Economic and Social Rights

Practices of National Human Rights Institutions in Europe

National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) have a mandate to work towards the implementation of all human rights, including economic and social rights. Through their broad human rights mandate and variety of functions, NHRIs play an essential role in advancing the enjoyment of economic and social rights in Europe. This interactive page gives an insight into how they do this.

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What is the context of economic and social rights in Europe?

More than a decade after the global financial crisis, some economic and social policies and decisions in Europe still violate international human rights standards and impact on the enjoyment of economic and social rights of all individuals. The right to work, the right to protection against poverty and social exclusion or the right to an adequate standard of living are considered expensive and their implementation complex.

Moreover, challenges such as threat to democracy and rule of law, mass surveillance, digitalisation and climate change go hand in hand with the growing economic and social inequalities creating more pressure on vulnerable groups, already victims of civil and political rights violations, who face poverty and discrimination in accessing goods and services related to economic and social rights.

What are the legal and policy frameworks?

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)

ICESCR is an international human rights treaty and establishes that we are all entitled to certain human rights: right to social security, right to food and housing as part of an adequate standard of living, labour rights, the right to health, education and participation in cultural life. The principal body concerned by the implementation of the Covenant is Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Optional Protocol to the ICESCR

UN international human rights treaty that enables victims of violations of ESCR to bring complaints at the international level.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The SDGs (2015) are 17 global goals adopted by UN Member States to aim at ending poverty, protecting the planet and ensuring peace and prosperity for all by 2030. Along with the SDGs, the UN General Assembly adopted the universal, integrated and transformative 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

European Social Charter (ESC)

The ESC (1961, revised in 1996) is a Council of Europe treaty, that guarantees fundamental social and economic rights, focusing on daily essential needs and protection of vulnerable persons. It was established as a counterpart to the ECHR, which deals with civil and political rights.

European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)

The ECHR (1950) is a Council of Europe treaty, that guarantees human rights and fundamental freedoms of every person in every member state of the Council of Europe. It is based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), however the ECHR is a legally binding document. The ECHR established the European Court of Human Rights. Any victim of violations by a state party can take a case to the Court.

Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union

The Charter (2000) is an EU legally binding document enshrining a range of civil, political, economic and social rights of EU citizens and residents. Its content applies to the EU Member States and EU institutions when implementing European Union law. The Charter is interpreted by the Court of Justice of the European Union.

European Pillar of Social Rights

The European Pillar of Social Rights (2017) sets out 20 key principles and rights to support fair and well-functioning labour markets and welfare systems. It is primarily conceived for the euro area but applicable to all EU Member States wishing to be part of it.

Monitoring & Research

NHRIs monitor and investigate the economic and social rights situation on the ground, as part of the broader human rights situation at the national level. They also publishing research and opinions on a variety of economic and social issues.


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Combat Poverty, Insecurity and Social Exclusion Service

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EU-SILC Adaptation

Most European countries and the EU institutions rely on household surveys for their official statistics. This approach only covers a sample of the general population that is officially registered, and it does not include groups such as undocumented migrants, the homeless or those who are institutionalised – the so-called ‘missing poor’.

In Belgium, the Combat Poverty, Insecurity and Social Exclusion Service cooperated with an academic institution and market research company to adapt the EU Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC) for the homeless and undocumented migrants. The aim was to involve these groups of people in surveys and collect their responses.

The Service acted as a bridge between the research team, the survey team and the social sector, which ensured that individuals belonging to these groups could be reached. The findings suggested that existing household surveys should be further simplified, interviewers should have clear instructions and training, and interviewees should have enough time.

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Research-Action-Training programme

To improve indicators on assessing poverty, the Combat Poverty, Insecurity and Social Exclusion Service in Belgium developed the Research-Action-Training programme, which involved people living in poverty. The programme confirmed the importance of involving people living in poverty in obtaining information, interpreting it in context and understanding their daily reality.

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Local jurisprudence database

Given that enrolment in the civil register is normally a precondition for accessing certain rights in Belgium, people with housing problems face obstacles establishing their legal residence. A possibility to overcome this is a registration at a reference address which can be obtained at the local centre for social welfare. However, according to the experience of many people living in precarious circumstances, local authorities are not always very eager to provide the reference addresses even when they are legally obliged to do so.

The Combat Poverty, Insecurity and Social Exclusion Service conducted research on the jurisprudence concerning this matter, investigating all arrests and judgments by the labour tribunal. This was conducted following an appeal against the decision of a local centre for social welfare not to give a reference address. The results of the research incited many reactions and debates on the matter.

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Survey with water companies

Individuals in some households in Belgium cannot realise their right to water. They are cut off from the water supply or can only use a limited amount of water because of the installation of a flow restrictor. The various (public) water companies had little or no harmonised figures on this issue.

