12 July 2010
Distinguished Committee members,
Ladies and gentlemen,
On behalf of the High Commissioner, it is with great pleasure that I welcome you to the 99th session of the Human Rights Committee.
Before turning to your programme of work, allow me to bring to your attention some positive treaty body related developments that have taken place since your last session.
Initiatives for strengthening the Treaty Body System
Many stakeholders, including Treaty Body experts, have responded to the call by the High Commissioner last year to reflect and submit proposals on ways to streamline and strengthen the treaty body system. Since then, a number of initiatives have taken place or are planned. As you are aware, the Dublin Statement on treaty body strengthening was issued in November 2009; a month ago, all regional networks of National Human Rights Institutions were invited by the Advisory Council on Human Rights of Morocco to a meeting on strengthening the human rights treaty bodies system. Participants adopted the Marrakech statement that formulates some ideas in this regard (a copy of this statement will be distributed to you). Other consultations are under preparation in response to the High Commissioner’s call to strengthen the treaty body system, including a follow-up event to the Dublin meeting which will be organized this autumn in Poland as well as a civil society consultation meeting. We understand that all treaty body chairpersons will be invited to this follow-up event.
I would also like to inform you that, in order to improve our support for your work, in its current and future requirements, we have hired a consultant to map out treaty body related work flows and work processes within the Office. The aim of this consultancy is to come up with recommendations to better integrate treaty body reporting and implementation in the overall mandate of OHCHR. The consultancy constitutes an independent external empirical study on the requirements of treaty body work, which will help us define the level of the necessary human and financial resources in the most transparent and hopefully convincing manner to Member States. I am pleased to inform you that the work of the consultant is well advanced.
Eleventh Inter-Committee Meeting and Twenty-second Meeting of Treaty bodies’ Chairpersons
The eleventh Inter-Committee Meeting (ICM) and the Twenty-second Meeting of Chairpersons of treaty bodies were held respectively from 28 to 30 June and on 1 and 2 July. Your Committee was represented by Mr. Iwasawa and Ms. Keller.
I would like to draw your attention in particular to several points of agreement reached by the members of the 11th ICM and which were endorsed by the 22nd meeting of chairpersons.
Lists of Issues Prior to Reporting
The eleventh ICM devoted a great part of its time to discussing lists of issues prior to reporting (LOIPRs), an issue which I know is also on your agenda for discussion at this session.
LOIPRs are not about reducing workload nor reducing paper work. More importantly, they can enhance the quality of States parties’ reports and deepen the understanding of key challenges, thus facilitating the submission by States of more focused reports and consequently the adoption by treaty bodies of more targeted concluding observations. LOIPRs should also focus on the State party’s responses on the implementation of previous recommendations and allow for a better understanding of the quality of follow-up given by the concerned State. For OHCHR, LOIPRs, because of their analytical dimension, could lead to an even higher workload for the staff supporting your work and a certain degree of caution is therefore necessary. Our sight is, however, firmly set on the main objective of strengthening the treaty body system for the sake of better human rights protection on the ground.
The initiatives taken by your Committee and by the Committee against Torture regarding the adoption of LOIPRs were welcomed by the 11th ICM. Participants also noted the essential role played by national human rights institutions and civil society, including non-governmental organizations, with regard to the preparation of LOIPRs. In addition, the ICM recommended that human, technical and financial resources be allocated to the Secretariat for the preparation of lists of issues prior to reporting in order to enhance its capacity to meet the analytical requirements.
The ICM welcomed the initiative by the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) to prepare a joint general comment and recommended that other Committees explore the possibility of issuing joint general comments.
We are very aware of the on-going difficulties faced by treaty bodies to obtain timely translation of their documents, including replies to lists of issues sent by States parties. This is one of the serious and persisting problems experienced, not just by the treaty bodies but also by other United Nations human rights mechanisms, and the situation has been deteriorating in recent years. I wish to assure you that moving towards a resolution to this issue is a priority for the Office. But we need your leadership. We therefore fully understand the reiteration by the ICM of its deep concern at the increasingly limited ability of the UN conference services to provide translations of documents submitted by States parties to treaty bodies. In view of the concerns recently expressed by the UN conference services on the length and quality of the language of State party submissions, the ICM reiterated the page limits for State party reports varying from 40 to 80 pages included in the harmonized guidelines for reporting (HRI/GEN.2/Rev.6, paragraph 19 ) and agreed upon by the 5th inter-committee meeting. The ICM recommended that all treaty bodies highlight in their concluding observations the need for State parties to respect such page limits and requested the Secretariat to prepare language explaining the rationale behind this.
The ICM further requested the Secretariat to ensure that such page limits be applied in practice, including by conveying the concerns expressed by the UN conference services to all State parties through a note verbale and by requesting a State party whose report would not meet such requirement to review and eventually resubmit its report in accordance with the above mentioned guidelines.
