On the following pages the authors express their concerns and observations on the implementation of specific provisions of the International Covenant on International Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Although the comments are made on an article-by-article basis, some issues may be linked to multiple rights of the Covenant. In such cases, this is pointed out.
Article 2 ICESCR
1. Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to take steps, individually and through international assistance and co-operation, especially economic and technical, to the maximum of its available resources, with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of the rights recognized in the present Covenant by all appropriate means, including particularly the adoption of legislative measures.
2. The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to guarantee that the rights enunciated in the present Covenant will be exercised without discrimination of any kind as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
3. Developing countries, with due regard to human rights and their national economy, may determine to what extent they would guarantee the economic rights recognized in the present Covenant to non-nationals.
Negative Developments on International Cooperation for ESCR
Previous CESCR Concluding Observations consistently praised the Netherlands’ efforts in meeting its international obligations on the ICESCR, in particular on international cooperation and committing 0,7% of Gross National Income (GNI) to Official Development Assistance (ODA), in line with international commitments to this effect, including recent Sustainable Development Goal 17.2.34
The Sixth Periodic Report of the Netherlands does not include any comments on international cooperation (in response to Question 9 of the CESCR 2009 Reporting Guidelines),35 which is an important omission because the traditionally positive attitude of the Dutch government on international development cooperation has changed considerably, as indicated below.
In addition, the support for women’s rights and women’s organizations causes concern. Recent tender decisions under “FLOW II” (Funding Leadership and Opportunities for Women, 93 million euro) indicate that the Dutch government favours funding through Northern based (general) INGOs over applications of Southern led alliances and women’s rights organizations led applicants. Moreover, gender mainstreaming is not consistently applied in all development sectors (only in obvious areas which already relate to women).”
A.1 Reduction of ODA target below 0,7 %
In terms of other structural issues, first the Netherlands decided in recent years to reduce its ODA expenditure to levels below 0,7%. In 2014, the Dutch ODA budget dropped to 0,64%36 and in 2015, to 0,52%.37 The Dutch government may argue that ODA levels of 0.7% have nevertheless been reached in 2015, but this only the case because it also includes expenses on domestic asylum seekers reception, which constitute 23% of Dutch ODA expenditure, along with 8% on subsidies for Dutch companies establishing business in developing countries – per figures of Oxfam Novib.38 This results in nearly 1/3 of ODA being spent ‘domestically’. Despite the fact that DAC rules allow member countries to count certain refugee-related expenses as ODA for the first year after their arrival under certain conditions, they are still trying to come to grips with such practices,39 and generally the practice of fudging ODA expenditure with budget for reception of asylum seekers (up to 23% of overall budget) has led to severe critique by Dutch NGOs – and also by MPs: asylum reception is of a different nature altogether, a domestic affair, and should not be used as an excuse to divert ODA from the poorest countries.40 These retrogressive steps are very regrettable in light of the severe poverty issues that still exist worldwide, in particular in Low Income Development Countries.
The submitting parties recommend the Committee to ask the Government:
to clarify how it intends to engage in effective international cooperation and ODA expenditure in light of securing ICESCR rights per art 2(1) ICESCR?
how it intends to increase and maintain ODA expenditure at least at 0.7% in light of (renewed) international commitments and the effective realization of ICESCR-rights in poor developing countries.
A.2 Coupling of Trade and Development Cooperation (in favour of trade) without clear Human Rights Based Approach to ESCR
Secondly, the Government also changed its attitude on ODA expenditure in past years by consciously coupling “Development Cooperation” (DC) with “Trade” objectives. This is reflected in the creation of the new post of “Minister for Development Cooperation and Trade” under the Rutte I and II-Cabinets. The Minister is known for considering that ‘traditional’ official development cooperation is old-fashioned, and that the concept of development cooperation might go out of fashion altogether – likely in favour of innovative business partnerships and business investments.41 While trade certainly can be a general positive force for economic and human development there is a great concern that no priority on human rights, and particularly ESCR is placed under new ODA policies.42To illustrate, Dutch companies can be recipients of ODA subsidies – accounting for 8% of total ODA expenditure in 2015 – based on a fairly general (old fashioned) assumption that trade = economic growth = decreasing poverty (= is better protection of ESCR). Yet, a distinct human rights approach, certainly in the area of ESCR, favouring the most vulnerable and poorest and involving monitoring and accountability for actually improving human rights, seems largely absent in present Dutch Development Cooperation policy.43 Recent studies also emphasize that there is great trouble in measuring the outcomes of Dutch development cooperation, including for human rights realization abroad, and for the efforts of the business sector.44 There is a distinct lack of a clear approach to monitoring and accountability for Development Cooperation/ODA expenditure in terms of human rights in the Netherlands ,45 including the manner in which business engages in this matter.