A few years ago, the Combat Poverty Service conducted a survey with the various water companies in Belgium. Based on the results, it brought together associations of people in poverty and various stakeholders. It asked the water companies to provide systematic and harmonised data on the social aspects of water supply.

Later, the Flemish government obliged the Flemish water companies to make an annual report on the social aspects of water supply. This report is discussed annually by a group of stakeholders, including the Combat Poverty Service. In the meantime, a social tariff for water has also been introduced.

Unia - Centre for Equal Opportunities

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Diversity Barometer

Unia’s Diversity Barometer maps out the behaviour (level of discrimination) and attitudes (level of tolerance) towards different target groups protected by anti-discrimination laws, as well as the actual participation (level of participation) of these target groups in society. The Diversity Barometer is published every two years and analyses three sectors – employment, housing and education – each of which is the subject of a separate publication.

Diversity Barometer – Housing 2014

There is a shortage of housing in Belgium and access to housing seems increasingly difficult particularly for low-income households. People with low income are pushed to search for housing in private market where rents are high. Additionally, these and other groups such as foreigners and persons with disabilities face discrimination in accessing housing.

The 2014 Diversity Barometer: Housing helped put these issues on the political agenda. Since it was published, several cities in Flanders region have set up their own testing scheme to reduce the extent of discrimination towards target groups. The Brussels-Capital region took a step further by granting the regional housing inspection service the power to detect and tackle discriminatory behaviour of landlords or real estate agents.

Diversity Barometer- Education 2018

In Belgium, the education system is governed by the 3 language communities: French, Flemish and German. According to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA studies) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, francophone and Flemish systems are very unequal and segregated based on the social or ethnic origin of the pupils.

The 2018 Diversity Barometer: Education confirmed the lack of social and ethnic diversity in the schooling system. It called for the development of an inclusive educational system, open to all children and young people, regardless of their origin or capacities.

As the francophone system is undergoing an important reform, it is too early to assess whether these changes will be enough to respond to the issues raised in the PISA studies. In the Flemish system, a new decree (the “M decreet”) has been implemented to favour the integration of students with disabilities in regular schools.

Diversity Barometer- Employment 2012

In Belgium, the difference between employment rates of native Belgian persons (71%) and people born outside of the EU (52%) is 19% – one of the largest differences in the EU. The employment rates of people with disabilities and older people (between the ages of 55 and 64) are low, and there are several obstacles for them to fully develop a professional career.

The 2012 Diversity Barometer: Employment confirmed these trends. For years, Unia has been advocating for the legislation enabling the federal social inspection to perform mystery calls. The legislation was adopted, while Unia provided recommendations and continues to work closely with the Minister of Work to implement the legislation. Further evaluation of the legislation is necessary to remove the obstacles that the social inspection experiences when performing the mystery calls. Unia will be contributing to the evaluation.

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Field visits in Roma settlements

The NHRI of Croatia (Office of the Ombudswoman of Croatia) has been visiting Roma settlements and reporting to the government about the situation. Before each visit, the NHRI seeks help and support from the local Roma Minority Council, an institution representing national minorities in local and regional self-government. It also reaches out to a Roma PM and civil society operating in the field and who has contacts within Roma settlements.

After the visit, the NHRI engages with the local authorities, social workers, schools, employment offices and the police to jointly deal with issues  identified in the settlements. These issues usually relate to wide-spread poverty, poor housing conditions, lack of access to education, social care and medical care, ongoing discrimination or unemployment.

As a result, recognition of the NHRI as a mechanism for filing complaints has grown in settlements, reflected in the considerable increase in the number of complaints received.

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The effect of tax and welfare reforms

Austerity measures have had detrimental impacts on disadvantaged groups in Great Britain, especially in the area of social security. The NHRI of Great Britain (Equality and Human Rights Commission) uncovered these impacts through impact assessments of the recent tax and social security reforms and public spending reforms since 2010. The NHRI also published two analyses, which found that low-income households and households with a disabled person, three or more children, ethnic minorities, single parents or women were hardest hit by the reforms. This provided important evidence of the significant discriminatory effect of the reforms which ultimately led to many people falling below an adequate standard of living.

The NHRI’s analyses have since shaped the public debate on the social security reforms and informed several parliamentary debates and calls on government. Furthermore, the research has led to workshops on cumulative impact assessments with government officials and has received significant media attention, including endorsement at the international level.

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Cumulative impact assessment of tax and social security reform and the mitigations package

Northern Ireland has the UK’s highest levels of poverty, mental ill-health and economic inactivity, particularly amongst people with disabilities. The UK’s 2015 social security reform introduced payment delays and restrictions.

