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Opening address by Mr. Ibrahim Salama, Director, Human Rights Treaties Division to the Human Rights Committee 100th session, Geneva, 11 October 2010 - Palais Wilson, Ground Floor

Mr. Chairperson,
Distinguished members of the Committee,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to the 100th session of the Human Rights Committee. This is an important session as it marks a major milestone in the history of the Committee’s work in monitoring the implementation by States parties of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. You will celebrate this with a one day meeting on 29th October and could not have chosen a better theme than what you selected:  “Human Rights Committee: Stocktaking and Prospects”.

I must say that in light of the continued challenges in monitoring the implementation of the Covenant and the continued process of harmonising the working methods of the treaty bodies, the need to take stock of the Committee’s activities over the years and focus on future prospects is very timely. I wish you successful deliberations during the meeting as you celebrate this significant event. The High Commissioner, who unfortunately cannot be with you this morning, has asked me to convey to you her best wishes for this momentous occasion.

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. 

I am 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 was held in September. In the statement, which will be made available to you, the Chairpersons urged Member States to be guided by human rights in finalizing the Summit Outcome Document and in establishing national action plans. They drew the attention of Member States to the guidance offered by human rights treaties and the work of treaty bodies and emphasized 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. You will be pleased to note that the outcome document recognized that the respect for and protection and promotion of human rights is an integral part of effective work towards achieving the MDGs.

With respect to the main challenge facing the treaty body system, I am pleased to note 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.  I recently returned from a meeting by treaty body experts on this topic held in Poznan, to which all Chairpersons of treaty bodies were invited.  It was organized by the University of Poznan with the support of the Polish authorities, Michael O’Flaherty attended in his capacity as convener of the Dublin meeting on treaty body strengthening, but unfortunately Ms. Madjodina, at the last moment, was unable to attend the event. At the meeting, the participants reflected, among other things, on the independence of members and the enhancement of the role of Chairs. The outcome document of the meeting is undergoing final review and will be circulated to you shortly.

In addition, the OHCHR intends to facilitate consultations among treaty body members through the organization of a series of consultations involving the eight treaty bodies’ which have a reporting procedure. As you have all already been informed, the Human Rights Committee meeting is scheduled for Saturday October 16.  The objectives of these consultations are to provide space for a free exchange between members of treaty bodies to identify options for the future of their work and the TB system as a whole, including by addressing their working methods, and to allow treaty body members to discuss in advance issues tabled by the ICM and the CM.

I now draw attention to some practical issues relating to the servicing of the Committees.  

The Human Rights Treaties Division is well aware of the needs of the various Committees and works closely with all the relevant units of the UN Office at Geneva to ensure that the highest possible level of servicing can be provided to them. Unfortunately, the demands on the conference servicing units in Geneva have grown tremendously in recent years, not least due to the explosive growth of documentation needed by the Human Rights Council, and the Committees have felt the impact.

            On our side, we are working to try to streamline and rationalize procedures to harmonize practices among the treaty bodies, which hopefully will result in a more efficient treaty body system.  At the meeting in Poznan, representatives of all the Committees were looking at precisely these issues. We are also in discussions with the translation services and other units to see how to streamline and make the most effective use of the limited resources available to them and us.   

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. 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. As agreed by the ICM, treaty bodies have begun to systematically refer to page limitations in their concluding observations, when specifying the date by which the next report should be submitted.  

Having said this, it is also true that States parties face difficulties in focusing their reports. All too often concluding observations are very lengthy and contain a myriad of recommendations, all of which the State party is requested to address in its next periodic report. The discussion on the structure and length of concluding observations has already begun in the ICM and will certainly continue. I encourage you to start your reflections on how to focus concluding observations without of course losing their quality. As stated by the Deputy High Commissioner in her opening speech to the ICM in June, lists of issues prior to reporting can enhance the quality of States parties’ reports and deepen the understanding of key challenges, thus facilitating more focused reports and consequently more targeted concluding observations. I was interested to learn that at your last session you have adopted modalities for the use of list of issues prior to reporting and look forward to hear about your experiences once you have started receiving reports on that basis.

