CWP, the UN and Human Rights
The United Nations (UN) has a fundamental role in the enforcement of human rights around the world. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights within the UN is the highest authority on human rights in the world.
There are many ways in which the UN monitors the implementation of human rights. Perhaps two of the most relevant to poverty in Canada are the Committe on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights1 and the Universal Periodic Review2.
In May 2021, CWP submitted a List of Issues3 for the 7th periodic report of Canada to the United Nations Human Rights Committee’s 132nd session4 In this report, CWP highlighted major critical areas of concern regarding poverty and inequality during the COVID-19 pandemic: (a) intensification of poverty; (b) food insecurity; (c) disproportionate impact on racialized communities; (d) preventable deaths andCOVID infections of temporary foreign workers; and (e) inequality in vaccine distribution.
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is the enforcement mechanism for the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) which is the foundation of economic and social rights in international law. The Committee is responsible for periodically reviewing member states’ compliance with the ICESCR, a task which involves state actors, UN officials, and non-state actors.
Governments make official reports to the Committee that outline how economic and social rights are being implemented and enforced in their country, while non-government organizations are invited to make parallel reports with their perspective. Canada Without Poverty (CWP) has had the privilege of being invited to present to the Committee at each session on Canada since 1993 when CWP appeared as the first Non-Government Organization at the Committee.
Universal Periodic Review
The Universal Periodic Review is essentially an assessment of every Member State in the UN and their human rights records, both good and bad. The Universal Periodic Review has the aim of improving human rights (civil/political and economic/social/cultural) in countries around the world. It involves UN Member States, non-governmental organizations and the Human Rights Council coming together to present, question, and hopefully resolve human rights issues in each country.
Most recently, CWP participated in Canada’s second Periodic Review in 2012/2013 by providing a joint submission (with the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation) to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
CWP/NAPO provided oral testimony on Canada’s enforcement of economic and social rights, which the Committee took into account in their concluding observations. CWP/NAPO was invited to return to the UN in 1995 and 1998 to speak to the Committee on the reforms to and the eventual loss of the Canada Assistance Plan (CAP), the federal social assistance program that provided health and social transfers.
In 2006, CWP/NAPO collaborated with other prominent Canadian non-governmental organizations to present a concise analysis of Canada’s compliance with the ICESCR, including details about which rights were being violated by the government.
In March 2015, CWP presented to the Committee a 13 page document with a list of issues (read here) detailing Canada’s shortcomings in the areas of poverty, homelessness and hunger. The focus of this list of issues was Article 11 of the ICESCR (on the right to an adequate standard of living) and how that right directly affects the issues of homelessness and food insecurity.
In March 2016, Canada was reviewed under the CESCR. Both the Government and NGOs, including CWP, were invited to make submissions.
References and relevant links
- Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner.
- Universal Periodic Review. United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner.
- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner.
- CWP and the CESCR. Canada Without Poverty page (2016).