legal restrictions on abortion, and the provision of sexual and reproductive education and information. It says some criminal and other legal restrictions in those areas, which are often discriminatory in nature, violate the right to health by restricting access to quality goods, services and information. They infringe human dignity by restricting the freedoms to which individuals are entitled under the right to health, particularly in respect of decision-making and bodily integrity. Moreover, it says, the application of such laws as a means to achieving certain public health outcomes is often ineffective and disproportionate.
It says that realization of the right to health requires the removal of barriers that interfere with individual decision-making on health-related issues and with access to health services, education and information, in particular on health conditions that only affect women and girls. States are obliged to remove barriers created by a criminal law or other legal restrictions, it concludes.
Also before the Committee was a note by the Secretary-General transmitting the interim report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to education (document A/66/269), which focuses on the issue of domestic financing of basic education. It details human rights obligations for financing education and provides practical examples of national legal frameworks that ensure domestic financing. The report also contains an update on the situation of education in emergencies, pursuant to General Assembly resolution 64/290. The Special Rapporteur underlines that the attention and funding dedicated to education in emergencies continue to be insufficient and inadequate, and calls for more investment in preventive efforts and for a better protection of education during armed conflict.
Also before the Committee was a note by the Secretary-General transmitting the interim report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food (document A/66/262), which says better access to markets is key to improving livelihoods for many small-scale farmers in developing countries. It notes that contract farming has recently been presented as an optimal solution that benefits buyers, small-scale farmers and Governments. The report identifies issues raised by the expansion of contract farming and notes areas in which Governments and firms can ensure it results in pro-poor outcomes and contributes to the full realization of the right to food.
It observes that contract farming rarely encourages farmers to climb up the value chain and move into packaging, processing or marketing of their produce; the report then examines other business models that could be more inclusive, such as farmer-controlled enterprises, joint ventures or direct-to-consumer food marketing. It argues that it is vital to ensure a diversity of outlets for the produce of small-scale farmers to strengthen their position in the food chain, which contributes to the realization of the right to food in rural communities, as well as general rural development.
The Secretary-General's report on the report of the Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation (document A/66/255) reviews the major issues surrounding the resources available for the realization of the rights to water and sanitation. In Section II, the Special Rapporteur offers a brief review of the status of resources for the sectors. She then considers several principal sources of financing within the sectors and offers suggestions on how these can be augmented and improved through alignment with human rights principles. She also recaps the tremendous benefits of investing in the rights to water and sanitation. In Section III, she considers the related challenge of targeting resources effectively and offers concrete examples of how stakeholders can better utilize limited resources by keeping human rights principles in mind. Finally, section IV addresses additional challenges to adequate financing, such as institutional fragmentation and lack of transparency.
Among her conclusions, the Special Rapporteur recommends that States prioritize funding in the national budget and for official development assistance for water and sanitation with a particular focus on extending access to the un-served or under-served. They should also ensure that household contributions remain affordable. States should also incorporate a human rights approach, while ensuring transparency of budgets and other funding for both sectors, including with disaggregated information about which population segments have which level of access.
Statement by Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons
JOY NGOZI EZEILO, Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, said she had been advocating, as the fundamental guiding principles in developing and implementing measures aimed at combating trafficking and promoting the rights of trafficked persons, the “5 Ps”, or protection, prosecution, punishment, promoting international partnership, and partnership; the “3 Rs”, or redress, recovery and reintegration; and the “3 Cs”, or capacity, cooperation and coordination. Her annual report this year focused on the right to an effective remedy for trafficked persons, which essentially entailed the “3 Rs”.
“Trafficked persons rarely receive adequate and effective remedies, despite the egregious human rights violation they suffered”, she said, noting that in many States they were only provided ad hoc measures predominantly aimed a facilitating criminal investigations. They were also rarely known to have received compensation and did not have access to information, legal assistance, regular residence status and other assistance necessary to seek compensation. “At worst, many trafficked persons are wrongly identified as irregular migrants, detained and deported before they have an opportunity to even consider seeking remedies.”
Her report followed up on an earlier one to the Human Rights Council and includes draft basic principles on the right to an effective remedy for trafficked persons, she said, stressing that the right to an effective remedy was a fundamental human right for all persons, including trafficked persons. States were under an obligation to provide remedies for trafficked persons where they failed to exercise due diligence in preventing and combating trafficking or in protecting the human rights of trafficked persons. Further, compensation formed only one aspect of the right to effective remedy, which also encompassed recovery, restitution, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition. A set of ancillary procedure rights would also enable trafficked persons to exercise that right in a meaningful manner, including the rights to legal, medical, psychological, social, administrative and other assistance.
Continuing, she said restitution aimed at restoring the situation that existed prior to the violation. However, returning the trafficked person to the existing situation might place him or her at the risk of further human rights violations and being re-trafficked. Thus, restitution may imply States’ obligation to undertake broader measures to address trafficking’s root causes and reintegrate the trafficked persons. Similarly, recovery entailed a means to seek other forms of remedy, such as compensation. Sometimes, recovery services were only available to certain categories of trafficked persons, such as men and children who were internally trafficked, or upon the cooperation with law-enforcement authorities, which was contrary to a human-rights based approach.
While it was the most widely recognized form of remedy, compensation was often inaccessible to trafficked persons, whether in criminal, civil or labour proceedings. In criminal proceedings the possibility of obtaining compensation hinged on convicting the traffickers. The length and cost of civil proceedings often precluded seeking compensation, while it was often restricted by a number of eligibility criteria, such as immigration status. Other obstacles included the failure to identify trafficked persons and the lack of adequate support and free legal aid.
Against that backdrop, a comprehensive and holistic approach aimed at realizing the right to effective remedy was critical, she said. Accurate identification of trafficked person was a pre-requisite for trafficked persons to be able to exercise the right to an effective remedy. They must be equipped with information about their rights and the avenues to exercise those rights. They must also be recognized as rights-holders from the moment they were identified. Ad hoc measures designed to address only some of those aspects were hardly sufficient, she argued, noting further that the report reiterated the need for special consideration for trafficked children seeking remedies. Essentially, the Convention on the Rights of the Child must be the guiding force behind a trafficked child’s realization of the right to an effective remedy.
Highlighting the draft basic principles on the right to an effective remedy for trafficked persons, she said they were based on existing international human rights law and did not represent new norms of human rights. They were designed to bring clarity to the concept of the right to an effective remedy and to elaborate specific factors to be taken into account when that right was applied to trafficked persons. She encouraged Member States to consider what the next step for those principles should be.
Outlining her recent country visit to Thailand, she said that while the Thai Government had made significant progress in addressing trafficking persons through its 2008 Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, what was an adequate legal framework was weakly implemented. Among other things, trafficked persons were not properly identified, court cases were often delayed and the root causes of trafficking were not being effectively addressed. She had recommended that Thailand scale up capacity building for all actors, review its labour and migration laws and provide comprehensive and individually tailored assistance to trafficked persons, including language support and access to medical and psychological care.
In other areas, she said two expert consultations had been convened since her last report to the Assembly, on the right to an effective remedy for trafficked persons and on integrating a human-rights-based approach in the administration of criminal justice in trafficking cases. The latter topic would be a focus of her next report to the Human Rights Council and, to that end, she had recently sent out a questionnaire on the issue to ensure her report accurately reflected practices and challenges in prosecuting trafficking cases in different countries.
