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Transformative Power of Economic and Social Rights in Sustainable Peace - Permanent Mission of Finland, Geneva : Current Affairs


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News, 1/16/2018

An event on the Transformative Power of Economic and Social Rights in Sustainable Peace

Last Friday the Permanent Mission of Finland organized and event together with the Permanent Mission of Portugal, WILPF, GCSP and QUNO on the Transformative Power of Economic and Social Rights in Sustainable Peace. Below is a summary of the discussions as by our one of our cosponsors, published here courtesy of the GCSP.

Photo: GCSP
Event at the GCSP.

Bringing together experts and practitioners, and members of the diplomatic community, speakers and participants spoke of the compelling evidence for a more holistic, integrated and inclusive approach to peace, and highlighted case examples where peace has been undermined by a lack of fulfilment of ESCR's.  The sustaining peace resolutions which call for greater integration of the human rights, humanitarian, development and peacebuilding pillars of the UN have started to bridge analytical and operational silos, and the Secretary General’s focus on Prevention, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development have reinvigorated the discussion on ESCR's, but more work is needed.  In particular, the role of international financial institutions and private actors needs to be better emphasised, and context specific knowledge and data gathered, for truly sustainable peace.

Finnish Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women Issues and Gender Equality, Anne Meskanen, drew on her extensive diplomatic experience in Syria, Kosovo and Afghanistan to frame the discussion, highlighting how ‘human rights violations are the by-produce of conflict, and also the root cause’.  To date, the prioritisation of civil and political rights to the neglect of economic, social and cultural rights has increased insecurity.  The participation and leadership of women and gendered analysis and budgeting are essential to highlight the structural nature of poverty; broader reforms are required including public education, healthcare and affordable childcare.  However, diplomats pushing for a greater focus on economic social and cultural rights in peacekeeping mission mandates shared experiences of political resistance.

Photo: GCSP
Ambassador Meskanen
Finnish Ambassador at Large Anne Meskanen

Lene Wendland, Chief of the Human Rights and Economic and Social Issues Section at OHCHR, highlighted the importance of an integrated approach as provided for with the SDGs in sustaining peace and preventing violence, unrest and conflict.  She explained that there is increasing evidence that violations of ESCR's are not only causes and consequences of violence and conflict - they are often even predictors.  She particularly highlighted that a more integrated approach could have mitigated the crisis in Tunisia. In this regard, the OHCHR has particularly identified four risk factors. Firstly, severe inequality, shrinking space for civil society, unequal access to natural resources and lastly a  degradation in social services, including as part of austerity measures, and as a result of privatization of essential services. 

Christine Chinkin, FBA, Emerita Professor of International Law and Director of the Centre on Women, Peace and Security at the London School of Economics, and Madeleine Rees, Secretary General of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom built on their paper ‘Exposing the gendered myth of post conflict transition: the transformative power of economic and social rights’.  Analysing the situation in Bosnia-Herzegovena, where transitional justice and post-conflict reconstruction packages failed to address the root causes of conflict, and enabled war time violence to be translated into criminal organised violence, they called for the human rights obligations of International Financial Institutions to be better acknowledged and implemented.  If ESCR’s continue to be contested and marginalised in peacebuilding, women will continue to be excluded from the formal economy.  True inclusion – meaningful participation and representation – in economic decision-making and policy making, is essential so that the needs of all members of the community are better integrated into institutional structures and systems of governance.

Madeleine Rees sought to bring practical examples of how transitions have been compromised, insisting on the need for law to inform the transition but to interpret the actual experience of those who are seeking justice in the broadest sense.  The emphasis on formal justice and on looking to support victims only through a psycho social support modality fails to acknowledge that what women were/are demanding is ESCR's: housing, health, employment, access to education and welfare vis; real security.  Without inclusive participation in the design of a transition and  an ESCR's response to the state building post, then peace will remain a top down process based on assumptions, externally driven and often prejudicial to the attainment of sustainable peace.

Maria Virginia Bras Gomes, Chair of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, summarised ‘the two most important words in this discussion are transformative and sustainable’.  Peace is a holistic concept, and an understanding of the integrated and indivisible nature of all human rights, is essential to realising it.  Rather than looking at the cost of implementation of ESCR's from identity to adequate standard of living, access to and use of land, we need to look at the cost of their non-implementation.  And we need to look pre-crisis across all sectors, from fiscal policies to trade.

Fleur Heyworth, Cluster Leader for Gender and Inclusive Security, said 'Discussions such as this are incredibly important to link academic discourse and international frameworks to the political and practical realities.  We look forward to hosting further meetings to share perspectives and advance understanding'.

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Updated 1/16/2018

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