29 Mar 2021

NHRI Engagement with the European Social Charter reporting Process – the Irish Experience

Guest post by Walter Jayawardene, Senior Policy and Research Officer, Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC)

National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) play an essential role in advancing the enjoyment of economic and social rights in Europe. By reporting to parliaments, governments as well as to European bodies such as the European Committee of Social Rights, they can ensure that individuals’ rights are protected. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission shares its experience with the European Social Charter reporting process and how it has achieved real impact in its country.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has been actively engaging with the European Social Charter reporting process since 2017. This endeavour forms a part of our wider sustained engagement with international human rights reporting mechanisms at UN and Council of Europe level, as well as in line with our strategic focus on socio-economic rights in our 2016–2018 and 2019-2021 Strategy Statements.

IHREC’s engagement with the process since 2017 has included provision of detailed submissions to the European Committee of Social Rights on both Ireland’s thematic reports, as well as engagement with the simplified reports on collective complaints. In preparing our submissions, our focus has been on directly drawing from the outputs of IHREC’s wider work programme in the areas of policy, research, international reporting and legal casework, and drawing out information and insights from this work, which may assist the Committee in its assessment of Ireland’s compliance with the Charter.

Achieving impact – some examples

While sustained engagement with the process requires good planning and some staff resources, it is also a means of ensuring that the work already being carried out by the NHRI is finding an appropriate outlet internationally. In the experience of IHREC, our submissions to the process have achieved real impact. By highlighting specific issues, IHREC’s submissions provide the Committee with a more complete picture of socio-economic rights in Ireland and play an important role in holding the State to account.

The March 2020 Conclusions of the Committee on Thematic Group 4 (Children, families and migrants) contained 52 references to the comments of IHREC, submitted in May 2019. For example,  the Committee heavily relied on the research, data and commentary provided by IHREC in arriving at its conclusions that Ireland is not in conformity with Article 16.  (The Committee found a failure to establish that adequate and affordable childcare facilities are available; that Traveller families, single-parent families and other vulnerable families receive appropriate economic protection; and that there is a sufficient supply of adequate housing for vulnerable families).  The Committee also asked the State whether there are any limits on the length of the stay of families in emergency family hubs, directly reflecting IHREC’s concerns.

The reporting process has also permitted sustained engagement by IHREC on a specific issue. For example, in European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) v. Ireland (initial decision December 2015) – the Committee found a violation of Article 16 of the Charter on account of the inadequate protection of Travellers in respect of accommodation and housing, including in terms of eviction conditions. The Committee has continued to make findings of non-conformity with respect to this issue, in subsequent review cycles, and has relied on IHREC commentary on our own domestic research, policy and case work to inform its conclusions.

Through the Committee’s reporting process, IHREC has been able to raise its extensive work on Traveller accommodation at a European level.  In turn, the Committee’s comments and findings of non-conformity have strengthened IHREC’s policy work in seeking reform and holding the State to account domestically. 

Some tips for NHRIs on engagement with the European Social Charter reporting process

  • Don’t reinvent the wheel! As an NHRI, you will likely have a significant body of work to draw on. Deploy, build on and adapt this body of work for the reporting process. This evidence and detail are what the Committee are looking for. It is genuinely helpful, and is an effective way to ensure the NHRI’s work has real impact.
  • Link your longer-term work on UN Treaty Body reporting with the Social Charter process. UN Treaty Monitoring is broader, more general, and provides fewer opportunities for engagement. However, the issues are cross-cutting and complimentary. The European Social Charter process provides for engagement that is more regular, and goes into more granular detail.  This engagement, and the remarks and findings of non-conformity that emerge, will assist your NHRI in your wider work, including UN Treaty Body reporting. 
  • Sustain your engagement. The process by its nature permits regular follow-up and renewed findings. As such it is far more direct and sustained than, for example, the UN treaty approach. This provides a useful means of maintaining domestic pressure for reform. It is worth the investment.
  • Remember – cut your cloth to measure. Sustained engagement need not take over other work. Sustained engagement means ensuring that the work you already do is consistently channelled into the European Social Charter Process.
  • Actively use the process for ongoing advocacy. Findings of non-conformity are very clear, very useful focal points for advocacy, and are subject to regular reappraisal.
  • If in doubt – ask! The reporting process is complex, and can be difficult to understand for beginners. However, the secretariat of the European Committee of Social Rights is very helpful and can provide guidance and pointers on formats, deadlines and on anything else you may need to know.  
  • For some examples of submissions, see IHREC’s Comments on the 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th national reports on Ireland’s implementation of the European Social Charter, published between 2017 and 2020. Our comments on the 18th report are currently in production.

Note: Ireland ratified the European Social Charter on 07/10/1964 and the Revised European Social Charter on 04/11/2000, accepting 92 of the 98 paragraphs of the Revised Charter. Ireland ratified the Additional Protocol providing for a system of collective complaints procedure on 04/11/2000. It has not yet made a declaration enabling national NGOs to submit collective complaints.

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The views, thoughts and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to ENNHRI.

Listen to Walter Jayawardene present on the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission’s experience with the European Social Charter reporting process: practical approaches, challenges, opportunities

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