day 10 of the op-icescr working group

Programme for the day: Delegations today considered the draft report, conclusions and recommendations. The goal was to adopt all of them by consensus.

Key issues arising: Consensus to adopt the revised conclusions and recommendations was not reached. In the afternoon, the Chair tabled a markedly revised set of conclusions and recommendations consisting of a three-line introductory paragraph describing what had happened, a four-line paragraph describing the outcomes (no consensus on whether to start drafting an Optional Protocol and so continued discussion required), and three recommendatory paragraphs focusing on the mandate (“to renew the mandate of the open-ended working group for a period of two years to consider options regarding the elaboration of an OP to ICESCR”), on inviting experts to future sessions of the working group, and requests for background information for the next session.

The debate that followed the tabling of the documents revealed that no consensus would be possible. The US categorically rejected the recommendation to renew the mandate, making it clear that consensus would not be possible. Russia stated that they were concerned that the mandate would result in a repetition of the discussions of the past two weeks, and reserved their position. South Africa agreed, for the sake of consensus, to accept the proposed mandate. Argentina, speaking for GRULAC, indicated that while it wanted a more definitive position, would support the proposed mandate for the sake of consensus. Congo, on behalf of the African Group, made a somewhat unclear statement about consensus in the African Group and was challenged by Saudi Arabia. Poland spoke in favour of the mandate proposed, and urged the US to reconsider their position. They didn’t.

Finally, Saudi Arabia reiterated his challenge that the CESCR was not legally able to consider individual communications, or have any other complaints procedure attached to it. The Secretariat had sought legal advice from the Office of Legal Affairs as to the legal status of the Committee and an extension of its mandate to receive individual communications under a proposed optional protocol. Saudi Arabia was not satisfied and consequently the working group have requested a legal opinion on the legal nature of the standing of the committee from the Office of Legal Affairs.

Various delegations, including the Coalition, made concluding statements and offered their thanks to the chair. The Coalition noted that it had been an historic occasion, characterised by open and significant discussions. We regretted the lack of consensus, and stated that we were looking forward to the debate at the CHR, which we hoped would reflect the majority view of the room.

Consensus to adopt the draft report may have been found – the report has been adopted ad referendum (which means that the delegates agreed in principle to adopt the report and will now have four days to receive instructions from capitals, only minor technical changes can be made, and if no one objects within the stated time period then the report is considered to be adopted.) The discussions on the report were muted, with only delegations who have had concerns about the process recommending changes. Supportive delegations seemed confused as to whether to take the floor and seek changes, or keep changes to a minimum in an effort to have the report adopted.

While this is not a short-term project, it has been disappointing in the last few days to see that the good-will established in the earlier part of the working group has evaporated. Unfortunately it means that a far more acrimonious debate will surround the Commission on Human Rights resolution which addresses the mandate of the working group.

What’s going to happen now? Supposing that the report is adopted by the process established it will be forwarded to the Commission on Human Rights as a report of the Working Group. The conclusions and recommendations will go forward from the Chair. The mandate of the Working Group will be considered in the omnibus resolution on economic, social and cultural rights at the forthcoming Commission on Human Rights. Clearly, if the resolution includes a mandate for continuing the working group, then a vote will be called.

NGO activities
• We prepared a response to the draft report, and distributed it to supportive delegations
• We met with the Chair to talk her through the proposed changes to the report
• We engaged in bilaterals with key delegations
• We met to consider a strategy for the Commission on Human Rights

Action Alerts for NGOs: An action alert focusing on the Commission on Human Rights will be issued shortly.

And Finally….
Thanks to everyone who has been involved in this process from the NGO side. It has been wonderful to have received messages of support from NGOs monitoring these discussions via the update and to hear of your activities supporting the process in Geneva. Likewise, there has been a terrific team at the working-group in Geneva. The high level of NGO participation was commented upon by some delegations who noted that other working groups had lacked the level of NGO engagement. NGOs made interventions on most days, prepared and distributed lobbying documents, and engaged in group and one-on-one lobbying with delegations.

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