Article 2(1) clearly expresses the principle that ESCR realization is a matter of dedicated international cooperation, and vice versa46 – in short, international development cooperation should always be geared at the realization of important human rights objectives, and any efforts be clearly explained/defended in light of ICESCR, as per the Committee’s Reporting Guidelines.
The submitting parties recommend the Committee ask the Dutch Government:
How it intends to ensure that the human rights impacts and achievements trade subsidies – including as linked to provision of ODA – are effectively monitored?
How it intends to ensure that international cooperation is actually geared at meeting/fulfilling human rights for poor persons in developing countries, rather than fostering general economic progress – which could create some positive outcomes, but also reinforce and exacerbate socio-economic inequalities and discrimination rather than address them?
The submitting parties recommend the Committee to press the Dutch Government to:
Articulate and put a “Human Rights Based Approach” clearly at the centre of all its Development Cooperation efforts, particularly in the area of ESCR and ODA.
A.3. Negative Trend of Instrumentalizing Development Cooperation: Improving Trade and Migration Control
Finally, the submitting parties point out the worrying trend that Development Cooperation, and in particular cooperation for ESCR, is subject to increasing instrumentalization fornational interests. This is reflected in the intertwining of Development Cooperation and promotion of Dutch trade opportunities, or the expenditures on domestic asylum seekers reception (as discussed above); However, it is also clear from recent proposals that ODA might be instrumentalized for – and made conditional for recipient countries on – migration control, such as taking back migrants or taking border control measures in exchange for ODA – including provision of camera’s, equipment and training (‘capacity building’) being financed by developed nations.47 A general need to ‘improve local economies with extra investments’ that possibly prevent (certain) poor migrants from coming to the EU is also part of this strategy. Thus, in 2015 the Netherlands dedicated 50 million euro extra to the Dutch Good Growth Fund, which supports Dutch businesses in getting a foot on the ground in developing countries.48
Development cooperation should be about combatting poverty (and under art. 2(1) ICESCR more specifically: securing human rights implementation) not combatting migration. Although ‘improved living conditions’ in home countries might theoretically, and ultimately, result in less (economic) migration,49 or lead to improved human rights enjoyment for certain groups of people, it seems short sighted, ill-informed and a wrong signal to send, to make ODA reception mostly conditional on migration control. It raises serious concerns about the human rights motives of both donors and recipient countries. Moreover, there have been worrying indications that (under Dutch direction, or with support of the Dutch government in the context of the European Union) ODA might be flowing to countries (Sudan, Eritrea) which have (severe) human rights issues and which also might produce legitimate asylum seekers/refugees.50 In this respect, the authors urgently point out that the ICESCR requires from State Parties that they cooperate in good faith, and in respect of international human rights and refugee obligations, in their memberships of International Organizations, such as the EU.51
The submitting parties recommend the Committee to ask the Government:
How it intends to ensure that ICESCR human rights are better protected under art 2(1) ICESCR through its development cooperation policies, and are not harmed as a result of policy choices informed by domestic interests?
To clarify its position in respect of the ‘instrumentalization’ of aid in the areas of trade, asylum seekers reception and migration control;
To clarify what the Dutch main leitmotivs for ODA allocation are, and if this amounts to domestically informed trade or migration interests, how development cooperation still practically ensures implementation of ESCR in a concrete, measureable, and defendable sense?