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Opening address by Ms. Carla Edelenbos at the Seventy-seventh session of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

2 August 2010

Distinguished members of the Committee, ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to welcome you to Geneva on the occasion of the seventy- seventh session of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The High Commissioner who is currently on mission in New York sends her greetings. She looks forward to following your meeting closely.

Before turning to your work during this session, allow me to bring to your attention a number of important developments of interest to the Committee that have taken place since your last session in February/March of this year.

Working Group of Experts on People of African descent

The ninth session of the Working Group of Experts of People of African Descent took place from 12 to 16 April 2010. This year the Working Group concentrated its work on the analysis of structural discrimination against people of African Descent and a discussion on possible activities in the context of the International Year for People of African Descent, which will be 2011. The participation of Mr. Murillo and Mr. Lahiri representing the Committee in this meeting was highly appreciated as it enriched the debates of the Working Group of Experts of African Descent both in its discussions on structural discrimination as well as in the identification of activities for the International Year for People of African Descent. The report of the session is available in your files and Mr. Murillo and Mr. Lahiri will brief you on this during the session.

The Committee will also devote some time for a preliminary discussion in relation to the thematic debate on People of African Descent which will take place next session at the beginning of the International Year of People of African Descent.

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. Two months 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 interesting ideas in this regard (a copy of this statement is available in your files). 
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 have been invited to this follow-up event.
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. Kemal and Ms. Dah.

I would like to draw your attention in particular to some 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). It noted with interest the optional reporting procedures adopted by the Committee against Torture (CAT) and the Human Rights Committee (HRC) in respect of lists of issues prior to reporting. The inter-committee meeting encouraged all treaty bodies to consider whether such procedures could be applicable to them and recommended that CAT and HRC report back to the twelfth inter-committee on their experiences in implementing such procedures, including a preliminary assessment of their advantages and challenges.
The meeting also took note of the new procedure adopted by CERD, replacing the list of issues with a list of themes which does not require written replies and is meant to guide the dialogue between the State party and Committee.

General Comments
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.  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. We 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.

Special procedures
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
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.

Acknowledging the success of holding for the first time at regional level the 22nd Meeting of Chairpersons in Brussels, the Chairpersons recommended that in future it meets every other year at regional level with the objective to bring human rights treaty bodies closer to the implementation level and raise awareness in all regions on treaty body work in order to strengthen linkages, synergies and implementation between international and regional human rights mechanisms and institutions.

New ratifications and compliance with reporting obligations by States parties to the Covenant
Since your last session, Estonia recognized the competence of your Committee to consider individual communications as established by art. 14(1) of the Convention, thus bringing the number of State parties which recognize such competence to 54. With regard to compliance of States parties with their reporting obligations under the Covenant, I would like to inform you that since your 76th session, ten State parties have submitted their periodic reports.

As to other treaty body related developments, in June, the first ratification of the new Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was received from Ecuador. As regards the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, we are only two ratifications away from the 20 ratifications needed for its entry into force. In addition, the membership of several treaty bodies, namely the Committee on Migrant Workers, the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, has increased due to new ratifications.

While these latter developments are encouraging, there are also considerable challenges facing the treaty body system. Advances in the system will be achieved only when we fully take to heart that while each treaty body is an independent legal mechanism monitoring specific treaties, none of them work in isolation. It is critical to develop and uphold a clear vision of a coherent treaty body system. It is incumbent upon all treaty bodies to contribute to this process by continuing to further improve and harmonize their working methods.

In order to better prepare ourselves for current and future requirements, OHCHR has engaged 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 concrete recommendations on how to better integrate treaty reporting and implementation in the overall mandate of OHCHR. I am pleased to inform you that the work of the consultant is well advanced.

The High Commissioner and all of us at OHCHR look forward to the continued progress in your work. As we continue to compile your ideas and suggestions, we hope to see broad agreement on a meaningful set of treaty body strengthening measures emerging in the near future. In this regard, we count on your expertise and support.

Current session of the Committee

Let me now turn to the work of the Committee during this session. You will have, as always, during the next four weeks, a heavy agenda. You will consider the reports on the implementation of the Convention in eleven States parties, namely El Salvador, Iran, Uzbekistan, Romania, Australia, France, Slovenia, Morocco, Denmark, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Estonia in order of consideration. The Committee will consider two cases under its complaint procedure as well as a number of cases under its early warning and urgent action mechanism. You will also consider a number of countries under the Committee’s follow-up procedure. You will meet the Chair of the Inter-Governmental Working Group on the Effective Implementation of DDPA as well as the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. You will have an informal meeting with NGOs with the view to strengthening the interaction between the Committee and NGOs. As is its practice, the Committee will hear three National Human Rights Institutions during the formal session concerning the States that are reporting at this session. You will also meet in a closed meeting with representatives of UN entities for the same purpose.

I would like to conclude by wishing you a very productive session and reiterate the great appreciation of our Office for your extremely valuable work.  Thank you.  

“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. [..]”