Participants in the 11th ICM and the 17th annual meeting of special procedures mandate jointly recommended more systematic cross-referencing and reinforcement of special procedures and treaty bodies’ recommendations. Specifically, special procedures’ recommendations and invitations for country visits could be taken into account and referred to in treaty bodies’ concluding observations. Similarly, reference to and follow-up to treaty bodies’ recommendations and decisions should be made by mandate-holders in their reports and during country visits. In this respect, it was emphasized that recommendations be specific, measureable, achievable, realistic and time-bound to enable enhanced follow-up.
Theme of the next ICM
Up to 2009, the ICM was holding two annual meetings with three representatives of each treaty body attending both meetings. With the agreement of ICM and the chairpersons’ meeting, the ICM will from now on be convened once a year with two representatives from each treaty body (Chair plus one member) at the end of June. It was decided that the next ICM would discuss the following themes: structure of the dialogue with State parties and interaction with stakeholders, as well as continuation of the discussion on the structure and length of the concluding observations. The Secretariat was requested to prepare a background note on these themes.
In addition, one thematic working group is to meet once at the beginning of each year. The first thematic working group to convene in mid-January 2011 will focus on Follow-Up and be divided in two sub-groups on 1) reporting to treaty bodies and 2) individual communications.
22nd meeting of Chairpersons
From 1-2 July 2010, the 22nd meeting of the Chairpersons of the human rights treaty bodies was held in Brussels at the initiative of the OHCHR Regional Office. This was the first annual meeting of Chairpersons organized outside Geneva. The main objective of this initiative was to bring treaty bodies closer to the implementation level, to NGOs and regional mechanisms and raise awareness in Europe about treaty body work in order to strengthen linkages, synergies and implementation between international and regional human rights mechanisms.
The Chairpersons engaged with high-level representatives from various European Union institutions, including the European Commission and the European Parliament. Bilateral meetings were also organized with the Registrar of the European Court of Human Rights and with the Secretariat of the Fundamental Rights Agency of the EU. The Chairpersons also met with representatives of civil society organizations and academia. In their interaction with these interlocutors, the Chairpersons discussed, among other things, the applicability of the UN human rights conventions to EU actions and its consequences for EU policy-making, legislation and practical work; and the role of the European Union in promoting treaty ratification as well as implementation and follow-up to the recommendations of UN treaty bodies.
The achievements of this meeting were: giving an increased visibility to the Treaty Body system; enabling regional and international human rights mechanisms to collaborate and mutually reinforce one another and; providing tools to OHCHR regional offices so as to ensure greater impact of Treaty Body output through their activities in the field.
The Chairpersons agreed that meetings in different regions can provide significant added value to their work and therefore requested OHCHR to look into the possibility of organizing the Chairpersons meeting at a regional level every other year.
New ratifications and Compliance with reporting obligations by States parties to the Covenant
Since your last session, Pakistan ratified the Covenant, thus bringing the number of States parties to 166. With regard to compliance of States parties with their reporting obligations under the Covenant, I would like to inform you that since your 98th session, Armenia has submitted its second periodic report and Iceland its fifth periodic report.
Present session of the Human Rights Committee
Turning now to your present session, you will examine four State party reports (Estonia, Israel, Colombia and Cameroon). Your Country Task Forces will adopt lists of issues on the initial report of Kazakhstan and on the periodic reports of Slovakia, Ethiopia, Mongolia and Togo. You will also adopt a list of issues to a State whose initial report is long overdue, Dominica.
I am pleased to see that you will devote two meetings to issues regarding your working methods, in particular your draft revised reporting guidelines as well as focused reports based on LOIPRs.
During this session, you will as usual consider numerous individual communications as well as the progress reports submitted by the Special Rapporteur for Follow-up on Concluding Observations and the Special Rapporteur for Follow-up on Views.
You will also devote several meetings to your important work on draft General Comment no. 34 on Article 19 of the Covenant. In this regard, I would like to inform you that four regional expert workshops on the theme of incitement to national, racial or religious hatred are being currently prepared by OHCHR. These workshops, to take place within the next 18 months, are to be held in the context of implementation of the Durban Review Conference Outcome Document and will constitute a follow-up to the October 2008 OHCHR Expert Seminar on the links between articles 19 and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) with regard to freedom of expression and incitement to hatred. This technical exercise should provide an opportunity to explore legislative patterns, judicial practices and policies on incitement to national, racial or religious hatred. A wide range of qualified and representative experts will be invited to participate, including members of your Committee.
Distinguished members of the Committee,
Let me assure you of the full support of our Office and all services of the Secretariat in assisting you to fulfill your mandate. I would like to introduce a new staff member, Mr. Anganile Mwenifumbo, whose main assignement is to assist your Committee.
In conclusion, I wish you a fruitful and successful session.
“19. [...] If possible, common core documents should not exceed 60-80 pages, initial treaty-specific documents should not exceed 60 pages, and subsequent periodic documents should be limited to 40 pages. [..]”