“Trafficking in persons requires a multilateral and multidisciplinary response and no single country or entity can combat it alone,” she concluded, encouraging Member States to utilize existing plans such as the International Framework for Action to Implement the Trafficking in Persons Protocol and the Global Plan of Actions against Trafficking in Persons. She also called on all States and other stakeholders to strengthen their partnerships and cooperation at bilateral, regional and international levels in the collective efforts to fight trafficking and protect the human rights of victims.
Question and Answer Session
Brazil’s delegate said his country was both an origin and destination for trafficking of persons. It welcomed and supported the Special Rapporteur’s work and was adopting a series of measures to combat that scourge which exited throughout its region.
The delegate of the United States highlighted points that she considered had not received enough international attention. Restitution and compensation for the victims attacked the traffickers’ profit motivation, and put them — and sometimes an entire network — out of business. Further, comprehensive victims services had historically been available to certain categories of trafficked persons to the exclusion of others, such as men and children. All countries, including her own, could do more to ensure services were available to all. Further, she said, the United States took a different position than the Special Rapporteur with regard to foreign victim’s cooperation with law enforcement as a means to receive benefits and immigration.
“As Ms. Ngozi is aware, the United States links a victim’s cooperation to long-term immigration relief and public benefits to prevent fraud and misuse of benefits, and most importantly, to give victims a positive incentive to help bring their traffickers to justice and ensure these traffickers serve time in jail for their horrific crimes,” she said. “It is important to emphasize, however, that this requirement of cooperation need not be too onerous.” In the United States, the standard for receiving non-immigrant status was that the adult victim comply with any “reasonable request” for assistance in an investigation, but there were also exemptions for those “unable to cooperate with such a request due to physical and psychological trauma” and children under 18 were not required to assist law enforcement to be eligible for public benefits. She invited the Special Rapporteur to comment further on obstacles victims faced obtaining permanent residency or citizenship in destination countries, including where a reflection and recovery period was offered.
The European Union’s delegate asked how trafficked persons could be identified, particularly those subjected to gender-based violence, so they could be treated as victims. He also asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on how to better protect trafficked children, so they could have access to greater remedies, and how to ensure trafficked persons were provided with legal services, so they could have resident legal status.
Malaysia’s delegate asked how it could ensure trafficked persons, especially children, understood their rights. He also asked how were the rights of child soldiers enforced.
Indonesia’s delegate underlined the need to strengthen protection and enhance cooperation between countries, and asked the Special Rapporteur what potential further work could be done with other United Nations bodies.
Norway’s delegate noted the report pointed out obvious gaps between legal provisions and their implementation — stronger review mechanisms were needed, and she encouraged the Special Rapporteur efforts in that regard.
Liechtenstein’s delegate asked the Special Rapporteur whether she thought the International Criminal Court could, or should, undertake investigations for human trafficking and, if so, whether she had submitted material to the Court.
Switzerland’s delegate asked if it was possible for her to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.
Cameroon’s delegate noted the Special Rapporteur’s recommendation that confiscated property should be used to compensate victims, but asked what could be done in States that had laws that prohibit use of confiscated or frozen assets.
Responding, Ms. EZEILO noted that she had presented an abridged version of her report to the Assembly, although the full report that was presented to the Human Rights Council was available. She said it was clear that no one country could combat the problem of trafficking alone and countries of origin, transit and destination must work together. Further, countries could move from origin to destination quickly, while other countries were all three, although many did not recognize how the dynamics could change. Among other things, this led to legislative and service gaps.
Underlining the importance of taking a human-rights perspective, she acknowledged that repatriation was tricky. Indeed, countries were often unprepared to accept the return of trafficked persons. The necessary regulatory framework must be put in place, along with reintegration programmes, she said.
Thanking the United States for its feedback, she said she was not trying to undermine the need for cooperation. But, while victims needed to cooperate in identifying perpetrators, it was frequently the case that no space was given to recovery for victims, who were sometimes threatened with prompt deportation. If only the law enforcement or the prosecution approach was taken, without the other “4 Ps”, then the focus was off. Victims often believed that traffickers would harm their families, if they talked, and they needed time and support to be convinced otherwise. Offering one example, she said that some trafficked persons from highly superstitious societies were brought through “voodoo” rituals at the start of their trafficking, which created a deep sense of fear. In addition, if the State response started from a negative perspective — such as one that was overly or primarily concerned with the problem of fraudulent claims — the system would often overlook trafficked persons.
Against that backdrop, she called for States to give victims temporary resident status. Sometimes there were gender differences in how the system responded to victims. For example, men were sometimes given the ability to work while women were locked up.
Reiterating proper identification as her fundamental starting point, she noted that she had previously reported on best practices in that regard. However, there were still gaps at the national level in terms of capacity. Sometimes efforts were not even made to identify victims, because capacity was lacking and follow-up services were non-existent.
To help deal with the specific problems of trafficked children, officers at the point of entry should be properly trained to spot unusual or suspect relationships between adults and children entering a country. Due to the varied treatment of 16-, 17- and 18-year olds as juveniles in different countries, she highlighted particular challenges for that age group.
She went on to say that the draft basic principles were meant to fill the gaps on access to justice. Before compensation could be made, restitution and recovery was critical. People must be properly informed of their rights, including in their own language. Best practices should be adopted for training law enforcement officers, as well as labour inspectors. In that regard, she noted that the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) had good training tools.
She said child-friendly information was also important to help children realize their right to an effective remedy and teaching on trafficking should be instituted at all levels of education. In some cases, children were compensated through cash transfers for their schooling, she said. She further stressed that all remedies applied in the cases of child soldiers, but additional services were needed.
To avoid duplication, she consulted with the Committee monitoring the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. She also worked with UNODC and was following up on the review mechanisms.
Reducing illicit financial flows was also important in combating trafficking, she said, underscoring that trafficking must be made a high-cost, low-profit business to drive traffickers out of business. Different legal systems had different means of dealing with that, but it was critical to put recovered funds and frozen assets into a compensation fund for victims.
She agreed that the Rome Statue had yet to be fully exploited in that area. However, a review of the history of prosecuting war crimes showed that it had taken a long time to recognize rape as such a crime — suggesting that the same would be true regarding trafficking. While she had not had any direct contact with the International Criminal Court, she was trying to raise awareness on those matters and planned to send her reports to the Court.
Finally, she emphasized transparency and stressed that money should be set out to directly compensate the victims. Compensation was the most popular form of remedy, but other options must be considered. The issue of satisfaction and non-recurrence was essential, but that required greater focus on root causes. In that context, she pointed out that she had many conversations with victims who told her they intended to be “wiser next time” so as not to get caught, because they had no economic options other than trafficking.
Statement by Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders
MARGARET SEKAGGYA, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, said that since last October, her activities had included a country mission to India, a thematic report on the situation of women human rights defenders and those working on women’s rights or gender issues, as well as the launching of a “Commentary to the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms” to raise awareness on the challenges defenders faced when they carried out their work.
