Non-Governmental Organizations brief Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on Situation in Iran, Azerbaijan and Japan

Committee on Economic, Social   
  and Cultural Rights

29 April 2013


The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights this afternoon met with non-governmental organization (NGOs) that briefed it on the implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in Iran, Azerbaijan and Japan, whose reports will be considered by the Committee this week.

On Iran, NGO representatives said members of the Baha’i minority still suffered discrimination in work and education, that transgender persons were required to undertake often-unwanted surgeries and hormone therapies, that homosexuality was a crime, that women were limited in their choice of study and that Afghans were widely discriminated against.

On Azerbaijan, NGO representatives pointed out the low levels of breastfeeding in the country due to a lack of information, and the situation of the Lezghin minority which was subject to discrimination.

On Japan, statements were made in relation to the lack of action for victims of the Fukishima nuclear incident; the rights of women and gender equality; the recognition of foreigner rights; the importance of, and lapses in, free education; representations of comfort women; addressing the problem of overwork in Japanese companies; sexual harassment; age discrimination, and social security spending.

The reports of Togo and Rwanda will also be considered by the Committee this session and a similar briefing by NGOs will be held on Monday, 6 May.

Representatives of the following non-governmental organizations took the floor this afternoon: Baha’i International Community, Justice for Iran, Federal Lezghin National and Cultural Autonomy, International Baby Food Action Network, Human Rights Now, Rise Together - Women’s Network for East Japan Disaster, NGO Committee for the Reporting on the ICESCR, ICESCR Gender Project Japan, Japan Fellowship of Reconciliation
Working Women’s Network, JAL Unfair Dismissal Withdrawal Plaintiffs, Association for the Bereaved Families of Karoshi in Japan, Japan Federation of Bar Association, Japan Pensioner’s Union, and Mothers Network of Korean Schools in Japan.

The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 30 April when it is scheduled to start its consideration of the report of Japan (E/C.12/JPN/3)


Baha’i International Community said members of the Baha’i minority in Iran were not able to study beyond secondary school and were unable to work in the public sector, or 25 other trades and professions.  Their shops and factories had also been closed down.  Students identified as Baha’i had been expelled from university.  Lawyers had provided testimony that no evidence was presented at court for charges against members of this community, for which they were then imprisoned. 

Justice for Iran said Iran required that transgender persons underwent often-unwanted surgery and hormone therapies to enjoy legal recognition of their preferred gender.  In addition, same-sex sexual conduct was illegal carrying the death penalty or other violent punishment.  Women were banned from enrolment in 14 areas of study, and quotas limited women in other areas, diminishing women's right to work.  Undocumented Afghan children were barred from received education or healthcare, while documented children must pay large tuition and health care costs.  The Ahwazi Arab minority were not being allowed to use their Arabic mother tongue in a number of ways.

An Expert asked whether identity cards carried the religious affiliation of a person, and also, what reaction was there from Iran when the Committee had previously raised issues?  Another asked about suggestions that areas of Iran were Afghan-free, who was responsible for propagating this message?  What was the historical reason for suppressing the Baha’i community?  Had there been an instance when a denomination not covered by the four religions in the constitution had suffered discrimination in relation to access to university, other than the Baha’i?  Did the discrimination also relate to the rights to housing, health or food?

In response, NGO representatives said that there were no national identity cards in Iran, though a letter had been submitted to the Committee which included a form to be signed and filled out by all those applying for commercial licences, asking for their religion.  A list had also been created to monitor all Baha’i with shops and businesses.  All treaty bodies had questioned Iran on the Baha’i issue, and the General Assembly also regularly issued a resolution which called on the country to meet its responsibilities. 

The NGO representatives said that Iran denied the allegations, and those recommendations about the group that had been taken on were not implemented.  As an unrecognised religion, Baha’i adherents were denied their rights and had been unable to elect their governing body.  Seven officials that had assisted in everyday rituals were now serving 20 years in prison.  As early as 2002, the Iranian Government had declared parts of the country Afghan-free and high ranking officials often made derogatory comments publicly.  Provinces had denied the entrance and residency of Afghans.  No access to healthcare was possible for undocumented Afghans.


Federal Lezghin National and Cultural Autonomy said as a result of State policies the families of the Lezghin minority had been split up.  Some had been asked to leave their homes to accelerate integration and mosques had been closed.  Demographic data had been falsified and some persons had been forced to adopt different nationalities.  Political prisoners had been taken and the group did not have access to schools or teaching in their language.  Very few resources had been offered to the ethnic minorities in a resource-rich country.

International Baby Food Action Network said only 32 per cent of children in Azerbaijan were breastfed immediately on birth, and only 12 per cent were breast-fed for the first six months.  Women were not being provided with the correct information on the benefits of breastfeeding, and more could be done to support maternity protection and improve conditions for working women.  The way that breast-milk substitutes were marketed should also be considered.