In 2012, the NHRI of Northern Ireland (Northern Irish Human Rights Commission) advised the Assembly to examine the human rights impact of proposed reforms and raised concerns about potential harm to vulnerable individuals and protected groups. Having influenced the development of a 2016-2020 mitigation package in 2019, the NHRI commissioned a cumulative impact assessment of tax and social security reform.

Partly as a result of the NHRI raising concerns, in 2016, the Northern Ireland Executive agreed a £585 million fund to mitigate hardship. New research by the NHRI has provided an evidence-base highlighting negative impacts on low-income households, women, those with children and persons with disabilities. The NHRI is seeking to influence a new package to mitigate losses arising from reform.

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Recommendation on education in Romani language based on visits in the Roma settlements

The NHRI of Serbia (Protector of Citizens) has worked proactively on promoting the inclusion of Roma children in the national educational system, including those who do not speak Serbian. During regular visits to Roma settlements, the NHRI found that many children who had returned from other countries were not included in Serbia’s educational system. They often did not speak Serbian and their parents needed support with documentation.

In 2012, the NHRI made a recommendation to the Ministry of Education to increase the number of teaching assistants, whose job it was to advance the inclusion of children from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds into education.

There are now 175 such teaching assistants in the whole country, all of whom speak the Romani language.

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Analysis of public housing situation and promoting the right to housing for diverse groups

In Slovakia, the transfer of public housing into private ownership in the 1990s had a negative impact on municipalities’ ability to secure housing for vulnerable groups. Although there were some policy tools for strengthening the accessibility of private housing to the low-income population, data on the population at risk of homelessness and availability of social housing were lacking.

The NHRI of Slovakia (Slovak National Centre for Human Rights) analysed the right to housing in two respects: (1) availability of public housing to vulnerable groups in 8 district towns via quantitative analysis and (2) the impact of the deprivation of adequate housing on psychological wellbeing via qualitative methods. The findings also included good practices promoting the right to housing for diverse target groups.

The NHRI fostered national debate and bridged stakeholders from the public, private and NGO sectors. At a round table, it mapped activities, initiatives and needs in countering homelessness. The outputs were utilised in designing the research and further followed up by a workshop aimed at building cooperative strategies between municipalities and local NGOs.


The results of NHRIs monitoring on ESR issues are reported to parliaments, the public, the media and to international and regional human rights bodies (e.g. the United Nations or the Council of Europe). By doing so, they assess the compliance of national laws and practices with all international human rights standards.

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Special Report on right to adequate housing

In Georgia, municipalities were unable to use their position to register homeless individuals and therefore could not ensure the realisation of the right to adequate housing. This was due to the ambiguity in the legal definition of homeless individuals.

The NHRI of Georgia (Public Defender – Ombudsman of Georgia) recommended that local governments develop a methodology for registering homeless individuals and providing them with adequate housing. Moreover, it recommended that the government set up a Governmental Interagency Commission, which would develop a policy document for the realisation of the right to adequate housing.

The government approved the 2018-2019 Open Government Partnership Action Plan which foresaw the establishment of a Governmental Interagency Commission. The Public Defender is a member of this Commission. Simultaneously, the Tbilisi City Municipal Assembly and 12 other municipalities adopted a decree to form a commission for registering homeless people and providing them with housing.

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Report on the reception conditions of people seeking asylum and recognised refugees

In Luxembourg, some people seeking asylum who are in reception centres are accommodated in inadequate housing facilities with overcrowded rooms. Some reception centres are isolated with limited transportation. There is no mechanism for the detection of vulnerable persons in the reception centres and access to adequate psychological healthcare cannot always be guaranteed. While the right to work for people seeking asylum is guaranteed by the law, the procedure to obtain a temporary work permit is very complicated and this results in a low number of permits granted.

The NHRI of Luxembourg (Consultative Commission for Human Rights) interviewed refugees (former asylum seekers), lawyers and civil society organisations, and visited some of the reception centres in November 2018, resulting in an extensive report on the reception conditions of asylum seekers and recognised refugees in Luxembourg. The report also addressed the rights to adequate housing, adequate food, education, healthcare, work and cultural life of the asylum seekers in the centres.

After the national elections in October 2018, the programme of the new government for 2018-2023 was published in December 2018. Certain recommendations from the report, such as the reform of the temporary work permit and the establishment of minimum standards for reception centres, were included in the planned actions in the area of asylum and migration. These developments are also the result of the criticism by civil society organisations and greater public awareness of the issue.

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Report on Travellers’ accommodation in Northern Ireland

In the context of Travellers’ accommodation in Northern Ireland, there is a history of too few adequate stopping sites, discriminatory treatment within the private rental sector, a lack of culturally appropriate accommodation, health and safety concerns regarding Traveller-specific accommodation, legislative discouragement of nomadism, and inadequate data monitoring concerning Travellers.

