IV. COUNTRY REPORTS
At the behest of the General Assembly, in June 1993, the Commission asked all member states to provide information on measures implemented to enhance economic, social and cultural rights. The Commission is appreciative of the efforts of member states that submitted reports regarding the status of these rights in their jurisdiction as well as reports that address that status of the rights of children, women, and the handicapped in their countries. In 1993, Canada, Chile, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, and Venezuela submitted reports. These reports set forth the applicable laws that cover specific rights and also include, in many cases, programs of action that the respective governments have already implemented or intend to implement. Many of the reports also point out the failures and inequities within their systems. Some of these points are discussed in the paper, such as the lack of public funds allocated for health and educational programs and the historical structural problems that continue to frustrate efforts to alleviate poverty and illiteracy. The following is a brief summary of the reports submitted this year.
CANADA: The government of Canada submitted a supplemental report to the one it submitted in 1992 with copies of Canada's reports to the United Nations on the status of Economic, Social and Cultural rights in Canada. The first Canadian report gave a broad description of the basic elements of the Canadian system for the protection and promotion of human rights. Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms establishes a number of grounds under which discrimination is prohibited. Although social condition is not one of these grounds, the Supreme Court of Canada has held that the list in section 15 is not exhaustive and that other distinctions based on analogous grounds are subject to review. Within each jurisdiction at the federal, provincial, and territorial levels, the human rights legislation prohibits discrimination on grounds that are not enumerated in section 15. In some of these legislations social condition is included.
In Canada, the provinces have established social welfare programs for persons in need. The federal government assists in the funding of these programs through the Canada Assistance Plan. These programs set standards for eligibility for the assistance to secure an adequate standard of living in Canada.
The report to the United Nations on Articles 10-15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1992) states that food supply is not a problem. Canadians produce enough food for themselves and for export to other countries. The social assistance which is available for people in need makes specific provisions for food. However, during the 1980's these were not enough and an alternative form of assistance in the shape of "food banks" became a significant recourse for people to supplement their food provisions.
Aboriginal communities experience problems of nutrition. The government is addressing these problems particularly in the areas related to the food habits of the aboriginal people and the contamination of their traditional food sources.
Canadians receive a wide range of free medical services. The cornerstones of Canada's health services are: reasonable access to insured services without impediment by way of user charges and extra-billing, comprehensiveness of insured services covered, universality of population covered, and public administration on a non-profit basis. The Canadian government provides direct medical services for the Inuit and status Indians and is gradually transferring control of health services to the aboriginal communities who live south of the 60th parallel.
Canada provides primary education, free of charge for all.
CHILE: The report submitted by the government of Chile documents the application of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in Chile. President Aylwin's government implemented a development strategy focused on economic growth and social justice. The report states that the focus on social programs was translated into substantial improvements in the areas of employment, salaries, control and reduction of inflation, an increase in economic investment and growth, and an increase in public expenditure (21% real between 1990-1992) on social programs such as: health, education, and housing, which totaled 60% of the total public expenditure. The report indicates that, in 1990, 20% of the highest income earners held 54.7 % while the lowest 40% held 14.7% of the national income.
The report explains that despite recent efforts to improve the quality of life for the general population and to eradicate poverty, serious problems persist at the regional and communal levels. These include, in particular, infant mortality, malnutrition, and school attendance. The report suggests that the solutions to these problems requires the promotion of social programs as well as the introduction of affirmative action programs that benefit the underprivileged.
The Chilean health system is a mixed one. The public health sector is primarily responsible for preventative care, environmental issues, and medical care for approximately 80% of the population. The report states that infant malnutrition has declined since 1984.
The government's educational policy focuses on attuning the educational system to the needs of the twenty first century as well as resolving the persistent problems of unequal access to education that will guarantee full integration into society. In order to achieve these goals, the government has implemented programs which will extend the reach of pre-school education, increase the number of schools in rural areas as well as improve the quality of existing programs.
The report indicates that a large number of poor children (732,792) do not have access to any schooling. The first program that addressed the need to improve the quality of education and equal distribution was the Programa de Mejoramiento de la Calidad de las Escuelas Básicas de Sectores Pobres 1991-1992 (Program to Improve the Quality of Basic Schooling in the Poor Sectors 1991-1992). This program entailed the renovation of physical infrastructures, free education for teachers, donation of textbooks, improvement of libraries, programs to improve teaching, etc. The Programa de Mejoramiento de la Calidad y Equidad de la Educaión (Program to Improve the Quality and Equity in Education), which began in 1992, entailed an investment of 170 million dollars.
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: The report submitted by the government of the Dominican Republic simply states that economic, social and cultural rights are guaranteed in article 8 of the Constitution and sets forth the rights in this article and its subsections. The limited information submitted makes it impossible for the Commission to analyze the social situation in the Dominican Republic and supervise the promotion of these rights.
EL SALVADOR: The government of El Salvador submitted a report on the application of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in El Salvador. The report explains that the government lacks information about the general social conditions in the country because in the past twenty years no census has been taken to determine the problem areas. In addition, the report notes that, as a result of the civil war that ravaged the country over the past decade, the situation of children of families in extreme poverty worsened.