Human Rights Now said that following the accident at the Fukishima power plant there had been no transparency related to the ongoing situation, and many people still lived in highly contaminated areas.  The medical checks were slow, despite an increase of cases of thyroid cancer among children in the area.  It was necessary to provide care, medical checks, support and compensation for those affected.  Over 110,000 people were still in shelters that were below an adequate standard.  At least 1,600 people had died as evacuees, and it was suggested that this was related to a lack of easily accessible healthcare.  The most vulnerable needed to be at the centre of the decision-making process and long-term planning was required.

Rise Together - Women’s Network for East Japan Disaster welcomed the positive measures supporting people affected by the disaster, though great challenges remained for groups such as children, single mothers and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups.  It was requested that the Committee consider the lack of implementation of the Covenant for women in disaster-related areas, as well as issues of gender identity.

NGO Committee for Reporting on the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights said they had made several proposals including the recognition of foreigners’ rights, an approach based on human rights and the acceptance of anti-discrimination legislation.  The Government should take steps to provide free education at secondary level and beyond and steer away from nationalistic interfering in what was taught at school.  Japan should also follow up on recommendations in good faith at the national level, in association with NGOs.

Association for the Bereaved Families of Karoshi in Japan said Japanese companies made too many demands on workers.  It was necessary for the State to make a basic law to prevent this over-work.

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Gender Project Japan said gender discrimination was pervasive in Japan.  Women occupied around only eight per cent of parliamentary seats and high-profile positions.  Discriminatory provisions in inheritance and abortion, amongst others, exacerbated the condition of women.  Gender equality was not widely accepted, and persistent and negative gender stereotypes remained in both the workplace and families.

Japan Fellowship of Reconciliation said an advertisement supported by the Diet had said that comfort women were a licence for prostitution around the world.  A movie posted on YouTube reinforced that comfort women were well-rewarded.  Foreign children were not treated equally in related to attendance to schools and parents were not sent the appropriate information.

Working Women’s Network said there were no laws prohibiting sexual harassment and suggested that this should be legally prohibited.  Definite-term contracts, of one or two years, were being widely used and legislation was needed to regulate this and offer workers stability.  The principle of equal work for equal value was not widely seen and court decisions had seen discrimination allowed to go unpunished.

JAL Unfair Dismissal Withdrawal Plaintiffs said activities had been seen which weakened the work of labour unions.  A number of cases were offered to explain this.  As many as 940 new flight attendants had been hired, following the dismissal of a number of workers due to
age discrimination.

Japan Federation of Bar Association said educational spending was becoming a burden to Japanese households and an increasing number of people were unable to pay for health insurance, and so could not receive treatment.  The suicide rate in Japan was the eighth highest rate in the world.  These two matters together, with the upcoming lowering of the standard of living, was a vicious cycle which offered no hope for the future.

Japan Pensioners’ Union said Japanese pensioners were finding it difficult to live adequately in old age as one million people did not have pensions, and although public assistance was available it could only be given after all savings and assets were dissolved.  A large gender gap in pension benefit was also an issue, with that of a woman being only 47 per cent of that of a man.

Mothers Network of Korean Schools in Japan said efforts to remove the burden of paying for education was due to be applied to both Japanese and foreign schools.  However, the Japanese Government had removed support to schools of countries where there was no diplomatic relationship - such as with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  This was not just a problem of providing money, but also of human dignity.

An Expert asked how it was possible for any Government to show indifference to their people following the nuclear accident?  Had there been a comparative analysis of what had been done against what was being asked of Japan?  Was it the case that the problem was that a human rights approach was not being followed?  What was the response of the Government when civil society said it was not possible to decrease the level of public assistance further?

In response, NGO representatives said that there were some measures being taken by the Government, though no information had been received, and a lack of policy meant that at the point of crisis those without electricity could not access available information.   Following the accident, the appointed government representative said the safe level of radiation was 100 times what it had been before, and information on monitoring had not been shared, meaning many people delayed their evacuation. 

On the health impacts, there was now a high rate of thyroid cancer in the contamination zone, and thyroid problems more generally.  Based on a lack of information about safety, nuclear energy should not be promoted and plants should not be restarted.

The Government was trying to cut the total sum of social security and social assistance as some parts of society received too much and lived too comfortably.  The number of people receiving social assistance was increasing year on year. 

A person attending the meeting said that historically the Japanese Government did not care about the people and was doing the bare minimum in reconstruction.  There was no social support and that which there was, was delivered by volunteer groups.

An Expert asked whether the Korean schools that did not receive funding were only for students coming from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or were there also some from the Republic of Korea?  Another wondered about a large cut in budget for social services provisions, had this been a reduction seen since 2010, or was it ongoing?

In response, NGO representatives said the children attending the schools without funding were a mix of those with both the northern part of the Korean peninsula, as well as the south, some of whom had Japanese nationality.  Expenditure was increasing as a result of Japan’s ageing demographic, and cuts were being made in every possible way to bring down the amount spent on the resulting social services provisions.


For use of the information media; not an official record