But, more than 12 years after the adoption of the Declaration on human rights defenders, the essential instrument was still not sufficiently known, she said. Notwithstanding some positive efforts by States to domesticate provisions in the Declaration, the lives of human rights defenders continued to be at risk in many parts of the world. “Over the past few months, many men and women have collectively raised their voices in different countries of the world to peacefully claim for democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms. However, in many instances, these peaceful citizens were confronted with violent reactions on the part of State security forces and risked their lives when exercising a legitimate right. I must say that I am extremely concerned about the frequent excessive use of force by State agents in responding to situations involving freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression,” she said.
The ability of human rights defenders to perform monitoring and advocacy work had suffered the most severe restrictions under national security or anti-terrorism laws. “In many instances, these laws have been used to criminalize dissent and suppress the right to hold States accountable. I am aware that journalists and media workers are often targeted for investigating human rights abuses and they are subjected to threats, attacks and intimidation,” she said. Furthermore, many national laws to regulate the functioning of non-governmental organizations also imposed severe restrictions on their registration, funding, management and operation, hindering the work of human rights organizations. She stressed the Declaration required States to adopt legislative, administrative or other measures to facilitate or, at a minimum, not to hinder the effective exercise of the right to access funding.
“The work of my mandate, and that of the international human rights community, depends to a great extent on the information provided by human rights defenders,” she said. The Declaration protected a wide range of those activities, but she was dismayed about the number of allegations of intimidation, threats, attacks, arbitrary arrests, ill-treatment, torture and killings of human rights defenders who had collaborated with the United Nations or other international human rights mechanisms. “Unfortunately, impunity for human rights abuses against defenders remains unacceptably widespread,” she said. The obligation to provide defenders with an effective remedy requires States to ensure a prompt and impartial investigation into the alleged human rights violations, the prosecution of the perpetrators, the provision of reparations, as well as the enforcement of decisions or judgements. Ending impunity is a necessary condition to ensure the security of defenders.”
Question and Answer Session
Norway’s delegate stressed that, while it took over 13 years to negotiate the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, that text was today a living document that continued to apply to situations as they evolved. However, too many human rights defenders were not aware of the Declaration and its content. That lack of awareness remained a practical problem in many instances. Thus, her delegation wondered how States could better ensure that the Declaration was known and applied on the ground. She asked what the Special Rapporteur hoped to achieve with the newly published commentary to the Declaration, which was currently available only in English.
The United States delegate applauded the Special Rapporteur for her discussion of women and lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) issues. She further noted that retaliation against women defenders sometimes took sexual forms, while persons working for LGBT issues were often harassed and sometimes killed. The Special Rapporteur was right to criticize State authorities for making decisions to ban protests and demonstrations on those issues. The United States hoped that other delegations would publicly declare their support for those defenders.
Australia’s representative joined the Special Rapporteur in reminding States of their responsibility to protect everyone, including defenders. Suggesting that regional organizations could play an important role where civil conflict existed, she asked how regional organizations could help States fulfil their responsibilities and create and adequate environment for the work of defenders.
Switzerland’s delegate underlined the duty of States to ensure that the Declaration became a practical tool in upholding the rights of defenders. His delegation was alarmed at the trend towards the adoption of laws prohibiting the work of defenders, including restrictions on the right to assembly. What measures could be taken to prevent the criminalization of non-governmental organizations that impacted the rights of defenders? Given particular concerns about the situation of female defenders, what measures could be taken to prevent the stigmatization of those women?
The representative of the Czech Republic, noting violations of funding rights, asked what the international community could do to prevent the misuse by State authorities on the provision of international assistance to defenders.
The representative of the European Union shared concerns about the increasing trend to adopt laws restricting space for defenders. She asked what further efforts were required to expand understanding of the rights of defenders. What should States do to address the risks faced by women defenders and those defenders working on LGBT issues? What elements did the Special Rapporteur think should be contained in a forthcoming strategy to be devised by the High Commissioner for Human Rights?
The representative of the United Kingdom expressed concern about the safety of defenders and welcomed the Special Rapporteur’s call for prompt investigations in all cases of violations. He asked for further details on proposals for actions by the High Commissioner’s office. He called on Belarus not to enact certain laws that did not comply with international standards and norms. Noting the recent 11-year sentence imposed against one Iranian human rights defender, he called on Iran to stop harassing such defenders and ensure its national legislation incorporated the principles of the Declaration. He expressed concern about allegations of threats against defenders and diplomats in Syria and encouraged all those subjected to threats to report them.
Ireland’s delegate asked what role national human rights institutions could play in protecting defenders. Did the Special Rapporteur have any best practices concerning the work between multinational enterprises and human rights defenders in elaborating human rights policies? Underlining the need for adequate training on the rights of defenders, she asked how States could better protect the rights of defence lawyers.
Algeria’s representative asked if human rights defenders were citizens above the law. Did they have special status? What were the obligations of defenders when exercising their mandates, to ensure they did not take advantage of their status to spread hate and violence? What could be done to ensure that States were not undermined? Noting that there had been false allegations of attacks against human rights defenders, he asked what measures States could take to address such allegations.
Indonesia’s delegate, noting the increasing trends of violations of non-State actors, asked how countries should deal with that phenomenon. He also asked if there were best practices at the national level on guaranteeing the rights of human rights defenders.
Responding, Ms. SEKAGGYA said the purpose of her report was to make the Declaration as widely known as possible, by both States and human rights defenders. Even though it was a useful tool that answered a number of questions and provided all the necessary protections, it was not widely disseminated and she wanted the rights under the Declaration to be enforced. It needed to be further disseminated and understood to be used as a guiding tool. “My advice on what else we can do is to translate and disseminate this Declaration,” she said.
Regional bodies helped though important networking and collaboration, and were able to help hold states accountable to enforcing and promoting human rights. Regional bodies helped provide more detailed information and investigation and had other mechanisms to enforce the Declaration. She called for greater cooperation between the United Nations and regional bodies in that regard. On how States could avoid criminalizing the work of human rights defenders, she said the Declaration needed to be further consulted. As far as funding, the only stipulation was that funding should be transparent — States could not restrict funding for human rights defenders. Women defenders challenged cultural norms, so it was important to sensitize the public and law enforcement agencies, about those women’s rights.
The United Nations could assist States’ strategies to ensure there were no reprisals against defenders, she said. Things like hotlines and focal persons were measures that could be done in countries, while the activities of human rights defenders needed to be decriminalized. National human rights institutions should also set up, with focal persons or protection desks that could investigate issues to bring perpetrators to justice. State’s human rights institutions were well-placed to know what was going on in the country and were therefore placed to play a bigger role; they should write annual reports and sensitize population.
She stressed that human rights defenders were not above the law — their actions and activities must be peaceful and transparent. But, security forces could be further trained to understand the Declaration and alter their approaches to human rights defenders and media, who were targeted when they raised human rights issues. In conclusion, she stressed the Declaration was an important document that should not be just set aside — it should be used as a guideline “all the time”.
