Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights hears from stakeholders on Bosnia and Herzegovina, Belgium and Kuwait


4 November 2013

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights this afternoon met with representatives of a national human rights institution and non-governmental organizations on the implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Belgium and Kuwait, whose reports will be considered by the Committee during its fifty-first session.

On Bosnia and Herzegovina, issues were raised concerning the independence of human rights institutions, which were being compromised because of a lack of Government funding and support, and the situation of internally displaced persons, who faced discrimination, poverty, segregation and limited access to employment.

On Belgium, non-governmental organization representatives pointed out the negative impact of biofuels on agriculture, land management and the enjoyment of the right to food. Issues were also raised concerning obstacles to the full enjoyment of the right to housing and the right to strike, while attention was drawn to vulnerable groups, such as women and irregular migrant workers, who often suffered discrimination.

On Kuwait, statements were made in relation to the necessity to clearly define and criminalize discrimination in domestic legislation, the exploitation of domestic workers, the need to ensure the right of Kuwaiti women to pass on their nationality to their non-Kuwaiti husband, and the need to protect the freedom of opinion and expression.

The Bosnia and Herzegovina Human Rights Ombudsperson took the floor as did representatives of the following non-governmental organizations: FIAN, Ligue des Droits de l’Homme, Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, Kuwaiti Association of the Basic Evaluators for Human Rights (KABEHR), and Advocates for Human Rights.

During the session, the Committee will also consider the reports of Djibouti, Belarus, Egypt, Gabon, Austria and Norway and will hear from stakeholders regarding those countries on Monday, 11 November, and on Monday, 18 November. The Committee will next meet in public at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 5 November, when it will consider the second periodic report of Kuwait (E/C.12/KWT/2).

Bosnia and Herzegovina

JASMINKA DZUMHUR, Bosnia and Herzegovina Human Rights Ombudsperson, said that there was no comprehensive document on human rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Strategies had been adopted in relation to the rights of specific groups, such as children, but many issues were still not covered. The independence of human rights institutions had been compromised owing to the lack of Government funding and support. There was an increase in the number of discrimination cases relating to harassment and victimization.

An Expert asked what the main reason was for the lack of a national human rights plan in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Concerning issues of torture in the country, the Expert asked for further information on what was being done in terms of promoting reconciliation.

An Expert said that the international community had committed itself to advancing reconstruction in Bosnia and Herzegovina. To what extent was that commitment fulfilled and how effective had reconstruction been so far?

An Expert asked whether shortcomings could be attributed to the fact that Bosnia and Herzegovina in its current form was a relatively new State and still in the process of State-building.

In response, Ms. Dzumhur said that there was no comprehensive approach to reparations, the first step to which was recognition that there had been victims. Torture victims in Bosnia and Herzegovina enjoyed only limited financial benefits, which varied from canton to canton. The absence of a national action plan and the lack of a comprehensive approach to reconstruction from the international community, which had displayed a lack of interest, had not helped matters.

Moreover, Ms. Dzumhur said political parties continually tried to influence appointments in Ombudsperson institutions, thereby undermining the independence of those institutions. The absence of effective human rights mechanisms at the federal level made it difficult to protect citizens from human rights violations at the local level. Bosnia and Herzegovina had been recognized as an independent State well before the Dayton Agreement, which made it difficult to justify the high level of corruption and disorganization in the country in terms of the protection of economic, social and cultural rights.

Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre said that 8,500 persons still lived in collective centres in Bosnia and Herzegovina and faced discrimination and violence. Owing to lingering distrust, they remained in areas of ethnic majority, even though they wanted to move to their area of origin. Segregation in schools remained a major problem. Many internally displaced persons relied heavily on pensions and benefits for income. The Government should do more to improve the situation of internally displaced persons and their families.


FIAN, speaking on behalf of a group of non-governmental organizations, said that Belgium had adopted a new law which increased the minimum volume of biofuels used in fuel, despite the fact that scientific reports had amply demonstrated the negative impact of biofuels on agriculture. It was deplorable that the new law came at a time when the issue of biofuels was the subject of intense debate at the European Union level with a view to limiting the negative effects of biofuels. Belgium should implement voluntary directives on land management and the right to food.

Ligue des Droits de l’Homme said that there was a shortage of social housing allocated to vulnerable groups in Belgium and rents in the private sector were very high, especially in the Brussels region. The right to strike was not fully respected and employers had the right to stop strikes. There was a marked drop in the realization of social rights, particularly in the case of women, who often suffered from discrimination. Irregular migrants were denied social support.

An Expert asked whether Belgian policy and the Belgian population as a whole were more in favour of biofuels or fossil fuels. What may have been the reasons for Belgium’s policy on biofuels? Did Belgium have other sources of energy, such as renewable energy, which it could use instead of biofuels? Was Belgium moving towards industry, services and a type of agriculture other than subsistence agriculture?

Concerning the rights of migrant workers in Belgium, an Expert remarked that the distinction between regular and irregular migrants was a sensitive issue in Europe. Nevertheless, States were expected to ensure that all migrant workers enjoyed the same rights regardless of status.

In response, non-governmental organization representatives said that biofuels were not an obligation and there were other sources of energy which were far less problematic for human rights and should be exploited. Belgium was not in a position to produce sufficient quantities of biofuels and the land used in order to produce biofuels meant that certain types of food had to be imported instead of being produced locally. Belgium in its cooperation policy targeted the support of family farming, which was at odds with other national policies, such as trade policy. The lack of social housing affected primarily the poor and vulnerable living in Brussels, who were unable to move to cheaper areas.


Kuwaiti Association of the Basic Evaluators for Human Rights (KABEHR
) said that acts of racial discrimination should be clearly defined in Kuwaiti legislation and criminalized. It was also necessary to protect the freedom of opinion and expression. The right of access to adequate health services should be protected and promoted, and women should be allowed to grant the Kuwaiti nationality to their non-Kuwaiti husbands, just as men did to their wives.

An Expert remarked that in Kuwait children inherited nationality from their father but not from their mother, which was also a matter of great concern. What sort of human rights abuses resulted from the sponsorship system and the treatment of domestic labour, which did not receive any form of protection from domestic law?

An Expert said that, according to Kuwait, the country had recently enacted a law combating trafficking in persons. Had that law entered into force?

Other than the nationality law, in what areas were women discriminated against in Kuwait? Concerning the persons known as “bidun”, why did the problems facing them persist and why had they become chronic?

In response, non-governmental organization representatives said that persons without nationality could not even appear before a Kuwaiti court to seek a resolution of the issues facing them. In addition to being unable to pass on their nationality to their children, women did not receive State housing. There was no law to regulate domestic labour, despite there being a large number of domestic workers in Kuwait. Non-governmental organizations had not been properly consulted in the preparation of Kuwait’s report.


Advocates for Human Rights, said that the Committee should hold a dialogue with States about national human rights websites. No country provided full information on human rights on their website nor was there any information about State Party reports or Committee recommendations, which should have been made available to the national media of the countries concerned. Steps should be taken to ensure a more effective dissemination of information to all stakeholders.


For use of the information media; not an official record