The Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs represents the German government in the organs of the United Nations (UN) within its area of responsibility for Germany's international employment and social policies. The main UN bodies responsible for issues involving international social development are the UN General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, the Human Rights Council, the Commission for Social Development and the Commission on the Status of Women.
The UN General Assembly
The General Assembly (GA) is the supreme organ of the United Nations. Each Member State has a vote in the General Assembly. The GA can deliberate on all international matters which are covered by the UN Charter. These include international security, global development and international cooperation in the areas of economic development, social progress, human rights, education, health, and culture. The General Assembly meets every year from September to December for its regular annual session and as needed for additional meetings. Resolutions taken by the General Assembly are not legally binding for UN Member States but rather constitute recommendations.
The Economic and Social Council
The United Nations' Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) is comprised of 54 Member States, among them the Federal Republic of Germany (until the end of 2017), which are elected for three-year terms by the General Assembly. ECOSOC discusses and coordinates the UN's work in the economic, social, cultural and humanitarian fields. It issues recommendations to the General Assembly, the Member States and the specialised agencies. It brings together the resolutions of 14 specialised agencies, five regional commissions and its functional commissions (which include the Commission for Social Development, the Commission on the Status of Women and the Commission on Sustainable Development).
UN Commission for Social Development
The Commission for Social Development (CSocD) has been tasked with reducing the world’s social imbalances. To this end, it further develops social standards, promotes knowledge transfer between the UN Member States and monitors the implementation of existing commitments. Important reference documents for its work are the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (the 17 sustainable development goals adopted by UN Member States in 2015) and the goals and commitments laid down in the 1995 Copenhagen Declaration adopted by the World Summit for Social Development. The Commission for Social Development has 46 members and is a functional commission of ECOSOC. It meets annually in New York at the beginning of February.
Implementation of UN resolutions in Member States
Conventions adopted by the UN General Assembly acquire international binding effect through their ratification by the individual Member States and consequent transposition into national law. The international human rights treaties of the United Nations provide for committees of experts as accountability mechanisms which are to monitor and thus ensure the protection of human rights in the Member States. In country reports, the States Parties outline the measures they have taken to implement the provisions of the respective treaty in their countries and the progress they have made and obstacles they have encountered in this connection.
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Within the German government, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs is in charge of implementing the obligations arising from the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The rights enshrined in this covenant include in particular rights in working life, the right to social security, the right to an adequate standard of living, the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health, the right to education and to participation in cultural life, and the entitlement to exercise these rights without discrimination. The States Parties are required to progressively realise these rights. In other words, they are obliged to take suitable steps to the maximum of their available resources to progressively implement the rights set forth in the covenant.
The States Parties must report on these efforts in regular five-year intervals. The competent UN committee is currently reviewing the German government’s sixth report.
- Annexes to the sixth periodic report
The UN General Assembly adopted an optional protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on 10 December 2008. The Optional Protocol established an individual complaints mechanism which allows individuals to bring complaints to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. When such a complaint has been filed, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights can by virtue of the Optional Protocol initiate in individual cases more detailed investigations into the alleged violations of the Covenant and, if necessary, decide whether a measure is consistent with the rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. However, such individual complaints are permissible only when all domestic legal remedies in the respective country have been exhausted.
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
The Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs is Germany’s Focal Point for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) which the UN General Assembly adopted on 13 December 2006 and the Optional Protocol to it. This convention is based on the United Nations' core international human rights treaties and spells out in concrete terms the human rights enshrined in these treaties for the life situation of persons with disabilities. It prohibits the discrimination of persons with disabilities in all areas of life and guarantees them civic, political, economic, social and cultural human rights. The Convention and the Optional Protocol have been binding for Germany since 26 March 2009.
In their coalition agreement for the 18th legislative period, the current governing parties agreed to further develop the National Action Plan (NAP) for the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and to involve persons with disabilities and their representative organisations in the process. The process was initiated during the 2014 Inclusion Days and concluded on 28 June 2016 when the Federal Cabinet adopted the Federal Government’s National Action Plan 2.0, or NAP 2.0 for short.
The NAP 2.0 and its 175 new measures complement the more than 200 measures laid down in the extensive first National Action Plan, which the German Government adopted in June 2011 and which runs until 2021. During Germany’s first country review regarding its implementation of the UNCRPD, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities made many recommendations, but also expressly commended the adoption of the National Action Plan. Both the first action plan and the new, enhanced NAP 2.0 aim to better realise the rights of persons with disabilities guaranteed in Germany by the ratification of the UNCRPD in all relevant areas and to improve the practical implementation of those rights.
With its federal-level measures, the NAP 2.0 will help establish inclusion as a universal principle in all areas of life. In keeping with the UNCRPD, inclusion is understood as participation of all persons in all aspects of life on the basis of equal rights. For persons with disabilities, inclusion means above all an environment which lets them choose their whereabouts and where and with whom to live, so that they can fully develop their talents and skills throughout their lives and provid for themselves by means of freely chosen or accepted work. What gives inclusion its special quality is that it offers room and support for individual life choices.
While the first National Action Plan focuses on closing the gap between laws and actual practice through appropriate measures, the NAP 2.0 contains important legislative projects aimed mainly at improving the participation opportunities of persons with disabilities and their options for leading self-determined lives.