In 2016, the NHRI of Northern Ireland (Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission) launched an investigation into Travellers’ accommodation in Northern Ireland. Guided by Article 11 of International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the NHRI gathered evidence from public authorities, representative organisations and Travellers.

In 2018, it published a report of findings and recommendations and committed to a 12-month implementation plan. Relevant departments are updating design, health and safety guidance for Travellers’ sites. Public authorities are ensuring staff receive effective cultural awareness training and ensuring Travellers can effectively participate in decision-making processes. Research is being conducted on improving the accessibility of housing advice. Additionally, there is a significant improvement in cross-sectoral working.

Challenges of migrants in rental market reported to the UN

In Norway, migrants face discrimination in the housing and labour markets. The NHRI of Norway (Norwegian National Human Rights Institution) raised its concerns at the international level and submitted a report to the UN Human Rights Committee in relation to the hearing of the 7th periodic report on Norway in 2018. The report called attention to discriminatory practices and made recommendations on how the government could address the issue. The NHRI reiterated these concerns and recommendations in reports to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the 3rd cycle Universal Periodic Review of Norway.

Advising State Actors

NHRIs provide recommendations on how to improve the realisation of economic and social rights domestically, for example by advising governments, parliaments and other public bodies on the potential impact of economic and social rights policies on the enjoyment of human rights of individuals, including of vulnerable groups.

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Recommendation on the introduction of national pensions for citizens who do not meet requirements for old-age pension

Due to low pensions, many pensioners in Croatia cannot ensure even the basic conditions for a dignified life. The problem is mostly present in rural areas, particularly among those who are at risk of poverty. The NHRI of Croatia (Office of the Ombudswoman of Croatia) has made repeated recommendations for the introduction of national pensions that would ensure the protection of citizens who do not meet the minimum qualifying requirements for old-age pension. It has argued that national pensions should reduce the risk of poverty for those persons who are mostly beneficiaries of social welfare. The government has announced introduction of national pensions in 2020.

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Letter of Notification on rights of beneficiaries of the international protection

In 2012, the Chancellor of Justice of the Republic of Estonia submitted a letter of notification to the Ministry of Social Affairs on the implementation of the provisions of the Act on Granting International Protection to Aliens (AGIPA), which concern assistance with settling in Estonia for persons granted international protection . According to the AGIPA, the state was required to provide help with finding housing and access to services, but the respective provisions were not applied in practice.

Following up the NHRI’s action, the Ministry of Social Affairs revised the system. Currently, beneficiaries of international protection are assisted with finding housing, concluding a lease contract, representation in communication with authorities, assistance and counselling for better integration, participation in Estonian language courses and interpretation services.

The NGO, the Estonian Refugee Council, helps beneficiaries of international protection with different tasks to advance their integration into society. According to the draft Act to amend the AGIPA and Obligation to Leave and Prohibition of Entry Act, the Social Insurance Board will coordinate the issues related to the reception of persons seeking international protection and beneficiaries of international protection in the future. The draft Act has not yet been presented to the parliament.

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Recommendation on subsistence allowance programme

The subsistence allowance system in Georgia did not motivate beneficiaries to seek employment, as any changes in income would result in a loss of the right to receive any form of subsistence allowance. The NHRI of Georgia (Public Defender (Ombudsman) of Georgia) made a recommendation to the government to amend the existing legislation and make beneficiaries eligible for subsistence allowance for a reasonable time in case of employment. The NHRI argued that this would contribute to a significant reduction of poverty and improvement of socio-economic conditions.

The recommendation was reflected in the resolution of the Parliament of Georgia and the Subsistence Allowance System Regulatory Act was amended to make families eligible for receiving subsistence allowances for some time, even if some of their members received a fixed wage.

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Recommendations on transforming workplace cultures, promoting transparency and strengthening protections

In March 2018, the NHRI of Great Britain (Equality and Human Rights Commission) published a report ‘Turning the Tables: Ending sexual harassment in the workplace’. The report highlighted how individuals’ careers and mental and physical health have been damaged by corrosive workplace cultures, which may be a breach of article 7 of ICESCR, the right to just and favourable conditions at work, specifically safe and healthy working conditions.

The NHRI made recommendations to the government to transform workplace cultures, promote transparency and strengthen protections, including: introducing a mandatory duty on employers to take reasonable steps to protect workers from harassment and victimisation, extending the limitation period for harassment claims to six months, and reinstating the third party harassment provisions under the Equality Act 2010.

In October 2019, the NHRI launched guidance on the use of confidentiality agreements in discrimination cases, to clarify the law on their use in employment and to set out good practice. In addition, the UK government held a consultation on the legislative changes recommended by the NHRI and agreed that the NHRI should develop technical guidance on sexual harassment.

