Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights hears from non-governmental organizations on Djibouti and Egypt

Committee on Economic, Social
  and Cultural Rights                                                                    

11 November 2013

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights this morning heard from representatives of non-governmental organizations on the implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Djibouti and Egypt, whose reports will be considered by the Committee this week. 

On Djibouti, issues were raised concerning access to affordable, quality medicines for all, data collection and the availability of statistical data, access to water in rural areas and the quality of water in urban areas, the rights of persons with disabilities, especially the education of children with disabilities, and the issue of early and forced marriages.  

On Egypt, non-governmental organization representatives highlighted the lack of transparency and accountability since the fall of President Mubarak in 2011.  The rights to education, health, social security and a fair minimum wage needed to be urgently addressed.  Also raised was the issue of the underlying reasons for which problems in the country persisted.        
The following non-governmental organizations took the floor: Plateforme de la société civile djiboutienne sur les droits économiques, sociaux et culturels, Amnesty International and a Coalition of NGOs.   

The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. this afternoon, when it will begin its consideration of the combined initial and second periodic report of Djibouti (E/C.12/DJI/1-2), to be continued on Tuesday, 12 November.
Non-governmental Organizations

Plateforme de la société civile djiboutienne sur les droits économiques, sociaux et culturels
said that, despite recent progress, a lot more needed to be done to improve the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights by all in Djibouti.  Civil society organizations should be actively involved in the fight against poverty through cross-cutting poverty programmes.  The issues of school drop-outs, access to medication, water quality in urban areas and access to water in rural areas required urgent attention.  Particular attention should also be paid to the right to social security and the rights of persons with disabilities.    
An Expert asked whether there was State control over generic medicines in Djibouti in terms of price.  Were there any medicines which were not distributed?  The Expert asked for further information on the situation concerning access to water in the country.  Were there certain areas which were more privileged than others in that respect?
An Expert asked whether the Covenant could really be invoked before a court in Djibouti.  Housing, the protection of families, the protection of children, unemployment and several other areas of serious concern should also be addressed, said the Expert.  
An Expert requested information on the situation of children with disabilities.  How was their education organized and what needed to be done to ensure their rights?
Had Djibouti made bilateral free trade agreements with other countries under which perhaps Djibouti’s rights to import generic medicines had been restricted?  
To what extent had the Government of Djibouti involved civil society in the preparation of its initial report to the Committee?  What was the general state of cooperation between Djibouti and non-governmental organization representatives?
In response, the non-governmental organization representative from Djibouti said that they had been referring to private pharmacies which had a monopoly over medicines which were prescribed by members of the inter-medical services.  Quality generic medicines existed and worked but pharmacies were selling extremely expensive drugs to vulnerable groups who could not afford them.  Affordable, quality medicines for diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases were needed.  The quality of water varied in parts of the country but it was particularly bad in the city of Djibouti.  Those who could not afford to buy mineral water should be protected and water should be of drinking quality for all citizens, especially for the poorest.  Forced marriages did not exist in Djibouti and early marriage was a rare phenomenon.  The Experts’ comments would be taken into account for Djibouti’s next periodic report.          
Amnesty International said that human rights in Egypt continued to be violated with impunity and the authorities had taken no steps to hold security forces accountable for human rights violations.  New anti-terrorism legislation was in breach of international human rights law.  Many Egyptians lacked a fair minimum wage and were denied the right to strike for better working conditions.  Women continued to suffer discrimination in law and practice and were subjected to sexual violence.  Coptic Christians and other minorities also faced discrimination in their enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights.   
A Coalition of NGOs in a joint statement said that since the fall of President Mubarak in 2011 there had been a failure to address the economic and social deprivation of Egyptian people.  The rights to work, social security, health, and education required urgent attention, and there was a need for political transition towards an open, transparent and participatory democracy.  Anti-corruption laws had not been effectively implemented, transparency had not been ensured, there was a marked failure to protect the economic and social rights of vulnerable groups, and austerity measures had been damaging to the economy.   
An Expert said that the same problems persisted in Egypt despite consecutive regime changes.  The lack of appreciation of economic, social and cultural rights in Egypt was chronic and appeared to have a cultural dimension.  What were the underlying reasons for that situation?  What were the root causes of Egypt’s problems and the lack of long-term solutions?       

An Expert said that Egyptian civil society representatives had made an important contribution to the Committee’s work, and pointed out the importance of the indivisibility of human rights.  Civil and political rights were behind economic, social and cultural rights, he said.  Corruption was rife in Egypt, there was limited participation in political life, and the international community appeared to be defending everything that was being done to deregulate the economy.  Were existing traditional justice mechanisms fair?  What would be a fair model that could ensure the economic, social and cultural rights of Egyptians?  
Concerning the changes which Egypt was undergoing, an Expert asked for further information on corruption in Egypt and how the political and economic elite benefited from the conditions prevailing in the country. 
An Expert asked for more detailed information about efforts to improve the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights over the past two or three years, which would help to determine whether there had been a backward slide in the enjoyment of those rights in Egypt.
Concerning women’s rights, an Expert asked for information on the number of women involved in the Constitutional Committee.  What was being done to protect the rights of women in the draft constitution?  Had there been an investigation into the recent gang rapes of female demonstrators?  Even though Egyptian law prohibited female genital mutilation, nevertheless there were reports that the procedure was still carried out by medical professionals.  What could be done to put an end to that unacceptable practice and overturn social acceptance of it?
In response to the Experts’ questions, non-governmental organization representatives said that part of the problem was existing flawed policies, for example in the area of social protection mechanisms, which continued to disadvantage vulnerable groups.  The accessibility of data and the availability of reliable information was another major challenge.  Despite that, available statistics showed that unemployment had risen significantly and food prices kept rising, which was having a major impact on vulnerable households.  Ongoing instability was partly due to the dissatisfaction of Egyptian people with the prevailing conditions.  Corruption in Egypt existed at all levels and was deeply rooted.  Laws passed to address that phenomenon had allowed for individuals charged with corruption to negotiate their way out of being convicted by agreeing to pay back the money they had taken.  That created an accountability gap and undermined the effectiveness of anti-corruption efforts in the country.  Unchanged social and economic structures remained at the heart of ongoing problems.

An Expert said that the essence of the conflict might lie in religious belief.  Two thirds of the Egyptian population (the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists) had a strong religious ideology, said the Expert, who went on to ask to what extent Islam’s perceptions of economic, social and cultural rights corresponded with the Covenant.      
Concerning the question about the impact of religion on the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights in Egypt, the non-governmental organization representatives said that the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists did not share the same beliefs and had a different approach to economic and social rights.  Islam allowed for different interpretations of economic and social rights, so there was not one way in which Islamists would approach the subject. 


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