Statement of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health
ANAND GROVER, Special Rapporteur on the Right of Everyone to the Enjoyment of the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health, said he had undertaken activities to develop his mandate further and to examine, monitor and publicly report on the issues related to the right to health globally. Among other things, he had completed country missions to Syria and Ghana, submitted reports on the right to health and development and expert consultations on access to medicines, convened consultations on the right to health of older persons and contributed to meetings and conferences on the right to health. His present report focused on the interaction between criminal laws and other legal restrictions relating to sexual and reproductive health and the right to health.
“The right to sexual and reproductive health is a fundamental component of the right to health,” he said, noting that among other texts, General Comment No. 14 of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights said the right to health included measures to improve child and maternal health, sexual and reproductive health services and access to sexual and reproductive health information. Other international norms acknowledged the importance of sexual and reproductive health rights. States must, therefore, ensure that this aspect of the right to health was fully ensured.
“Around the world, people’s lives are impacted every day by criminal law and other legal restrictions affecting sexual and reproductive health,” he stressed. Women and girls were more likely to experience infringements on their right to sexual and reproductive health given the physiology of human reproduction and the gendered social, cultural and economic context in which sexuality, fertility, pregnancy and parenthood occurred. Those laws could inappropriately restrict the freedoms to which people were entitled under the right to health when they undermined their ability to make important decisions about their bodies and how to plan their lives. In addition, the application of those laws in achieving certain public health outcomes was generally ineffective.
Not only did criminalization of sexual and reproductive heath generate and perpetuate stigma, it distorted perceptions among health-care professionals, he said. Where the criminal law was used as a tool to regulate the conduct and decision-making of individuals regarding sexual and reproductive health, the State coercively substituted its judgment for that of the individual. That interference in such an intimate area of people’s lives could infringe on human dignity and autonomy and must, therefore, be kept to a minimum.
In that context, the report considered the impact of criminal and other legal restriction on certain health services and activities, he said. Legal restrictions to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education and information made women and girls less prepared for their sexual and reproductive lives. That, in turn, made them more vulnerable to coercion, abuse and exploitation, as well as to an increased risk to unintended pregnancy, unsafe abortion, maternal mortality, HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. “States must remove criminal and other laws restricting access to comprehensive education and information on sexual and reproductive health,” he argued.
Continuing, he said that in jurisdictions where access to family planning goods and services was severely curtailed by criminal laws and other legal restrictions, women and men lacked access to safe and effective contraception and were denied the freedom to decide whether or not to reproduce. Evidence showed that access to voluntary family planning could reduce maternal deaths by between 25 and 40 per cent, while male condom use not only resulted in lower incidences of sexually transmitted infections, but when used correctly and consistently, they were 98 per cent effective in preventing pregnancy. Laws and legal restrictions that reduced or denied access to family planning goods and services, including emergency contraception, violated the right to health and reflected discriminatory notions of women’s’ roles in the family and society.
“Criminal laws penalizing and restricting induced abortion provide examples of State interference with women’s right to health,” he continued, underscoring that such laws restricted women’s control over their bodies and required they continue unplanned pregnancies and give birth when it was not their choice to do so. Further, criminal restrictions undermined women’s dignity and infringed on their autonomy. Criminalization also generated and perpetuated women’s stigmatization and marginalization and should be eliminated.
Arguing that “decriminalization saves lives”, he said that, in practice, criminal laws primarily determined whether abortion was safe or unsafe, since they were actually ineffective in discouraging women from seeking that procedure. Indeed, a greater number of unsafe abortions — which are estimated to account for 13 per cent of all maternal deaths globally and result in short- and long-term injures to approximately 5 million women and girls — would likely occur if abortion was restricted.
He further noted that some States had proposed or enacted criminal laws and other restrictions prohibiting certain conduct during pregnancy, such as the use of illegal drugs and alcohol and failure to follow doctor’s orders or to refrain from sexual intercourse during pregnancy. Fearing criminal prosecution, some women could be deterred from accessing health services. Such criminalization, thus, infringed on a pregnant women’s right to health.
Outlining the 14 recommendations for States toward applying a right-to-health approach, he said that among other things they should: decriminalize the provision of information relating to sexual and reproductive health; decriminalize the supply and use of all forms of contraception and voluntary sterilization and remove spousal and/or parental support; suspend or abolish the application of existing criminal laws to various forms of conduct during pregnancy; decriminalize abortion, as well as related laws such as abetment of abortion; and ensure that accurate, evidence-based information on abortion and its legal availability was publicly available and that healthcare workers were fully aware of the abortion laws.
Turning to his plans for the rest of 2011 and 2012, he said would continue regional consultations and conduct country visits to Viet Nam and, pending the finalization of dates, to Azerbaijan, Republic of Korea and Tajikistan. Finally, he noted that while the issues addressed in his report were challenging, they were extremely important to ensure the full enjoyment of human rights for many, particularly women and girls. Each society must determine the way forward that best fit its own circumstances, keeping in mind its obligations under the right to health.
Question and Answer Session
Argentina’s delegate said it was one of the few countries that banned abortion. The report could contribute to the debate in countries, but had to recognize the universal nature of all human rights. Argentina did not endorse the report as a whole, but welcomed its contribution to the discussion in the Committee.
The European Union’s delegate expressed full support for the Special Rapporteur and asked him to elaborate on measures which could and should be taken to ensure access for women and girls to family planning. He also asked, besides establishing national curricula, what could be done to ensure access to sexual and reproductive health education for children. He also asked how to address and enhance attainment of the highest standard of health, including sexual and reproductive health.
The Holy See’s delegate said the report wrongly asserted abortion laws were a violation of the right to health. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights stated that every human had a right to life. No right to abortion existed under international law and no treaty established a right to abortion. Abortion was the violation to the right to health for a mother, as well as a child. A new human being with rights began at conception, so laws should not allow abortions. The proposals of the Special Rapporteur also failed to take into account numerous parts of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, he said.
The delegate of the Netherlands said the subjects were sensitive, but that was why it was important that the independence of special procedures be vigorously maintained. It was crucial that mandate holders felt free to carry out their work without fear of reprisal, so they could challenge States and Observers to re-examine their positions, with a view of promoting human rights for all. The report elaborated on the violations of, and obstacles to, the right to reproductive health, and his delegation fully supported its recommendations, including a moratorium on criminal laws concerning abortions. He made a plea for legal literacy campaigns to create demand for good services, and said it was fundamental for young people to have access to guidelines — the international community, together with civil society and academics, still had important work ahead.
Switzerland’s delegate asked how the Special Rapporteur could enhance his work with UN-Women and the Special Rapporteur on violence against women.
Norway’s delegate asked if the Special Rapporteur could identify the largest challenges to using public morality to enforce human rights on those issues.
Chile’s delegate said the report did not give a balanced view, since it emphasized abortion as a health service. Chile did not recognize the right to abortion — it was essential to recognize the right to life of all human beings. Sexual activity of young people was beginning earlier, and Chile was providing appropriate education, information and access to contraception.
The delegate of the United States said access to family planning could prevent 25 per cent of maternal and child deaths in the developing world and was the most effective way of preventing abortion.
Belgium’s delegate said special procedure mandate holders needed to be allowed to perform their duties in an autonomous manner, and he would like to invite States to respond positively to outstanding requests by the Special Rapporteur.