Recommendations to conduct a human rights impact assessment of austerity policies

The NHRI of Greece (Greek National Commission for Human Rights) has repeatedly issued recommendations and highlighted the need for human rights impact assessments of austerity policies during the economic crisis and suggested a creation of a permanent mechanism that would evaluate and assess the impact of policies.

At the moment, the NHRI observes that the government still has not considered impact assessments of recent policy measures affecting fundamental rights, such as the freedom of association, freedom of collective bargaining and the right to conclude collective agreements. The NHRI has issued an urgent statement addressing the problem. Since the parliamentary procedure is still ongoing, reactions on whether the recommendations in the statement were taken on board have yet to be received.

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Recommendation on relocating individuals to suitable living spaces

In the municipality of Istog/Istok and Kline/Klin, 32 residents lived in a building which failed to meet the most basic living conditions. Some parts of the building were at risk of collapsing and lacked the access to potable water. The majority of residents were children, unemployed, old and sick. Most of them were Egyptian or Albanian. It was reported that this facility served as a prison in the former Yugoslavia.

The Office of the Ombudsman of Kosovo sent a letter to representatives of the municipality to recommend relocating individuals from the building and accommodating them to any suitable living space in accordance with the law. It also undertook action to construct a sewerage system in the neighbourhood tenanted by the Egyptian community.

The municipality responded to the letter, stating that the majority of families live in the houses built for them, apart from two families for whom the municipality is still searching the appropriate solution. Representatives of the institution visited families to oversee and verify the facts and to confirm the implementation of the institution’s recommendation.

*This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSC 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo Declaration of Independence

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Recommendations for amending the legislation for equal conditions in the calculation of disability pensions

The Law on the status and social care of citizens affected by the Chornobyl disaster indicated special conditions in the calculation of disability pensions for personnel who were responding to the Chornobyl disaster and, as a result, developed disabilities. Some categories of personnel had lower pensions than others despite similar responsibilities and obligations during their service.

The NHRI of Ukraine (Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights) held a number of consultations and discussions with the public and state authorities, drafted proposals to amend the legislative acts and communicated them to the government and parliament. Furthermore, it submitted its recommendations concerning the unconstitutionality of the existing norms to the Constitutional Court of Ukraine.

The Constitutional Court of Ukraine decided that there had been a violation of the constitutional principle of equality and equity, and the constitutional right to social protection in the legislation concerning different levels of pension provision. The government amended the legislation for equal conditions in the calculation of disability pensions.

Raising Awareness

NHRIs address the general public in order to promote a culture and language of rights, through training and awareness raising activities on a variety of issues, and in order to empower communities around their rights and channel the public’s voices back to policy makers.

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Leaflet on access to health services in case of a sports injury

A recurring question concerning undocumented minors is the accessibility to health services in case an accident occurs during a sports practice or competition. In such circumstances, access to health services is guaranteed by law. However, few actors involved know about this.

Together with the Federation of Sports Organisations and Flemish sports authorities, Myria developed a leaflet (Dutch) which outlines how health services can be accessed in case of a sports injury. The leaflet shows that even if an athlete is an undocumented minor, they still have access to a full range of health services.

The diversity of partners involved in the production of the leaflet meant that a range of actors took ownership of it. All authorities involved supported its production and encouraged its use. The leaflet has also been updated a few times with the involvement of UNIA and the Commissioner for Children’s Rights.

Energy as a matter of human rights

In Croatia, while there have been some positive steps to adopt policies combating energy poverty and implement energy efficiency measures for energy vulnerable households, such as the Fourth National Energy Efficiency Action Plan 2020, the definition of energy poverty is still insufficient. In its 2017 Annual Report, the NHRI of Croatia (Office of the Ombudswoman of Croatia) recommended collecting and analysing data on the impact of living conditions, including the impact of energy and the accessibility of energy sources on the health of the population.

In 2019, the Croatian Institute of Public Health announced that it would prepare a study on the influence of housing conditions (including energy and energy commodity availability) on the health of citizens and committed to seeking funding from the Ministry of Health to carry out the study in 2020.  At the same time, the NHRI conducts field visits to monitor the situation of individuals living in energy poverty and how energy plays a vital role in ensuring an adequate standard of living. Based on data collected during these visits, the NHRI issued recommendations to the government to develop the definition of energy poverty and establish an appropriate measurement and monitoring system.

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Raising awareness of a more inclusive education

In France, thousands of children are denied the right to education. Some mayors refuse to enrol children in school arguing that they do not have adequate documents, such as identity papers for both parents and children or proof of their place of residence. There is no official document setting out an exhaustive list of supporting documents for school enrollment.

The NHRI of France (French National Consultative Commission on Human Rights) organised a forum with a collective of associations in September 2018, adopted a declaration reiterating its concerns on the occasion of World Children’s Day in 2018, and organised an informal meeting with journalists in September 2019. Secretariat members had meetings with the Ministry of Education to discuss the main NHRI recommendations.