The report explains that the government's Social Development Plan 1989-1994 (Plan de Desarollo Social del Gobierno) seeks to raise the standard of living in the country and initiate a process that will eradicate poverty in the long run. The Plan calls for the reallocation of public investment to prioritize primary needs such as: health and nutrition, education, environment, housing, and other social services. The Social Investment Fund (Fondo de Inversion Social) grew out of this plan with the objective to promote the eradication of poverty by promoting investment in social and community programs for the vulnerable sectors of society.
Within the Social Development Plan, the government elaborated, in 1991, a National Health Plan (Plan Nacional de Salud). The document emphasizes a change in focus on prevention, health education, and improving the environment. Vaccination programs were extended to reach 80% percent of the affected population. Efforts have been taken to increase access to potable water principally in rural areas.
The Social Development Plan also focuses on education in its efforts to decrease poverty. Starting in 1990, the Ministry of Education shifted its focus to human resources and financing in order to increase access to education and reduce absenteeism, drop outs and ultimately, illiteracy.
MEXICO: The Mexican government submitted reports it presented in January 1993 for the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of the United Nations. The reports indicate that in 1990, 7.2% of the population did not receive any income, 56% of the population received income up to two times the minimum wage, and 7.6% received up to five times the minimum wage. The main population that lives in poverty is in rural areas with 80% of agricultural workers living in poverty, and half of this number live in absolute poverty. The indigenous people, migrant workers, small land owners in non-arable areas live in the worst conditions.
The government has a national development plan that covers 1989-1994 and addresses issues of health, social assistance and social security. The government initiated a series of surveys and studies which revealed that nutritional levels differ in the different regions in the country. With respect to the general malnutrition of children under 5 years, the report states that the situation is better in the southern and central regions than in the northern and urban areas. The government subsidizes certain basic products to protect the poor sectors of society. The government also provides programs of food rationing and feeding centers.
To determine the general health conditions in the country, the report analyses infant mortality rates throughout Mexico. The report notes that infant mortality is closely related to socio-economic factors. Eleven areas have a higher rate than the national average, which indicates that the health conditions in these areas are deficient. In general there is a greater life expectancy in the urban areas than in the rural ones. The level of medical resources is significantly less in rural areas. The population in extreme poverty both in urban as well as rural areas lives has the most precarious health situation.
In terms of educational programs, the government provides free primary education. The report notes that primary education is organized differently between urban and rural areas. In rural areas, the lack of resources, teachers and the distances between communities has forced schools to group children of different ages in the same class rooms. In 1991, approximately 225,000 children did not have access to schools, primarily in rural and indigenous areas. The programs that have been implemented to expand access to education in rural, indigenous and marginalized areas take place with the economic and technical cooperation of UNICEF and the Bernard Van Leer Foundation.
The government has also initiated efforts to improve the quality of education that includes efforts to prolong attendance in school between the ages of 6 and 14 years in populations that have poor attendance ratings and drop outs. Four states that have two thirds rural population were chosen to initiate the program.
NICARAGUA: The Nicaraguan government's 1993 economic program aimed to stabilize the economy and to increase the standard of living by means of a program of adjustment and growth that privileged investment, reduced public and private consumption, and froze salaries to encourage employment and reactivate production. The report states that the government's social policy intends to prioritize the poorest and most vulnerable sectors of society that include children, handicapped, the displaced and others. It intends to do so by promoting the participation of members of communities to locate the problem areas.
In terms of observing the right to health in Nicaragua, the Ministry of Health includes in its Plan Maestro de Salud 91/96 (Master Health Plan 91/96) a program for a new health system (Sistema de Salud-SILAIS) which will implement local systems for integral health attention.
Similarly, the report states that the Ministry of Education has implemented programs to improve the quality of education by integrating plans that involve parents in school activities, improving school curricula, and introducing new books. The Ministry is planning a program to invest in renovating school infrastructures.
PANAMA: The report on the status of economic, social and cultural rights in Panama includes an explanation of the guarantees recognized in the national constitution, and a description of the general economic situation of the country highlighting relevant aspects of status of health, education, housing, labor, and social welfare rights.
The Panamanian government is focusing its efforts to reactivate the economy in order to create employment. Its Estrategia Nacional de Desarollo y Modernización Económica (Economic Development and Modernization Strategy) consists of a series of directives to promote development and modernization of the economy. A key emphasis is placed on creating employment, but it also contemplates policy aimed at sustainable development and the diminishment of poverty.
The report explains that while the country has made significant strides in the area of social rights, a large portion of the population, however, is still subject to marginalization and poverty. The information submitted indicates that 50% of Panamanian families live in poverty, a situation that is critical when one considers that 27% of poor families live in absolute poverty. The report observes that poverty mainly affects households headed by single women, which makes up 22.8% of Panamanian families.
On December 30, 1991, the National Government passed Law No. 31 which established the Reforma Tributaria (the Taxation Reform), aimed at improving distribution of income and consequently, to raise income that can be directed toward the poorer sectors of society. The national government has simultaneously tried to restrict its expenditures while reorienting investment towards social programs.