Sweden’s delegate, aligning with the statement of the European Union, said she would be interested to hear how barriers to health services also affected boys and men’s right to health. She also asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on how criminal laws and other barriers enforced or generated gender stereotypes. Further, she asked what were the root causes behind the lack of family planning and what could be done in that regard.
Finland’s delegate, aligning with the statement of the European Union, asked what role men and boys could play in providing the highest standard on mental and physical health for women and girls. She also asked what were the best practices, besides decriminalizing abortion, to ensure women and girls the right to mental and physical health and also their right to oversee their own bodies.
Swaziland’s delegate noted with concern that the report, to a large extent, ignored the Special Rapporteur’s mandate. Rather than concentrating on principal programmes, such as hunger and disease, it had focused on a non-existent right to abortion. A universal right to health had been recognized by all, but that right did not include the right to abortion. The Special Rapporteur’s recommendations undermined the goals of the International Conference on Population and Development’s programme of action. Women who had unwanted pregnancies should have access to reliable information and adequate counselling, while post-abortion counselling and services should be provided to help prevent future abortion. The Constitution of Swaziland prohibited abortion, except for extreme cases in which the life of the child or mother was under threat. The delegation rejected references to abortion in the report.
South Africa’s delegate asked if the Special Rapproteur could advise on countries dealing with interventions for diseases such as HIV.
Denmark’s representative, aligning with the European Union, said the issue was fundamental to fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals, particularly on empowering women, reducing maternal mortality and combating HIV/AIDS. An integrated and comprehensive reproductive health package was required for women and girls to be empowered and to reach parity in the economic sphere. They must have access to family planning and be able to make informed choices about their reproduction and lives. “We must ensure women have access to safe abortion,” she said, calling on all States to remove barriers in that regard.
She said the Special Rapporteur’s report demonstrated that criminal and other legal restrictions on abortion violated the right to health and restricted the freedom of decision-making, thereby reducing human dignity. Denmark considered that the report fell firmly under the Special Rapporteur’s mandate and made important contributions to guidance for States on how to implement existing human rights. In that context, her delegation wondered what concrete steps States could take to implement the report’s recommendations. How could gender stereotypes be reduced? If existing indicators did not adequately show the impact of criminalization, how could they be improved?
The representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action stated that the right to sexual and reproductive health rested on the recognition of the basic right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children. They also had the right to have information on the means to do so and the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health. That also included the right of all to make decisions concerning reproduction free from discrimination, coercion and violence.
She stressed that the right to non-discrimination required Governments to ensure equal access to health care for everyone and implied that sexual and reproductive health services should be accessible to all groups. To that end, Governments must allocate appropriate budgets to sexual and reproductive health programmes, implement effective policies, make comprehensive sexual and reproductive health service available and remove barriers to accessing good quality care.
Egypt’s delegate noted with concern again the “systematic attempts to reinterpret internationally agreed conventions” and to disregard intergovernmental documents in which the right to health and its derived rights had been clearly defined and set within an agreed international framework. The Special Rapporteur was, he said, trying to go beyond those in an alarming way by giving specific perspectives regarding child and maternal mortality. The Millennium Development Goals represented a tremendous challenge and merely decriminalizing certain aspects of sexual and reproductive health would not boost those efforts to the extent envisioned.
He asked if the Special Rapporteur could, in the future, point out other components that were of higher importance in achieving all Millennium Development Goals, not just one or two. His delegation supported the idea that all individuals had the right to reproductive health. But, it was important to make a distinction between sexual and reproductive programmes and establishing and trying to derive new rights.
The representative of Honduras endorsed the comments by the delegation of Chile.
Responding, Mr. GROVER welcomed the discussion and stressed that his report was not the final word on those issues. He respectively disagreed that those issues were not part of his mandate. Indeed, 44,000 women died each year from unsafe abortions. If that did not concern the right to health, what did?
He said the intervention by Chile was very nuanced and required much more debate. He was not articulating the right to abortion, just that the right to health had to be fully realized. Data showed that unsafe abortions contributed to maternal deaths. Moreover, criminalization of aspects of sexual and reproductive health had a chilling effect on services and data showed that the moment those activities were decriminalized, services became available.
In that context, he believed it was essential to have evidence-based data on the impact of limited, safe abortions. The right to health was the right approach, since it allowed States to think about decriminalization and achieving the Millennium Development Goals. While he had given examples, it was important to recognize that there was no international law on the matter. While he welcomed the intervention by the Holy See, he stressed that “we can’t be on fixed positions” since there was, in fact, no denial of abortion internationally.
While the right to abortion was part of the right to health in certain warranted circumstances, it must be recognized that criminalization had an impact on its own. It lowered dignity and that was the chilling effect that must be ended. It impeded health services, including among health professionals. Moreover, that was not limited to the sphere of reproductive health. Criminalization, as a whole, had a deleterious impact on all health services.
Finally, he stressed that, in addition to the need for decriminalization, ensuring the right to reproductive health meant that other services must be in place. Still, health services such as family planning, contraception, education and evidence-based information were also needed. Where these were put in place, you could see fewer deaths, he said.
Statement of Special Rapporteur on Right of Access to Safe Water
CATARINA DE ALBUQUERQUE, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Access to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, said even though the Millennium Development Goals target regarding water would be met, 700 million people would still not have access to “improved” water sources. Meanwhile, sanitation targets would not be met, but even if they were, 1.7 billion people would still lack access. And recent figures from five countries painted an even darker picture: water coming from “improved” water sources did not meet quality standards. She chose to focus her report on the issue on availability of financial resources to realize those human rights, after it was constantly invoked by different stakeholders, particularly States, to justify lack of progress.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) estimated universal access to water and sanitation by 2015 implied an annual cost of over $16 billion. That seemed a huge sum, she said, yet it was less than eight days of global military spending and less than what people in rich countries spent on mineral water each year. States had limited resources, particularly in times of economic crisis, and food, health and education were as essential as water and sanitation. However, the human rights framework required States to progressively realize the rights to water and sanitation — they must use the maximum available resources to move as expeditiously and effectively as possible towards their full realization.
States were obliged to mobilize resources from those living in the country, through tariffs and other charges from households and users, taxes, Government funding or, when necessary, the international community. Tariffs and other charges needed to be structured in an affordable way, so it might be necessary for the State to have a safety net for those living in poverty. Realizing those rights also made sense from an economic perspective — studies had demonstrated that each dollar invested in water and sanitation returned, on average, 8 dollars in costs averted and productivity gained. But, money was also being spent in the wrong places; resources should immediately target those who still did not have access, while States and donors also had to fully integrate the principle of non-discrimination in their programmes to eliminate disparities, and resources should contribute to long-term sustainability.
She went on to give six priority areas where better targeting could and should occur, including when: the majority of resources were benefiting the well-off, rather than low-income communities that lacked even basic access; expensive technologies were used to improve services for only a few; insufficient resources were allocated to operation and maintenance; decentralized responsibility for water and sanitation services was not effective and must be accompanied by financial and technical support to local authorities; legislative and regulatory frameworks were needed to clarify responsibilities, set minimum standards and ensure accountability; and States were obliged to educate communities about the hygienic use of water and sanitation services, and inform them of their rights.