The Law on the School of Trust, adopted on 26 July 2019, includes an article requiring the publication of a decree setting out the list of supporting documents that mayors must accept in order to enrol children in school. The NHRI is currently working with the Ministry to finalise the decree.

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Raising awareness about the issue of homeless youth

Homelessness violates the right to adequate housing and limits the realisation of other rights. It has been a growing problem in the Netherlands, especially for young people. Over the past five years, the estimated number of homeless youth in the Netherlands has increased by 50%.

Together with a Dutch youth-homelessness foundation, the NHRI of the Netherlands (Netherlands Institute for Human Rights) facilitated a meeting between the state authorities and a homeless youth group on the issues they face to create a space to share stories and experiences and convey the magnitude of the problem. The NHRI also dedicated a prize to a renowned activist in the field to underline the importance of the issue.

Based in part on the NHRI’s recommendation, the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport has drafted an action plan to tackle youth homelessness. Human rights, specifically realising the right to housing, form the foundation of this plan. Homeless people have been and are still involved in the process by participating in the monitoring and execution of the plan.

Periodical meetings with local civil society

Local problems and their solutions are difficult to notice from the perspective of the capital city. That is why in the NHRI of Poland (Office of the Polish Commissioner for Human Rights), the Commissioner himself conducts periodical meetings in various regions of Poland with members of local civil society. Due to media coverage, the meetings are an excellent opportunity to promote local good practices, not least in the field of economic and social rights.

One of the practices was a model system of cooperation between an NGO, local self-government and local businesses in Wieruszów. The system aimed at labour market inclusion of persons with disabilities. The NHRI’s regional meetings resulted in a collection of good practices called “Wielkoduszna Polska” (“Big-hearted Poland”). The knowledge of good practices around the country is being used to connect civil society facing problems with their peers who found solutions to these problems at the local level.

Developing capacities of human rights actors to undertake budget scrutiny

A government’s values should be reflected through its budget, yet human rights are not systematically considered when governments set their budgets. Therefore, many human rights problems remain unaddressed and rights holders are left unable to participate in, and hold the government to account on the way money is generated, allocated and spent.

The NHRI of Scotland (Scottish Human Rights Commission) has undertaken joint work with the Centre for Economic and Social Rights, civil society and academic partners, to improve stakeholder understanding of and capacity to undertake human rights budget work. This has involved developing process indicators, running stakeholder masterclasses, publishing a ‘What, Why and How?’ briefing series and participating in and supporting others to participate in budget scrutiny.

The project activities have helped to develop the capacity of those with both formal responsibilities (legislature and audit commission) and informal responsibilities (civil society, public bodies, NHRIs and the wider public) to undertake budget scrutiny and hold the government to account in relation to budget impact on human rights.

Complaints Handling & Litigation

NHRIs provide support for individuals to enforce their rights, e.g. through complaints handling and legal assistance, and some can intervene before the courts. When economic and social policies have an adverse impact on individuals’ rights, NHRIs can provide information about available remedies.

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Quarter of complaints handling work relating to economic, social and cultural rights

In 2018, of all the complaints received by the NHRI of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Human Rights Ombudsmen), a quarter related to economic, social and cultural rights. Most of the complaints concerned labour rights (discrimination and unequal access to work), pensions, social protection, and a lack of trust in and transparency of authorities. The NHRI successfully cooperated with the Ministry of Interior in addressing a complaint about the failure of compliance of pensions and disability insurance contributions, a common practice for employers in the country.

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Discrimination in the tourism sector

After receiving two complaints indicating a problem of access to work and employment for third-country nationals who are family members of Croatian citizens with temporary residence permits, the NHRI of Croatia (Office of the Ombudswoman of Croatia) found that the Act on the Provision of Services in Tourism denied access to work in jobs such as tour guides to third-country nationals without any justification. The NHRI made a recommendation to the Ministry of Tourism to amend the provision of the Act to enable access to work and employment to foreign citizens who are family members of Croatian citizens, regardless of whether they are from EU member states or non-EU countries. It took almost two years for this recommendation to be accepted and the Act to be amended.

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Complaints from persons with disabilities concerning disability benefits

The NHRI of Cyprus (Commissioner for Administration) received a number of complaints from persons with disabilities regarding the decision of the Ministry of Labour, Welfare and Social Insurance to reject their applications for minimum guaranteed income and disability benefits. The rejections were due to the income and/or deposits of members of their families.

The NHRI submitted a report to the Ministry noting, among others, the obligation of the state to provide an adequate standard of living and social protection to persons with disabilities. It suggested the amendment of the relevant law so that persons with disabilities have full access to minimum guaranteed income and disability benefits, regardless of the income and/or deposits of their family members.

