Last December, I had the good fortune to be able to attend and participate in the 2nd international strategy meeting of the Economic, Social, & Cultural Rights Network – ESCR-Net, which is a global coalition of movements and NGOs that are struggling for or working on economic, social and cultural rights. The four day meeting took place in Nairobi, Kenya, in conjunction with a special gathering of social movements and grassroots groups.
ESCR-Net, in partnership with the Kenyan ESCR Coalition, held a four-day international strategy meeting of its members and active participants in Nairobi, Kenya, from December 1 to 4, 2008. This landmark gathering brought together more than 250 key human rights, social justice and grassroots’ activists from 53 countries around the world. ESCR-Net recently released a full report on the meeting.
Building on the collective achievements of ESCR-Net and its members since its inaugural conference in Thailand in 2003, as well as the strong trajectory of local Kenyan organizations, this meeting was a significant occasion to explore new and more systematic avenues for collective action for social and economic justice through human rights. Participants in ESCR-Net’s Working Groups and Initiatives benefited significantly from meeting together – in one location with interpretation and preparation – to network, strategize and advance their collective agendas.
The gathering also represented a crucial step forward in strengthening ESCR-Net’s institutional capacity to influence decision-making processes regarding state and non-state accountability for the implementation of socio-economic rights. At the meeting, Members set ESCR-Net’s priorities for the coming years, elected a new Board, and defined criteria and procedures to launch solidarity actions, among other institutional decisions.
This meeting presented as well a valuable opportunity to support and learn from ongoing mobilizing efforts of local organizations and communities affected by economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR) violations in Kenya and the African region. The conference was structured around three plenary sessions and the following working session themes:
1. Adjudication of ESCR
2. Optional Protocal to the ICESCR
3. Budget Analysis and ESCR
4. Corporate Accountability
5. Trade, Investment, Finance and Human Rights (that I followed)
6. Human Rights to Health
7. Women and ESCR
The working sessions provided the space for substantive, working meetings of different ESCR-Net Working Groups and Initiatives to convene and advance their ongoing collective projects and advocacy work. Reflecting their current activities and plans of operation, these sessions were organized by members in cooperation with the Secretariat. In general terms, each of these groups held discussions and exchanges to both advance their existing agendas and define them for the years ahead. Two new potential areas of work were identified and developed: the Right to Health and Women and ESCR. These seven sets of working sessions represented the most significant component of the overall international strategy meeting on ESCR. Additionally, ESCR-Net had its general assembly during which it elected a new Board that includes Wilder Sánchez Chávez of the Confederación Campesina del Perú a member of Grassroots International’s partner Via Campesina.
Three full days of meetings were jointly organized by social movements and grassroots and indigenous groups to surround the international strategy meeting and ESCR-Net General Assembly on 29-30 November, and 5 December. Led by the Nairobi Peoples’ Settlement Network, Kenyan social movements further organized a set of 2008 solidarity visits in which participants from over 25 groups from around the world exchanged experiences, celebrated grassroots-led advocacy efforts, highlighted achievements and challenges, and explored opportunities for future joint actions and networking with three communities across Nairobi.
On December 5th, the final day of the week-long gathering ESCR-Net issued the Nairobi Declaration that was drafted and proposed by the social movements.