More adequate funding and better targeting could only be achieved when States accurately measured and tracked resources, she said. States had to overcome institutional fragmentation, coordinating the work of all actors and adopting comprehensive sector-wide policies for water and sanitation. There was also a lack of budgeting, in which States frequently did not adequately account for how, where and by whom expenditures for water and sanitation were made. Finally, States had to factor in the value of mechanisms for monitoring individual and household contributions to the sectors. Improved coordination, greater transparency and improved knowledge about individual contributions would improve policies, she said.
Question and Answer Session
Spain’s delegate underlined the right to water and sanitation as a fundamental human right. Now that the legal content of that right was recognized, it was time to ensure its implementation. She wondered whether national or local action plans on water and sanitation would enable the better use of limited resources. Noting the divergence in the development approach and the human-rights approach to water and sanitation, she asked what the Special Rapporteur advised: Should a human rights approach be further applied to this development issue?
Bolivia’s representative said the greatest challenge was in achieving full implementation of the right, and the main obstacle was the absence of financial and economic resources, which should come primarily from public State financing. Indeed, funding models that prioritized profit over the right to water and sanitation should not be used. She requested clarification on accessibility. She stressed that legal frameworks protecting companies from social oversight were not compatible with protecting the right to water and sanitation.
The representative of the European Union said all countries bore a responsibility to ensure that all people had access to safe drinking water and sanitation. He asked the Special Rapporteur to provide examples of best practices on financing for projects for water and sanitation, and on issues regarding women’s access.
Switzerland’s delegate asked why the report did not focus on sanitation as a question of political will. Similarly, given that sanitation was also a question for the private sector, as recognized under the slogan “Sanitation is a Business”, why wasn’t the private sector mentioned in the current report?
Germany’s delegation said it was critical to work in a joint cross-regional effort to achieve that right. To that end, Germany had, with Spain, initiated the formation of such a group based in Geneva. He also asked what States could do to ensure that those most in need were reached.
Indonesia’s representative said one of the best methods to ensuring that right was increasing community involvement in advocacy and capacity building efforts regarding the hygienic use of water. Noting that his Government was working to provide safe drinking water and sanitation facilities, he asked how such efforts could be combined with climate change adaptation initiatives.
The representative of Cameroon, noting that access to water was essential for urban and rural populations, expressed hope that the Special Rapporteur would be able to visit Cameroon in the next year.
Algeria’s representative said the Special Rapporteur would have an opportunity to see what the Government was doing to implement the right to water, despite the challenges posed by a lack of rainfall, if she visited the country. Noting the burdens placed on women concerning access to water, particularly in rural areas, he stressed that national legislation should take account of the issue.
In response, Ms. DE ALBUQUERQUE said funds could be better used if countries knew who had access to water and sanitation, and who did not. Such knowledge allowed people in situations of extreme poverty to be prioritized. Among other benefits, the human-rights approach required stakeholders to be more active in demanding the fulfilment of rights. In addition, all human rights could be leveraged to get greater funds to underfunded areas and irregular settlements. That would mean, in turn, that resources were allocated more effectively.
She said that a human rights approach was also more helpful to people because it came closer to what people needed. For example, she had visited an “MDG hero” country, which was described that way because it was going to meet the relevant goal on water and sanitation. However, when she went to one house and opened a water tap — the presence of which qualified it as “meeting the MDG” — the water that came out was black. What was the value added of that water tap? It was killing them slowly, but killing them all the same. In contrast, a human rights approach demanded more than merely meeting the goal of having a water tap.
She said that in many countries the improvements in the number of people using a toilet were made only in the populations that were better off. Moreover, wherever she went, it always seemed to be the same people left behind from the progress countries were making, whether it was a developing or a developed country. In addition, sustainability was a critical element in achieving those rights and that required a human-rights approach. Whether a new water pump broke or not was irrelevant to the Millennium Development Goals, which merely asked if water was brought to the people.
She did not agree with Bolivia that a lack of financial resources was the biggest obstacle for fulfilling the right to water and sanitation. It was big, but the major issue was a lack of political will. At the national level, States were often not prioritizing those most in need and a shift in perspective was needed. In that context, and looking at the post-2015 development agenda, she was currently leading a task force on the development of indicators that could measure discrimination.
She said she had presented a compendium on good practices in Geneva last month and would publish a book with more detailed information on the report. Offering one example that would be included in the book, she said the Norwegian church had responded to a need in Tanzania to monitor how and where resources went through the Public Expenditures Transparency Surveys (PETS).
She could not agree more on the importance of including gender-related issues in the discussion. On a recent trip to Egypt, she had asked one woman how her life had changed since she had access to water. The woman had responded by saying she could now work and her children could go to school.
Continuing, she acknowledged that she had made certain choices when writing her report. This year, her recommendations were directed at States. However, that did not mean the private sector did not have a role to play and her report last year had dealt with non-State actors, including the private sector. It was her dream that all of her reports would be read in conjunction with each other, she said.
She went on to stress that States needed to know what was going on in their country. Sometimes officials said 98 per cent of their people had access to water, but she visited slums and added up the numbers for who had water, and it did not add up. Officials subsequently said that, because slum-dwellers were illegal they were not counted in official statistics. In that regard, the first step in ensuring the right to water and sanitation was knowing the full reality. Only then could measures ever be adequate to reach the most in need. “Don’t close your eyes even if the reality is not bright,” she said, underlining that courage was demanded of politicians.
She said she would be happy to visit Cameroon and Algeria.
Statement by the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
OLIVIER DE SCHUTTER, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, said that when he took up his mandate three years ago, the commodities markets were in turmoil, the price index of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) was reaching record levels and people were taking to the streets. Governments were panicking, with many imposing export bans on food commodities. Soon — and for the first time in history — the number of hungry people on Earth exceeded the one billion mark. Yet, the shock of the 2007-2008 food price crisis pushed decision-makers to act. Consequently, agriculture was placed at the top of the political agenda, financial pledges were made, the Committee on World Food Security had been reformed and Governments and international agencies increasingly acknowledged that implementing the right to adequate food was key in forging sustainable solutions to global hunger.
Nevertheless, he said the last 12 months had seen the crisis scenario playing out again, with commodities prices remaining high relative to the last decade. Persistent volatility continued to discourage farmers from investments in production and to test social protection systems. Poor consumers were being hurt, while most small-scale farmers were not benefiting from price spikes. Also, the wages of agricultural workers had not risen. But, whether shocks stemming from the volatility caused by climate disruptions, increased competition for land and water and speculation would lead to increased hunger and malnutrition depended on Government choices.
“We must do more not just to feed the world, but especially to support each country’s ability to feed itself”, he said. According to the joint flagship publication of the FAO, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) — the State of Food Insecurity in the World, which was released 10 October 2011 — a dependency caused by food import trends and a lack of investment in agriculture made countries vulnerable to both price shocks and currency exchange volatility.
To reverse that trend, developing countries must be allowed to strengthen their agricultural sectors at home, he said. The single short-term goal of ensuring affordable food to urban consumers, while understandable and legitimate, was not a substitute for strengthening the ability of local producer to improve their productivity. Cheap imports crowded out local producers from the market and only temporarily alleviating chronic hunger. Indeed, the battle against hunger would be won or lost in the rural areas of developing countries, where the majority of the extremely poor resided and from which so many poor people tried to escape.