There is an ongoing discussion on the issue in Cyprus. In particular, in September 2019, NHRI representatives attended a meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on Labour and Social Insurance, during which participants discussed the amendment of the relevant law and the exclusion of persons with disabilities from its provisions.

Third-party intervention to the ECtHR on the vulnerability of unaccompanied foreign minors in Calais

Thousands of refugees and migrants, including unaccompanied minors, lived in extremely precarious conditions in the “Calais Jungle” between 2015 and 2016. They resided in dangerous and unhealthy makeshift shelters in total destitution. The dismantling of the “jungle” in 2016 further aggravated many of their situations.

After several field visits and public statements on the issue, the NHRI of France (National Consultative Commission on Human Rights) submitted a third-party intervention to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on the vulnerability of unaccompanied foreign minors in Calais, highlighting France’s failure to protect them in this context. The intervention further aimed at impacting the national policy regarding the treatment of migrants.

In Khan v. France case (2019), the ECtHR ruled that France had failed to protect an unaccompanied child, living in the settlements between 2015 and 2016 without any care from the authorities. The ECtHR considered this failure to constitute a breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights and referred to a 2015 opinion from the NHRI to support its argumentation. The NHRI later submitted a communication to the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, which was published together with the authorities’ reply of July 2019. An action plan or report from the authorities is expected.

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Amicus curiae submitted to the Constitutional Court

In 2013, the Government of Georgia issued a regulation by which individuals who occupied state-owned property without the permission of the government were prohibited from registering in the database of socially disadvantaged families and from receiving social benefits.

In the 2015 Parliamentary Report, the NHRI of Georgia (Public Defender (Ombudsman) of Georgia) made a recommendation to the government to abolish the provision. The same year, the Constitutional Court accepted the claim regarding the provision to discuss its constitutionality. Exercising its role as amicus curiae, the NHRI addressed the Constitutional Court with a written opinion regarding the present case.

The constitutionality of the provision was disputed within the meaning of Article 14 (right to equality) and Article 17 (right to inviolability and dignity) of the Georgian Constitution. In 2018, following the judgment of the Constitutional Court, the restrictive provision was abolished.

Intervening in the Supreme Court case as amicus curae

Since 2014, the Irish NHRI (Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission) has recommended that people seeking international protection in Ireland should have the right to work and earn a livelihood guaranteed under article 40.3.1 of the Irish Constitution. The denial of the right to work for people seeking asylum has a severe impact, particularly for those who have been in the process for lengthy periods of time.

Using its legislative scrutiny powers, the NHRI has consistently brought the issue before policy makers since 2014. In May 2017, it intervened as amicus curiae in the Supreme Court case “NHV”, which found that the indefinite ban on asylum seekers’ right to work was unconstitutional. In 2018, it has appeared before the Irish Parliament to press for Ireland’s opt-in to the EU Recast Reception Conditions Directive on standards.

The NHRI played a leading role in striking down legislation absolutely prohibiting international protection applicants seeking employment. The state has opted-in to the EU’s Recast Directive adhering to minimum EU standards. The NHRI is keeping the implementation of the labour market access scheme under review to ensure that the right to access work is a right in practice, as well as one in principle.

Changing the interpretation of general regulations on health in administrative judicial proceeding

There are no anti-odour regulations in Poland. As a result, odour nuisances coming from industry or farming were not being tackled by state environmental services. The addresses of the Polish NHRI (Commissioner for Human Rights) to ministers for the environment on the introduction of anti-odour regulations were ineffectual.

Given the circumstances, the NHRI initiated an administrative judicial proceeding concerning a waste dump located in Warsaw. In doing so, it aimed to change the current interpretation of general regulations on the protection of health.

The Supreme Administrative Court ruled that, despite the lack of anti-odour regulations, it is possible to shut down an onerous plant on the grounds of its negative impact on the mental health of its neighbours. This ruling is being used in a variety of cases concerning odour nuisance.

NHRI intervention in the civil litigation case Ali v Serco and the Home Secretary

Serco is a private company contracted by the Secretary of State for the Home Department to provide accommodation to people seeking asylum in Scotland. It announced a new policy of changing locks and, without any court process, evicting asylum seekers whom it considered to have no continuing entitlement to be provided with accommodation. Serco’s lock change policy was previously upheld in court and is now being appealed.

The NHRI of Scotland (Scottish Human Rights Commission) was granted leave to intervene in the appeal. The NHRI’s intervention (the first time it has used its power to intervene in civil litigation) was made in the case of Ali v Serco and the Home Secretary. The NHRI argued that Serco’s lock-change policy lacks the safeguards necessary to protect the right to freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment and the right to respect for private and family life, protected by Articles 3 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act 1998.

