NGO participation in activities of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Thursday 17 September 2009 by International Programme Coordination

The Committee on ESC rights considers the cooperation with all local, national and international non governmental organisations (NGOs) that deal with economic, social and cultural rights matters as highly important even if these organisations are not in consultative status with the Committee on ESC Rights. The Committee keeps encouraging their participation in its activities.

Source: United Nations, Economic and Social Council, NGO participation in the activities of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 3 July 2000, E/C.12/2000/6

The Committee on ESC rights is aware of the role civil society can play as a third partner in the “constructive dialogue” the Committee wants to promote on the ESC rights situation in a country. Thus, the Committee supports civil society’s activities. The fourth key objective of the official reports, as set forth by the Committee on ESC rights, was to “facilitate public scrutiny of government policies regarding the implementation of the Covenant, and to encourage the involvement of the various sectors of society in the formulation, implementation and review of relevant policies”.

Therefore, the Committee wants the reports to be an informative support on which the civil society can base its claims and demands. The reports can thus improve the transparent, accountable and participative character of the political process at all levels.

The Committee also pointed out the key role of civil society in helping to evaluate the compliance of public authorities with their obligations under the Covenant. The Committee has indicated that the purposes of the NGO procedure are to enable it to inform itself as fully as possible, to examine the accuracy and pertinence of information, and to put the process on a more transparent basis.

The means for NGOs to get involved were set forth in notes from 1993, and more recently in 2000. (see the sources at the end of this article)

At any time, the civil society organisations can submit information to the Committee in any of its working languages: English, French, Spanish or Russian, but a document provided in English will reach the widest audience.

Such information can be submitted under different forms: press clipping, video or audio records, NGOs’ newsletters, reports, academic publications, studies, joint statements, etc.

This information will be included in the country files established and maintained within the secretariat. The country files contain information deriving from all available sources (UN organs, specialised agencies, the media, regional institutions, academic publications, civil society organisations, etc.)

On the basis of the information contained in the relevant country file, the secretariat prepares for the Committee a country profile, a working document which attempts to provide insights into the situation in the state to be examined, to complement the information provided by the State Party in its report.

The stages in the examination of States Parties’ reports in which NGOs can participate are the following:

  • Entry into force of the Covenant: Once a Sate party has ratified the Covenant, national NGOs working in the field of ESC rights are encouraged to establish contact with the Committee secretariat.
  • From the receipt of a State Party’s report until its examination: submission of any relevant information (placed in country files established and maintained by the secretariat)
  • Pre-sessional working group: submission of information directly to the member of the Committee responsible for drafting the list of issues, and/or submission of written information or of a parallel report(1) to the secretariat and/or oral presentations before the pre-sessional work.
  • Session at which a State Party’s report is scheduled for consideration: submission to the secretariat of a written statement and/or information in the form of a report and/or oral presentations before the Committee, within the framework of the Committee’s “NGO hearings; observing the Committee’s dialogue with the State Party delegation.
  • Follow-up to the Committee’s concluding observations: submission of information to the secretariat on the implementation of the concluding observations of the Committee in the State Party.

(1) Even though the term “shadow report” is used to refer to reports issued by civil society in general, there is a distinction between a “parallel report” in which civil society shares its own information regarding the ICESCR articles, a “counter-report” which gives critical comments and complementary information, and an “alternative report” if the State has not submitted a report yet.

Committee’s suggestions to NGOs

All information extended to the Committee must be (1) specific to the ICESCR, (2) relevant with regard to issues raised by the Committee or the pre-sessional working group, (3) based on well documented sources, (4) concise and (5) reliable, not biased. The more specific, relevant and precise the information, the more significant the impact of contributions.

That is the reason why the Committee prefers a counter-report referring precisely to the information included in the official report. Besides, the Committee encourages NGO collaboration, coordination and cooperation:

It is worthwhile, whenever possible, to produce a single consolidated submission representing a broad consensus by a number of NGOs. That could be accompanied by shorter, more targeted and detailed submissions by individual NGOs on their own priority areas. This kind of coordinated activity will help the secretariat and the Committee members to obtain a clearer picture of the current status of implementation of the Covenant in a given State party. Most importantly from the NGO perspective, joint submissions also eliminate the possibility of duplication and contradictions in the NGO information presented. The former creates inefficiency and increases the burden on Committee members, and the latter can undermine the credibility of the NGO submissions. Both duplicative and contradictory information from NGOs can weaken the NGOs’ position and arguments. On the other hand, consistency and accuracy, as well as demonstrated coordination, enhance the professionalism of presentations, increase credibility and ensure the NGOs’ intended outcome.

United Nations, Economic and Social Council, NGO participation in the activities of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 3 July 2000, E/C.12/2000/6


Committee on ESC rights’s website, section: "Information for NGOs":

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Fact Sheet No.16 (Rev.1), E/1989/21

United Nations, Economic and Social Council, NGO participation in the activities of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,12 May 1993, E/C.12/1993/WP.14

United Nations, Economic and Social Council, NGO participation in the activities of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 3 July 2000, E/C.12/2000/6

See also the section: "Drafting and presenting a shadow/alternative report "

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