“This then is the key challenge we are facing: how to move from a system that ruins small-scale farmers in order to feed the cities to a system that provides better incomes for rural households,” he said, stressing that it would slow rural-to-urban migration, improve the bargaining power for urban workers and create multiplier effects on the local economy even beyond agriculture. To do so, small-holders’ access to markets on quality terms must be improved. Small-scale farmers would invest and raise production levels, if they were paid better by those buying their products.
He said his report identified a number of conditions that contract farming should fulfil to benefit the small-scale farmers whose bargaining positions was weakest. In that vein, a fair contract should include minimum price guarantees, visual demonstration of quality standards, provision of inputs at or below commercial rates, tailored dispute settlement mechanism and the possibility to reserve a portion of land for food crops to meet family and community needs. The gender dimensions must be included in the shift. Without those checks and balances, the door was left open for produce to be summarily rejected by the buyer under various pretexts, for farm debt to spiral, for labour to be sub-contracted without regulatory oversight and for a region’s food security to be undermined by production of export-oriented cash crops.
Because Governments were duty-bound to respect, protect and fulfil the right to food and the right to an adequate standard of living, they should support farmers’ ability to negotiate fair deals and ensure they were not manipulated. Greater knowledge, information and services must be put at farmers’ finger tips. If farmers could access technical know-how, inputs, distribution circuits and markets only via investors, they became trapped in unhealthy cycles of dependency.
Other development models could provide the same benefits as contract farming, without the drawbacks, he continued, underlining the benefits of forming cooperatives and joint ventures. Noting examples in Mali and Ghana, he said this development model could work for small-scale farmers. It was true that collective ownership was not immune from manipulative investors and poor leadership, but farmers must be empowered to consider business models that allowed them climb up the value chain.
At the same time, attention should be paid to improving market access for small-scale famers by strengthening local food markets and improving the links between local producers and urban consumers. To that end, he noted spectacular progress in that regard in a range of developed countries, including through community-supported agriculture schemes. Meanwhile, Belo Horizonte, Brazil and Durban, South Africa provided two interesting examples of redefining local food systems. By rethinking the city’s local food system, the former became the basis for Brazil’s Fome Zero programme, which is considered the most successful effort at tackling food security in this generation. In Durban, local authorities had encouraged food gardens, community mini-farms and emerging commercial farms which could both generate jobs and allow the municipality to become increasingly self-sufficient in fresh and affordable food.
Finally he stressed that the right to food was not simply a matter of boosting supply to meet growing needs. It was about who produced, for whom and under what conditions. It was also about reducing the gap between farmgate prices and retail prices to ensure affordable food. The most marginal food producers had to be empowered. Also, small-scale farmers in developing countries must be allowed to reach their full potential.
Question and Answer Session
The European Union’s delegate asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on his opinion that contract farming needed a human rights based approach. He also asked for human rights examples with respect to small-scale farms and how fair trade schemes could help the right to food for communities.
The representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said the concern of food prices was formally addressed in the FAO’s recent report on the state of world agriculture. The right to food had played a crucial role in food security work, but well-intentioned and informed work was needed along these guidelines — seed patents, climate change and other factors would impinge on the right to food guidelines.
Mexico’s delegate thanked the Special Rapporteur for his visit to the country and noted that it had made Constitutional amendments to promote the right to food.
Ireland’s delegate asked if the Special Rapporteur shared her country’s concern that poor small-holder farmers might lack the requisite skills needed to defend their rights and often could not benefit from contract farming agreements. She also asked how green economy initiatives could play a role in climate justice, and in regard to the Special Rapporteur’s observation that contract farming was often not gender sensitive, asked how that affected the nutritional levels of farming households.
Cuba’s delegate said the dramatic increase in the price of foodstuffs had increased poverty and the marginality of people in the developing world. It was important to increase trade and access to developed markets, and her delegation would continue to support the mandate for the right to food.
Norway’s delegate asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate a bit more on his recommendation concerning gender equality and asked how civil society, peasant organizations and cooperatives could help with right to food for contract farmers.
Cameroon’s delegate noted her country was engaging in the distribution of plants with development partners and had developed a new law on consumer protection, and hoped the Special Rapporteur would engage in a visit to the country.
Argentina’s delegate said contract agriculture was a useful tool for achieving the right to food, but should not be proposed as the ideal model. He asked how it was possible to provide tools to farmers and educate them about their rights.
China’s delegate noted the report had in-depth and meticulous research and expressed appreciation for the Special Rapporteur’s work, noting he visited the country last year. Food security was far from being resolved, and China would like intensified efforts in research, right to food and right to survival in the international community. Countries should be urged to reach food production capacity and the international community should intensify financial and technological assistance to help.
South Africa’s delegate asked for more information about present efforts by States to ensure positive outcomes to the realization of the right to food.
Indonesia’s delegate asked how Governments could provide a gender perspective to contract farming.
Brazil’s delegate praised the report, noting his country had cooperated within several mechanisms to enhance food security. He also suggested that the expert visit his country.
Algeria’s delegate said he looked forward to the Special Rapporteur’s visit to his country as soon as possible, and asked for recommendations to protect food staples — such as rice, wheat and corn — from price fluctuations.
Responding, Mr. DE SCHUTTER welcomed resolutions that were more focused on the report’s specific topics. Indeed, resolutions would be more useful, he suggested, if they went through each report’s recommendations and either encouraged or discouraged further action on each one of them.
Noting the number of questions on alternatives to contract farming, he said the report contained seven very concrete recommendations that tried to seize the opportunities of contract farming, while reducing the risks posted to small-scale, often illiterate farmers. Among other things, contracts should be sufficiently equitable to ensure it was viable in the long-term. That meant the contract would not succeed if its commitments were disproportionate or imbalanced across the parties. Governments had a role to play in that respect, by providing advice, presenting model contracts and screening contracts to ensure abuse by dominant buyers was avoided. Along with non-governmental organizations and development partners, Governments could also provide negotiation support. Often, farmers could not even read a contract and had no idea of the price of inputs they were required to buy. Their capacity must be further strengthened by the provision of legal advice.
He agreed that gender was an issue. Often women did the work, but all the cash went to their husbands, who had signed the relevant contracts and received the subsequent payments. In that regard, he noted a recent study showing that children were 20 per cent less likely to be malnourished when women rather than men made decisions about how household resources were spent. That suggested that contracts should be in the name of both men and women, and both should receive the payments for crops. Where cultural obstacles to such changes existed, the culture must be changed, he said.
He further stressed that pricing mechanisms should be changed. Specifically, contract farming should guarantee minimum pricing for producers. Farmers must also be ensured a premium to guarantee that they benefited when the prices went up. All buyers should and would be interested in that, because, among other things, such guarantees helped ensure farmers did not sell their corps on the side. Indeed, many buyers were interested in supply loyalty.
At the same time, quality standards must not be manipulated by the buyers, he said, adding that Governments had a responsibility to combat abuses through the provision of grievance mechanisms. Diversity in farming systems should be encouraged to avoid mono-cropping, which was not good ecological practice. Governments also had a responsibility to provide access to remedy mechanisms for cheated farmers.