The absence of safeguards denies people the opportunity to dispute the proportionality of their eviction and fails to consider alternatives, which are required to protect their right to adequate housing. This includes a lack of impartial, independent review processes for decisions and a lack of oversight of how and by whom evictions are carried out. The case has been part of a coordinated effort by civil society and lawyers to prevent the evictions. As of October 2019, a decision is awaited in the appeal and a considerable amount of related litigations continues.

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Complaint from a migrant family on lack of access to housing

In Spain, migrants can be accommodated in a public reception centre for only a limited time, after which they are obliged to seek housing themselves. Seeking housing in their circumstances is difficult due to the lack of access to employment and resources. For some migrant groups, access to housing is particularly challenging and some migrant families are at a high risk of homelessness, further keeping them unemployed and excluded.

The NHRI of Spain (Ombudsman of Spain) received an individual complaint from a family – a mother, father, two children and an infant – who could not find housing, and their stay at a reception centre was coming to an end. Based on this case, the NHRI made a recommendation to the Ministry of Labour, Migration and Social Security to halt the eviction procedure unless an adequate housing alternative was found. This recommendation referenced relevant international legal instruments regarding the best interest of the child and the right to family unification and it was accepted by the Ministry, which halted the eviction.

Building Bridges

NHRIs cooperate with a variety of NGOs, civil society actors, networks and institutional bodies focusing on economic and social rights issues. As both independent and state-mandated bodies, NHRIs sit between the state and civil society. They act as a bridge between regional and international mechanisms and help them to understand the local context.

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Biennial Report on Citizenship and Poverty

In Belgium, the Combat Poverty, Insecurity and Social Exclusion Service bases its work on ongoing dialogues with people living in poverty and other actors. The Service publishes a biennial report based on in-depth dialogues with people living in poverty, social organisations, researchers, administrations and other civil society actors. In the 2017-2017 report on Citizenship and Poverty, a new definition of ‘citizenship’ based on daily experiences and collective analyses of people living in poverty was developed. Moreover, the Service held meetings with political parties to put the report recommendations on the agenda before the Belgian elections in May 2019.

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Social Security Code II advocacy activities

Germany’s Social Security Code II imposes sanctions in forms of reduction of social benefits up to 30%, causing individuals to fall under the minimum subsistence line and disproportionally impacting youth. One can be sanctioned for refusing a specific job offer, even though they may face barriers such as complicated language or mental stress.

The NHRI of Germany (German Institute for Human Rights) advised civil society to integrate a human rights-based approach in their argument against the sanctions system. It also encouraged the National Anti-Poverty Conference (NAK) to participate in the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights reporting cycle by writing a parallel report to the state report and following up on the process.

The NHRI also co-organised events with the NAK on access to rights for people living in poverty, leading to a joint publication. The NAK submitted a parallel report addressing the sanctions system and organised a follow-up process on the Concluding Observations for Germany, where the NHRI gave a lecture as an expert. The Federal Constitutional Court is soon expected to rule on the possible infringement of the German constitution by the sanctions system.

Large-scale participation hearings on combating trafficking in human beings

In March 2017, the European Court of Human Rights issued a judgment on the leading case Chowdury and others v. Greece (“Manolada case”) regarding forced labour and trafficking in the agricultural sector of 42 Bangladeshi nationals, supporting the repeated recommendations of the Greek NHRI (Greek National Commission for Human Rights) concerning the situation in rural areas.

In August 2018, the NHRI issued specific recommendations for the adoption of appropriate measures to combat trafficking in human beings and/or forced labour and for the full compliance of the State with the judgment. Acting as a bridge between the State and civil society, the NHRI initiated two large-scale participation hearings of national stakeholders.

At the international level, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe took into account the NHRI’s recommendations while examining the execution of the Manolada case judgment. At the national level, the Greek Parliament (Subcommittee on combating and preventing trafficking of human beings) launched a discussion on the Manolada case based on the NHRI’s recommendations.

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Partnering with local communities and NGOs to hold government accountable

In 2015, the right to housing was not being realised for residents living in social housing in Edinburgh. They experienced long-standing poor conditions raising serious concerns about the ‘habitability’ and ‘available services’ element of the right, as well as struggling to access a remedy from the local authority.

The Scottish Human Rights Commission, in partnership with a local tenants’ association and Participation in the Practice of Rights (an NGO) supported residents to undertake participatory action research, develop and monitor rights-based indicators and hold the local authority to account in diverse ways for its failure to fulfil the right to housing.

Following the release of a film about the project in 2016, the local authority and tenants formed a working group to address the issues. Over £2.3 million have now been invested into the housing. Residents report having warmer, drier and better-maintained homes. However, there is still progress to be made in changing the way the local authority manages and responds to complaints.

Last updated in November 2019