The Health Ministry is making efforts to eliminate hunger, malnutrition and to generally guarantee the rights to adequate nutrition through its Programa Nacional de Alimentación y Nutrición (National Food and Nutrition Program).
The right to education is recognized in the Panamanian Constitution and free education is provided to all up to university level. Moreover, article 95 of Law No. 47 authorizes the Ministry of Education to establish alternative schools or courses for illiterate persons older than school age, as well as schools or courses of industrial arts, agriculture or whatever may be necessary in a particular region or community. The government seeks to eliminate illiteracy by guaranteeing the right to have access to complete one's formal education and thus be eligible to be incorporated in to the work force. The report notes however, that there are serious difficulties in implementing these literacy campaigns. Most importantly, there is a shortage of funding which results in a shortage of teachers, transportation and teaching materials to reach all the areas in need.
PARAGUAY: The Paraguayan government submitted a report Plan Nacional de Accion Por La Infancia: Desarollo Humano y Consolidación Democrático (National Plan of Action for Infants: Human Development and Democratic Consolidation) prepared in 1991 by the Coordinating Committee of the Paraguay-Unicef Program. The paper evaluates the social conditions in the country that, until recently, had been largely ignored. According to the paper, the national government seeks to implement structural reforms that will increase public participation and improve the distribution of income in the country in order to achieve greater social equality. The National Development Project (Proyecto Nacional de Desarollo) targets the most vulnerable sectors of society and emphasizes infancy. Part of this program of action entails allocating greater amounts of public expenditure to social programs for needy people and communities. The government wants to encourage public participation to determine solutions to problems particular to different groups and communities.
The report explains that despite the fact that in the last few decades Paraguay ranks among the countries in Latin America with the greatest economic growth, such growth did not translate into increased human development. Instead, Paraguay suffers from serious inequities, namely, unequal distribution of income, an absence of political participation, a lack of support for women's issues, inadequate health policies, and a distrust of non governmental organizations. Women and children are particularly affected by a grave inadequacy in the areas of health, environment, and education. The report singles out peasant women and indigenous people as the groups most affected by poverty and explains that this is due in large part to a gross concentration of land ownership in few hands.
VENEZUELA: The Venezuelan government submitted a report that discusses the situation in the country with respect to the rights of children, women, refugees and the general situation of economic, social and cultural rights. The report explains that the economic crisis that began during the 1970's and which was aggravated in the 1980's has had a deteriorating effect in the evolution of social rights. The country has witnessed a diminishment in attention directed towards the general population.
An economic reform program was introduced in 1989, which included an expansion of social programs. Many of the social reforms have received both the technical as well as the financial support of multilateral and bilateral organizations.
The chapter on economic, social and cultural rights summarizes a series of problems that frustrate social development, these are: a shortage of funds to cover social security and education; differences in the levels of social development between states and in the distribution of resources to various institutions, such as, universities and hospitals, to the detriment of investment in areas such as pre-school education and preventative health programs which have a greater social impact; shortcomings in the educational system that enable adequate integration into a competitive and changing work place; general financial limitations in the social sectors; and institutional restrictions to distribute and adequately monitor resources.
The chapter on the rights of children explains that the program of economic reform and development has occasioned irreconcilable deprivations and created a situation which registers a high percentage of children with health disadvantages, serious nutritional problems, high levels of illiteracy, children abandoned and child laborers.
V. ANALYSIS OF THE EFFECTIVE USE AND ALLOCATION OF RESOURCES
In determining whether adequate measures have been taken to implement and secure economic, social and cultural rights, the Commission shall pay close attention to the equitable and effective use of available resources and the allocation of public expenditures to social programs that address the living conditions of the more vulnerable sectors of society which have been historically excluded from the political and economic processes.
The following graphs use information obtained from the 1993 United Nations Development Program's Human Development Report. The Commission is aware that there is a lapse between data collection and publication and hence, the information provided in these charts is unavoidably dated. Nevertheless, the information is instructive in terms of revealing important trends and tendencies in the area of economic, social and cultural rights. Consequently, it is useful to gauge the level of commitment on the part of governments to guarantee the material well-being, the personal security and freedom from discrimination of persons within their jurisdiction.
The statistical deficiencies evidenced by these graphs are symptomatic of the general neglect and lack of political commitment regarding economic and social rights. Nevertheless, the statistics that are available demonstrate the correlation between the neglect of economic, social and cultural rights, and poverty. A brief glance at the public expenditure index makes apparent the inadequate level of public expenditure allocated to education and health care, with exception perhaps of Canada. It is also apparent that the level of absolute poverty in so many of the countries is unacceptable, especially when contrasted to the gross national product ("GNP") and the dramatic imbalance in the distribution of income in each country. The statistics regarding the number of children who die before the age of five is alarming and highlights the inadequate attention directed towards ameliorating what are substandard levels of nutrition and health care.
In general, throughout the region, there are unacceptable numbers of people who live in conditions that deny them a minimum level of material well-being which is able to guarantee respect of their rights to personal security, dignity, equality of opportunity and freedom from discrimination.