He welcomed that many countries — South Africa, Mexico, Brazil and China — had very constructively engaged with the mandate, even when his visits resulted in comments on issues that some countries might prefer to ignore. He agreed that fisheries were also a matter of concern and noted that he would present a report on that topic next year. He said he had listened very closely to the comments by the FAO on the process of realizing the right to food.
Drawing attention to recent reports that countries such as Brazil, Peru and Bangladesh were making progress in realizing the right to food and significantly reducing child malnutrition rates, he said they showed that the single most important tool in combating hunger and malnutrition was political will to coordinate ministries, ensure accountability and engage civil society. Moreover, the right to food was not a luxury, but an essential tool in combating hunger.
Statement of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education
KISHORE SINGH, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, said lack of adequate investment in education was a major constraint on the realization of that right. Human rights standards did not prescribe specific mechanisms for financing education, but they did establish principles that guided laws and State policies. States had to comply with their core obligation to primary education free of charge for all, and had to also adopt and implement a national education strategy that included provision for secondary and higher education.
It was possible to adopt legal instruments to ensure better investment in education, and his report provided several examples of instruments that could promote and protect guaranteed sustainable investment in education. They included devoting a minimum percentage of tax revenues or national budget or gross domestic product to education. His report also highlighted key concerns, such as persistent inequalities, marginalization and exclusion, he said. States needed to establish national laws and policies to uphold the right to education; an internationally accepted norm allocating 4 to 6 per cent of gross national product or 15 to 20 per cent of the national budget to education might provide a valuable basis for further development of legal and policy frameworks. “My report also calls upon States to devise strategies to increase resource allocation, including by broadening the tax base,” he said.
Around 28 million children of primary school age who lived in conflict areas were out of school, while some 875 million school children lived in high seismic risk zones and hundreds of millions more faced regular flood, landslide, extreme wind and fire hazards, and slow onset disasters, he said. It was crucial to make education a real priority for humanitarian work: emergency situations did not allow States to suspend obligations to the right to education. That obligation also extended to all persons in their territories, including non-nationals, refugees or internally displaced groups, he said. School also had to be better protected from the growing trend of attacks; the adoption of Security Council resolution 1998 (2011) should increase international attention to those situation, but national and international capacities still needed to be enhanced to monitor and respond when education systems were targeted.
He also recommended schools be better prepared for natural disasters, through adapting their structures and training staff for risk reduction, and greater attention be given to the situation of vulnerable groups. Finally, he said, there needed to be better data to assess education needs. “States, international and non-governmental organizations providing support to education in emergencies should work on the development of a common framework for the assessments of education needs in the contexts of emergencies,” he said.
Question and Answer Session
Algeria’s representative recalled that his Government had invited the Special Rapporteur for a country visit. He noted that Algeria’s constitution recognized the right to free education through age 16 years. Parents were judged when children did not attend school. Meanwhile, girls were required to meet the same objectives as boys.
United Republic of Tanzania’s delegate said her country had established an education fund to solicit resources and to effectively deploy those resources via loans and grants to schools and universities. The Government was the main contributor of that fund. Enrolment at primary levels was now at 100 per cent, with parity between boys and girls. Enrolment in secondary schools had increased, but many challenges remained. While new schools had been built, there was an acute shortage of teachers. Moreover, least developed countries around the world were unable to achieve all education targets without more assistance from the international community. Could the Special Rapporteur comment on how to coordinate that support, particularly in least developed countries?
Indonesia’s representative noted that his country’s constitution required that a certain percentage of the budget be allocated to education. In addition, Indonesia’s nine-year compulsory education programme had resulted in increased enrolment rates. An education fund had also raised total education spending. In that context, he asked how to accelerate the enhancement of a quality education, taking into account the financial resources available.
The representative of the European Union asked about the possibility of ensuring financing for access to education for women, girls and disabled persons. Could the Special Rapporteur elaborate further on a recommendation by the High-level Group on Education for All to establish an international norm calling for a minimum percentage of a country’s gross domestic product (GDP) to go to education financing? Could he share examples of innovative financing mechanisms with the private sector? Could he share more information about the situation of vulnerable groups, particularly in times of emergencies? In protected humanitarian crises, how could the right to education be better realized?
Norway’s delegate said resource constraints were a problem for achieving Millennium Development Goal 2 and the progressive realization of human rights, including the right to education, was needed. She asked if the Special Rapporteur had reflected on expeditiously meeting that requirement when budgets were limited. What was his advice to international donors?
Malaysia’s delegate agreed that funding for education was the best investment a country could make. The Government was ensuring quality and affordable access to education by providing free primary and secondary education for all its nationals.
Costa Rica’s representative said preschool and basic education must be provided and funded by the State. In Costa Rica, public expenditures on education were required to be at least 8 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). Could the Special Rapporteur provide further details on his recommendation regarding the need to promote quality education, including on the subject of human rights?
China’s representative said the Special Rapporteur should focus on encouraging developed countries to provide assistance to developing countries, including in terms of education. He should promote the general universal benefit of education, particularly quality education. Vulnerable groups should be targeted. Appeals should be made to raise the quality of education, as well as education inputs. He stressed China’s priority support for education. China had increased by 10,000 the number of scholarships provided to students from developing countries.
Brazil’s delegate agreed that there was inadequate investment in education. While Brazil’s education system had tended, in the past, to favour the elite, the Government now focused on a systemic approach that targeted universal basic education and combated illiteracy. It was developing a close partnership with civil society, while its family stipend programme now benefited more than 12 million families and 40 million individuals. It had proposed a new education plan for the 2011 to 2020 period to Congress that envisioned the allocation of 9.5 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) to education.
The representative of Australia, stressing that the shortfall in education financing was a problem, urged aid donors to increase support in that sector. While impressive gains had been made in raising school enrolment, the hardest cases must now be the focus. How could domestic investment in the poorest and most vulnerable be ensured? he asked
South Africa’s delegate asked if the Special Rapporteur could share ideas on how funding for education could be accelerated, especially in developing countries, with a view to meeting the relevant Millennium Development Goal.
Responding, Mr. SINGH noted the issue of cooperation had been raised by a number of delegates, and said he had dealt with the matter on page 6 of his report. International assistance was an obligation by treaty bodies when a State had made efforts to invest in education and a number of international organizations were exploring ways to fund education. Questions of quality in education were at the heart of education for all, after being neglected. Only qualified or trained teachers should be deployed, he said. There needed to be international norms for teachers, including the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s recommendations for on-the-job training — teaching ought to be made into a profession with respectable social status.
On the questions of women’s empowerment and securing rights for the disabled, he said education was a key area for a legislative framework. There should be a focus on legislation, while meeting responsibilities under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, he said.
There was also a need for a minimum percentage of the budget to be directed to education, since it was the most important investment for the future, he said. It was important to have systemic predictability in educational systems, and the only way to do it was through a binding legal framework ensuring a portion of budget, or gross domestic product, went to education. It was also possible to mobilize additional resources for education through a number of other avenues, including taxes on companies. Innovative partnerships between the private and public sectors were also important, he said.
* *** *For information media • not an official record