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Opening address by Mr. Ibrahim Salama, Director of the Human Rights Treaties Division, Representative of the Secretary-General

Committee on the Rights of the Child
55th session, Geneva, 13 September 2010
Palais Wilson, Ground Floor

Madam Chairperson,
Distinguished members of the Committee,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to the fifty-fifth session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child. Before turning to your work during this session, allow me to bring to your attention a number of important new developments of interest to the Committee that have taken place since your last session and also note some upcoming events which relate to your work. 

Allow me to begin with the Human Rights Council, which in March 2010 adopted resolution 13/3. The resolution extended the mandate of the Open-ended Working Group on an Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child until the 17th session of the Council and also mandated the Working Group to elaborate an Optional Protocol to provide a communications procedure. Several of the Committee members participated and have played an important role in the first session of the Open-ended Working Group in December 2009 and in the expert consultations organised by OHCHR in June in Geneva. It is of great significance that, following the Council’s request, a proposal for an Optional Protocol has been presented in August 2010 by the Chairperson- Rapporteur of the Working Group. The proposal, which will constitute the base for the negotiations during the second session of the Working Group next December, contains innovative features such as provisions relating to collective communications, protection measures for petitioners and the confidential maintenance of their identity. Furthermore, the proposal enshrines the principle of the best interests of the child, to be ensured by the Committee, as a primary consideration in all actions concerning the child. I am confident that the Committee members will study the proposal text in detail and continue to provide valuable advice in relation to this process. I am aware that the Committee intends to submit an elements paper at the upcoming second session of the Open-ended Working Group, which will be held in Geneva 6-10 December 2010, and I am convinced this paper will play an important role in informing the negotiations.

As you are aware, 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 Ms. Agnes Aidoo and Ms. Yanghee Lee. Ms. Lee played a particularly important role in acting as Chairperson/ Rapporteur for the meeting. 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.

The difficulties in ensuring the availability of processed and translated documents were discussed at length during the ICM. This is of course a concern which we share in the Secretariat. We are very aware of the on-going difficulties faced by treaty bodies to receive 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.

In this regard, we welcome that the ICM emphasized the need for all treaty bodies to enforce page limitations set in the harmonized and treaty-specific guidelines and the agreement that a standard sentence be inserted in the concluding observations of each treaty body requesting States parties to respect page limits, explaining that lengthy reports might not be processed and translated in time for the session. The ICM recommended that the Secretariat inform all States parties of the page limits by note verbale. States parties whose reports do not meet the length requirements would be advised by the Secretariat on how to reduce them. I am happy to inform you that a note verbale to that effect was sent out to all Permanent Missions to the UN on 8 September 2010.

A further issue discussed at the ICM was the initiative by the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) to prepare a joint general comment on harmful traditional practices. The ICM recommended that other Committees also explore the possibility of issuing joint general comments.

The eleventh inter-committee meeting 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 eleventh inter-committee meeting encouraged all treaty bodies to consider whether such procedures could be applicable to them and recommended that CAT and the HRC report back to the twelfth inter-committee meeting on their experiences in implementing such procedures.

It was decided that the next ICM will 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. 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.

I also wish to refer briefly to the 22nd meeting of the Chairpersons of the human rights treaty bodies was held in Brussels on 1-2 July 2010, 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 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.

Among the positive outcomes of such meetings, I wish to highlight the increased visibility to the Treaty Body system. Furthermore, it allows regional and international human rights mechanisms to collaborate and mutually reinforce one another and provides 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. I am pleased to note that the Committee has already strengthened its cooperation with actors at the European regional level.

Furthermore, also regarding regional cooperation, I wish to welcome the collaboration you are currently developing with the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. I know several members of this African Committee will be present during this session and that the two Committees will meet to further explore how they can mutually reinforce each others mandates and exchange experiences and information.

I am pleased to advise that the High Commissioner’s repeated call on different stakeholders to reflect on how to strengthen the treaty body system, has, as you well know, led to a number of initiatives. Upcoming is a meeting by treaty body experts in Poznan to which all Chairpersons of treaty bodies are invited. In addition, OHCHR intends to facilitate consultations among treaty body members through the organization of a series of consultations involving the eight treaty bodies’ having a reporting procedure. These consultations will be held on a Saturday during treaty bodies’ sessions planned between now and the end of June 2011. Depending on the options offered by the calendar of meetings, each consultation will involve the participation of one or two treaty bodies. We will advise you of possible dates for CRC members shortly.

I am also pleased to inform you that the Chairpersons of the treaty bodies have for the first time ever issued a joint statement at the occasion of Millennium Development Goal (MDG) Summit which is being held this September. In the statement, which will be made available to you, the Chairpersons urge Member States to be guided by human rights in finalizing the Summit Outcome Document and in establishing national action plans. They draw the attention of Member States to the guidance offered by human rights treaties and the work of treaty bodies and emphasize that realizing the MDGs should be an important step on the longer, and continuous, road towards the full and effective realization of all human rights for all.

Turning now to the work ahead, I wish to introduce you to the new Secretary a.i. of the Committee, Ms. Susan Mathews, who bring with her a wealth of expertise on economic and social rights which no doubt will be a significant asset to the Committee. This Committee session will again be a busy one with 18 reports from 10 States parties scheduled for consideration during the session and 9 lists of issues set for adoption during the pre-sessional working group. This September session is the last of three sessions in double chambers as a temporary special measure to deal with the backlog of reports. While sessions in double chambers can be resorted to as a temporary measure, I do believe that the difficulties faced, at least from a Secretariat point of view, in supporting the work in two Chambers demonstrated the continued need to reflect on possible future modalities to handle reviews of the very high number of State party reports this Committee is facing, as all three treaties you monitor have a reporting requirement.

I wish to bring to your attention that the Secretariat presented a report pursuant to two General Assembly resolutions (63/243 and 63/244), in which the Assembly decided to assess the situation regarding the meeting time of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the Committee on the Rights of the Child at its sixty-fifth session on the basis of an evaluation made by the Office of the High Commissioner, taking into account a more comprehensive approach to the backlog of human rights treaty bodies and the increasing number of reports of States parties to the human rights conventions. The report provides information on the use of the approved additional meeting time by both Committees, placing the efforts of these two Committees within the context of the increasing workload faced by the human rights treaty body system as a whole. The report will be brought to your attention once it is available in advance edited version.

I also wish to take this opportunity to inform you that we are implementing new travel procedures which we hope will make your travel arrangements smoother.

In addition to the State party reviews, you will this session be discussing three different general comments and adopt new Harmonized Treaty-Specific Reporting Guidelines, revised Rules of Procedure and an Elements Paper on the draft Optional Protocol on a communications procedure to be submitted to the second session of the Open-ended Working Group in December. As usual, you will also be having meetings with United Nations system entities as well as non-governmental organizations.

I wish to inform you that an expert consultation will be organized by the SRSG on Violence against Children on Child and OHCHR on Child sensitive counseling, complaint and reporting mechanisms at the end of September. We hope a representative of the Committee will be able to participate and contribute to the discussions at this event.

Furthermore, I am aware that after the session, representatives of the Committee will attend a seminar in Sion on “harmful practices and human rights”, the last day of which is set aside for a special meeting between CRC and CEDAW members to discuss the development of the joint general comment on harmful traditional practices in the working group established together with CEDAW. The considerable activities you undertake in addition to your regular work demonstrate the considerable commitment and engagement of the members of this Committee.

Please allow me to conclude by wishing you a very successful and productive session.