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On 9 June 2022 a group of people living in the UK with direct experience of economic, social and cultural rights violations (and a couple of organisations working with them)[1] met online with Michael Windfuhr and Peters Emuze, members of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR).

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss:

  • the importance of the authentic participation of people with direct experience of rights violations in UN human rights review mechanisms
  • the various barriers that exist to this participation
  • initiatives that CESCR could take to improve their processes

We spoke to the Committee members about our belief in the value of participation with the Committee, and our desire to help improve it in relation to human rights at the grassroots. We noted that the human rights reviews systems at the UN were not designed to include people with direct experience. Some issues we raised included:

  1. People without legal status, such as people seeking asylum, cannot attend events in Geneva in person. The irony is that these groups of people often are at the sharpest end of experiencing violations of their economic, social, and cultural rights
  2. The language and acronyms used by the Committee, and the whole UN human rights system are really removed from the grassroots and can be quite exclusionary
  3. Issues with the process itself, for example there are no clear timelines available online to allow groups to plan, seems like participants need expert knowledge/the right connections to know the timelines and that excludes people and groups not ‘in the know’
  4. The same goes for the protocols for engagement and the culture of the UN human rights monitoring system– it can be really difficult to understand unless someone tells you, which leads to the same groups participating each cycle and acts as a chill factor to groups who are new to the process
  5. The actual process of giving evidence to the Committee – both at the pre-sessional working group and during the informal lunchtime briefing – are very formal and quite daunting

We emphasised that we understood the Committee suffered extreme challenges in terms of resources, but thought that there were some potential ideas they could consider:

  • Other human rights committees, such as United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and (United National Committee on the Rights of Disabled People (UNCRPD)have undertaken work to aid participation – these could potentially be adapted for CESCR. This includes things like giving special status to rights holders giving evidence, providing documents in accessible formats, ringfencing sessions for rights holders to give evidence directly, allowing evidence to be submitted in a range of formats (including films, photos, newspaper articles and drawings), and allowing testimony to be given remotely.
  • Whether people with direct experience of rights violations could get some online direct participation with the rapporteur – perhaps one or two sessions during each review?  
  • Whether it would be possible to organise a similar in person event in the UK as a regular part of the review cycle? Again, thinking about those groups of people who cannot go to Geneva to give evidence?

The meeting felt really positive and progressive, with the two Committee members actively listening to us and asking considered questions.

They have agreed to bring some of our suggestions to the wider CESCR when they meet in Autumn 2022 and have told us that they will feed back to us. So, watch this space!

[1] See bottom of this blog for a full list of people who participated in this process


Background image by Atanas Giew