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Human Rights and Social Justice: A case study of the International Labour Organization, freedom of association, and Belarus Lisa Tortell Conferência, Mestrado.

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Presentation on theme: "Human Rights and Social Justice: A case study of the International Labour Organization, freedom of association, and Belarus Lisa Tortell Conferência, Mestrado."— Presentation transcript:

1 Human Rights and Social Justice: A case study of the International Labour Organization, freedom of association, and Belarus Lisa Tortell Conferência, Mestrado Instituições e Justiça Social, Gestão e Desenvolvimento 25 November 2006

2 The ILO and Freedom of Association International Labour Organisation –Tripartite international organisation (ILC; Office; GB) –Part of UN system –Defines itself in terms of protection of social justice and labour rights Freedom of association and collective bargaining –Members accept, and are bound by, merely by membership –Core labour right –Simply put, encompasses all trade union rights –Essential to democracy and governance building in civil society

3 Belarus With break-up of USSR, fully independent in 1991 Affected by more than 70% Chernobyl fallout Closely allied with Russia, currently and historically Economically, precarious –2004 HDI: 67 th of 177 countries (GDP: US$6,970) –Cf Portugal: 28th (GDP: US$19,629) Politically, repressive and totalitarian –President Lukashenko elected through questionable elections –Constitutional anomalies and dictatorial style –No tolerance of opposition, including trade unions

4 Freedom of Association in Belarus Legislation appears to protect freedom of association Problems are primarily in practice Characteristic of post-communist countries in early transition Arise from the state-trade union relationship/interaction –Distinction between traditional state-run unions (especially the FPB) and the new independent trade unions Independent trade unions as a focus of dissent, and with political aspirations Economic situation adds stress

5 Freedom of Association in Belarus Restrictions on right to strike, protest and receive foreign financial aid Obstacles to trade union activity – primarily technical obstacles to their registration, and so existence Governmental interference, principally in elections of trade union officials Harassment and discrimination, in relation to employment, arrest and detention

6 The ILO and Belarus ILO Member in own right even when part of the USSR Ratified both freedom of association conventions Strong rhetoric about freedom of association Continual cooperation with the ILO despite great criticism from ALL organs of the ILO In fact, this is extraordinary, as the ILO is probably the only international organization with which Belarus retains relations

7 Supervisory Mechanisms of the ILO Key regulatory mechanism is duty to periodically report on legislative aspects of application of Conventions Those reports are considered by CEACR and CAS, so including both technical and diplomatic attention Re freedom of association, CFA is a further mechanism GB and ILC also considered question of freedom of association in Belarus, culminating in a ‘complaint’ and the establishment of a COI

8 The ILO Commission of Inquiry An ad-hoc body set up by the GB in the most serious of cases, following a complaint Decision to establish fraught with political considerations Composed of three high-level members, usually judges, diplomats, former heads of state, and academics Will hear evidence, take a decision and make recommendations Characterised as an essentially judicial body, with quasi- inquisitorial powers, and operating within a need for rapidity The top of the ILO regulatory pyramid

9 The Previous Commissions of Inquiry 1.Portugal (1961, Ghana) 2.Liberia (1962, Portugal) 3.Haiti and Dominican Republic (1971, ILC workers) 4.Nicaragua (1973, ILC delegates) 5.Chile (1974, ILC) 6.Poland (1982, ILC delegates) 7.East Germany (1985, WFTU/ILO) 8.Romania (1990, ILC workers) 9.Myanmar (1996, ILC delegates) 10.Nigeria (1998, ILC workers)

10 Commission of Inquiry on Belarus Established following a complaint from workers’ delegates to the ILC Referred to the COI in November 2003; began work in January 2004; report received by GB at end of 2004 Its three members were judges and academics Assisted by a secretariat from the Office Submissions from independent trade unions and Government; mission to Belarus for individual interviews; and hearing in Geneva

11 COI Findings and Recommendations Freedom of association in the country had been compromised Systematic interference and harassment of independent trade unions, their officials and members No government protection of the trade union rights of independent trade unions Practical recommendations were made to be implemented within a time frame –Included immediate registration, legislative changes, independent investigations, and dissemination of COI findings

12 Follow-up to COI Follow-up by CEACR and CFA; scrutiny by GB and ILC Government accepted need to implement COI’s recommendations, disputing only details Nevertheless, until this month, there had been no concrete implementation to date in any regard In fact, indications of a worsening situation in relation to some proposed legal amendments ‘Remnants of an independent trade union movement’

13 November 2006 Developments Governing Body Nov 2006 considered what steps could be taken –reference to only other measure ILO has open to it (Article 33 of the Constitution) –Only previously used for Myanmar (currently in place) –May enable economic sanctions through the back door In the previous 2-3 weeks, the Government took unprecedented steps to implement certain of the COI’s recommendations (publication, disbanding Registration Commission)

14 What does the future hold? Change in Belarus’ political leadership is unlikely in the short-term Without such a change, true freedom of association (not to mention observance of other human rights, rule of law and civil society) is unlikely The ILO seems to have the political will to continue to step up the pressure, which is interesting in its novelty The actual practical impact of that on individual workers in Belarus is unfortunately questionable Although recent changes seem to suggest that the ILO has some impact

15 A tool for social justice? Freedom of association and workers’ rights, as protected by the ILO, are essential parts of, and prerequisites for, social justice The ILO as an institution has the protection of social justice as its principal concern The ILO supervisory mechanisms are varied, committed, and potentially powerful tools for the protection of social justice and enforcement of human rights Nevertheless, major problems with political realities of international organizations, which has implications in terms of the speed and strength of responses Also, in the ILO context, no power to impose sanctions

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