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CESR’s work before the United Nations human rights system

As a leading global governance forum mandated to uphold international human rights law, the United Nations system plays a critical role in monitoring human rights all over the world.  Nevertheless, the UN system continues to focus a great deal of its attention on civil and political rights. Indeed, the Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Professor Philip Alston, called out the “systematic marginalization” of economic, social and cultural rights internationally in 2016. To help address this imbalance, CESR seeks to strengthen the effectiveness and responsiveness of accountability mechanisms within the UN system to address economic and social rights claims and concerns, through a combination of direct engagement, critical analysis, fostering dialogue and capacity building.

This work is necessarily diverse, as the UN system is made up of numerous intergovernmental bodies, independent committees, and individual experts. Each of these mechanisms plays an important role in elaborating human rights standards and monitoring the implementation of these standards by states. For example, general comments and concluding observations on state reports by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights provide authoritative guidance on interpreting the Covenant’s provisions. Special rapporteurs meanwhile produce in-depth analyses of country situations, shedding light on patterns of human rights deprivations within their mandate. CESR supports our civil society partners to claim rights before various UN mechanisms, and to engage with treaty bodies, the Human Rights Council and special rapporteurs when they address countries where we work, or when there are strategic opportunities to advance important thematic issues.  

One focus of our advocacy in recent years has been the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Established in 2006, the UPR differs from other human rights oversight bodies in that it is a peer review mechanism, in which each country’s human rights compliance is examined by other member states. It is empowered to evaluate the economic, social and cultural records of all countries. In 2016, we completed a trends analysis of UPR recommendations in collaboration with Sciences Po Law Clinic. This review revealed that significantly fewer recommendations are made on economic and social rights, that they cover a narrow range of topics, and that they are less policy-oriented. On the basis of this analysis, CESR is engaging in ongoing advocacy to address this and other imbalances in how the UN system addresses economic and social rights.

We are also working to ensure the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights – which came into force in 2013, making it possible for individuals to bring complaints to the attention of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights – has real impact in confronting violations. As well as promoting ratification of the Optional Protocol, CESR is actively working with partners to support cases which may be brought under the mechanism so as to generate a body of jurisprudence and bolster legal enforcement at the international level.