Interview with Nico Schrijver on Turkmenistan reporting on International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural RightsDec 6, 2016
Nico Schrijver, Chair of Public International Law, Leiden Law School and Campus The Hague, Academic Director of Grotius Centre for International Legal Studies
Author of the two books “Evolution of the concept of sustainable development in international law” and “Development Without Destruction”, Pr. Schrijver focuses on human rights, peace and security, international law and sustainable development.
UNDP: What are the peculiarities of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), if any?
Pr. Schrijver: It is one of the principal UN human rights treaties, a twin with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It contains equal treatment rights, labour rights, the right of access to healthcare and education as well as the right to enjoy your cultural identity. Many of its provisions are closely related to the Sustainable Development Goals. The covenant is signed by 165 states who regularly report to the UN treaty committee on ICESCR. Turkmenistan has signed ICESCR in 1997. This year, Turkmenistan is working on the second report to the UN Committee on ICESCR.
UNDP: What is your role in the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights?
Pr. Schrijver: I serve as an independent expert member on the Committee. Each session we review country reports. Each of our 165 State Parties should submit after every five years a report on the implementation of the human rights contained in our Covenant. This keeps us busy in reviewing these reports and posing questions, first in a written form and then finally in an oral dialogue with the government of the State concerned. We always look forward to such a meeting. In preparation, we hear some reports from UN agencies and NGOs as well.
In addition, the Committee issues so-called General comments in which we elaborate on the contemporary meaning of the Covenant rights. Currently, I am involved in writing such a report on the relationship between human rights, environment and development. In this work I can build on the SDGs and the 2010 Development Agenda of the UN. Lastly, the Committee receives individual complaints from citizens under its new Optional Protocol. Hopefully, Turkmenistan will also join this facility sooner or later. It will stimulate the country to have access for justice at the domestic level for its citizens. If not, citizens can initiate international procedures to have their claims addressed .
UNDP: Why reporting to the UN Committee is important for a country?
Pr. Schrijver: The reporting to the UN Committee allows emphasizing the areas where the country succeeds in the implementation of the human rights in the relevant Covenant, as well as identifying areas for cooperation where a county needs support. Proper reporting allows thorough consideration of the status quo and recommendations on how to improve the situation. If compared with the first report in 2011, the second report of Turkmenistan in 2016 marks notable progress in standard-setting and institutional structures, including the newly-established Ombudsman. The Committee will no doubt note this progress and make new recommendations on how to progressively achieve implementation in practice.
UNDP: Is there a pre-determined structure of the report that countries shall follow?
Pr. Schrijver: The treaty itself lists the rights grouped in four categories: gender equity and non-discrimination rights, labor rights, other social rights such as health, and education and cultural rights. Furthermore, we also request the country to report on how they have taken up our recommendations made in the previous report.
UNDP: Once the country receives recommendations on the first reporting, as Turkmenistan did, what are the next steps?
Pr. Schrijver: The recommendations of the UN Committee should be made publicly available. Some recommendations shall require new legislation, others policy reforms and action. This should then be reflected in the next report. Ideally, the next reporting shall reflect how citizens are now able to invoke their human rights under the treaty and what feasible work has been done at a policy-making level as well as putting new standards into practice.
In terms of follow-up the Committee usually takes up the implementation of the recommendations in the next round only, that is to say after five years. In case of a special urgency or emergency, an exception can be made.
UNDP: Is there a process of examining the information that has been reported?
Pr. Schrijver: Sometimes the Committee receives complementary reports from UN agencies and other international organizations such as ILO. We also welcome shadow reports from the NGOs which we compare against the report submitted by the government.
UNDP: You have worked with many countries, what are the similarities and differences between Turkmenistan’s reporting process and another similar one?
Pr. Schrijver: Recently, I also worked in Georgia and it is interesting to observe the similarities but also the differences between the two countries. Both have the interdepartmental committees responsible for reporting to the UN treaty bodies. While working with Georgia it seemed that the members of the committee had greater awareness of international cooperation because many Georgians live abroad. However, in Turkmenistan the process of reporting and responding to comments is faster and more efficient because it is centrally organized.
UNDP: How would you characterize Turkmenistan in terms of reporting to the UN treaty bodies?
Pr. Schrijver: Turkmenistan is a young nation and is still in the process of building up its experience in this regard, but the joint efforts on the reporting between departments is impressive. I am glad to note the government takes it seriously and also the President commits the country to the reviewing role of the UN human rights treaty bodies. Therefore, I do sincerely hope that upon our review the recommendations will be taken very seriously and will assist the people of Turkmenistan in achieving their human rights. After all, this is the ultimate objective of the United Nations in this field. I am grateful to both the government of Turkmenistan and to the UN to be able to contribute in a modest way to this important process.Contact information
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