I also wish to take this opportunity to inform you that we are implementing new travel procedures which we hope will simplify your travel arrangements.  Following this morning’s opening, Eldon Pearce, Chief Finance and Budget Section and Sofie von Stapelmohr, from the Programme Support and Management Services, will brief you on the new procedures.

The Committee will no doubt be interested to note that the UN International Law Commission continued its deliberations on, “reservations to treaties”, during its 62nd session, which took place, in Geneva, from 3 to 4 May and 5 July to 6 August 2010. Its discussions culminated in the adoption of draft guidelines on the legal effects of, acceptances of, and objections to, reservations as well as interpretative declarations, also in the context of the succession of States. The specialised work of the ILC on the issue of reservations will certainly give food for thought to the Committee in its own deliberations on the subject of reservations.

I am reminded and saddened that we will lose three outgoing members of the Committee in the New Year: Mr. Prafullachandra Natwarlal Bhagwati, Ms. Ruth Wedgwood; and Mr. José Luis Perez Sanchez-Cerro. Each of these members has made major contributions to the work of the Committee in their own inimitable way and they will be truly missed by the Committee and Secretariat alike. I am glad to see however that there will still remain some continuity within the Committee and congratulate those members whose mandates have been renewed: Mr. Abdelfattah Amor, Ms. Christine Chanet, Mr. Yuji Iwasawa, Ms. Helen Keller, Ms. Iulia Antoanella Motoc, and Ms. Zonke Zanele Majodina. In addition, of course I note that the Committee will have the benefit of three newly elected members, all of whom will take up their appointments during the next session.

I now take this opportunity to thank Ms. Nathalie Prouvez the former Secretary of the Committee for all her excellent work to date. The Committee’s loss is of course someone else’s gain and Ms. Prouvez has been deservedly promoted to Chief of the Rule of Law Unit in the Research and Right to Development Division of the OHCHR. I think you will all join me in wishing her the best of luck in her new post.
I should now introduce you to the new Secretary a.i. of the Committee, Kate Fox Principi, who most of you already know. Ms. Fox has spent many years dealing inter alia with the individual complaints’ procedures of the treaty bodies, in particular this very body and no doubt will be a significant asset to the Committee in her new role.

Turning now to the work ahead, the agenda for this session will once again be a heavy one. You will examine five (5) State party reports (El Salvador, Poland, Jordan, Belgium and Hungary).  Your Country Task Forces will adopt lists of issues on the periodic reports of Kuwait, Bulgaria, Jamaica and Guatemala. You will also adopt a list of issues on a State whose initial report is long overdue, Côte d’Ivoire.

 I am also pleased to see that you will devote two meetings to issues regarding your working methods which, among other things, will focus on undue delay in dealing with communications.

As to the Committee’s pre sessional working group on communications, I am aware that some difficulties have come up in recent sessions regarding its functioning. I encourage you to discuss the matter during your present session and consider possible alternatives to the current system of examination of communications outside plenary meetings. The Secretariat is ready to assist you in this endeavour with a view to establishing a methodology which would ensure efficiency, quality of work and better use of the resources at the Committee’s disposal.

 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.  Many of you will already know that the High Commissioner for Human Rights has taken the initiative to organise a series of expert workshops on the prohibition of incitement to national, racial or religious hatred as reflected in article 20 ICCPR. These workshops come as follow-up to the 2008 OHCHR expert seminar on articles 19 and 20 of the ICCPR regarding freedom of expression and incitement to hatred and aim to gain a better understanding of relevant legislative patterns, judicial practices, and policies in countries of the different regions in the world; to discuss the state of implementation of the prohibition of incitement to hatred in conformity with international standards; and to identify possible actions at all levels.

With a view to laying the foundation for fruitful discussion in the workshops, consultants are in the process of preparing studies which will map legislative instruments, examples of jurisprudence and policies in the countries covered by a given workshop. We are currently preparing for the Europe workshop which we envisage will take place from 9-11 February in Vienna. The Human Rights Committee - as the custodian of the ICCPR - has of course a special interest in this exercise and for this reason we will make sure that the Committee is adequately represented in all 4 workshops. We will share further information on progress in the preparations once it becomes available.

In conclusion, let me assure you of the full support of our office and all services of the Secretariat in assisting you in your work. I wish you a very   productive session and joyous 100th session celebration.