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“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home—so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks, equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.”

At Just Fair we return time and time again to this quotation from Eleanor Roosevelt, Chairperson of the Commission which drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. We return to it because it has become a touchstone for the human-rights based society we wish to see, where everyone’s rights are realised everywhere.

We engage with the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) in order to help hold the UK Government accountable for upholding our economic social and cultural rights (read more here). We do this most frequently during the ‘review cycle’ where the UK Government is examined by the Committee in terms of how well people in the UK are able to enjoy the rights in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICESCR) and where the UK government needs to improve its work to realise the rights.

We believe that this is a really important process and one that could be improved, particularly by ensuring mechanisms to allow people with lived experience of human rights violations to engage directly with members of CESCR.

Update: the latest CESCR and Civil Society meeting

On Friday 4 March Helen Flynn, our Head of Policy Research and Campaigns, virtually attended the annual meeting between CESCR and Civil Society and took the opportunity to push forward this vision.

At the meeting she reminded the Committee of past occasions when people with lived experience of rights violations gave evidence to the Committee alongside NGOs, and how powerful and important they found these contributions.

Helen also noted that knowledge of human rights comes in many forms, but that no knowledge is more important than of those with lived experience of violations of the rights we are all working to better realise.

She discussed recent developments of the Committee on the Rights of the Child to ringfence specific evidence sessions for children and young people to speak to that Committee directly. This crucial progress recognises the specific needs and safeguards necessary for creating safe access for those with lived experience, those who are not policy professionals like so many of us who engage in these processes.

Helen congratulated the Committee for their own recent work on drafting a General Comment on Sustainable Development, which will see them engaging directly with children and young people for the first time ever.  

Finally, Helen suggested that the Committee considers building on this work and following the example of the Committee on the Rights of the Child by introducing additional spaces to hear directly from those with lived experience of the violation of the rights contained within ICESCR.

She made it clear that we were not suggesting that people with lived experience are excluded from more general spaces for civil society involvement, but rather that additional, exclusive spaces are created in recognition of the importance of the knowledge and expertise they bring and the additional mechanisms that may be needed to allow them to effectively engage.

We were pleased that Michael Windfuhr, Vice Chair of the Committee, noted the learning curve that engaging directly with children and young people had been and suggested that CESCR should discuss the issue, and take seriously the need to engage with those with lived experience (while adding that the Committee already experiences limitations in relation to time).

We will keep working on this issue as we continue our engagement with CESCR.

We are grateful to Global Initiative for organising this important meeting and giving us the space to voice our proposal.

Image by Milena Filipova