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Opening address by Ms. Navy Pillay, High Commissioner for Human Rights, Open- ended Working Group on an optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child to provide a communications procedure - Room XVII, Palais des Nations - Monday 6 December 2010, 10.00 a.m.

Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to welcome you today as you start the second session of the Working Group mandated by the Human Rights Council to elaborate an optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child to provide a communications procedure, in compliance with Council Resolution 13/3, adopted last March.

At the outset, I would like to refer to the call made by the General Assembly last December, in its Resolution 64/146 on the Rights of the Child,   to ensure that child-sensitive procedures are made available to children and their representatives so that children have access to effective remedies for  breaches of their rights arising from the Convention on the Rights of the Child through independent advice and complaint procedures.

It is encouraging to note that much progress has been made since you met for the first time, almost one year ago, to explore the possibility of elaborating an optional protocol. During your deliberations at that time it became clear that there was a need for an optional protocol which would offer to children an equivalent level of protection to that provided in many other international core human rights treaties. Following your discussions, the Council not only extended the mandate of the Working Group allowing you to initiate the drafting process, but also requested your Chairperson to prepare a proposal for a draft on the basis of your deliberations and giving due regard to the views of the Committee on the Rights of the Child and other experts.

 In this regard, I wish to congratulate Mr. Drahoslav Štefánek for his efforts in preparing a proposal to be used as a basis for the negotiations ahead. This proposal was prepared promptly enough for delegations to be able to examine it carefully prior to your session this week. It builds on existing instruments of the same kind, the large experience of treaty bodies in examining individual communications and the need to take into consideration the special needs of children as well as the nature of the rights protected under the Convention. The proposal that you are about to examine shows the serious and constructive manner in which you have approached your work. I can only encourage you to continue in this way and to accomplish your mandate in the same constructive spirit.

Allow me to convey to you my interest and that of my Office in the mandate of this Working Group. As a former judge, I firmly believe that litigation and the examination of communications from individuals at regional and international level can make a vital contribution to the understanding of the substantive content of international norms and can lead to real change not only for the individuals directly concerned but for all those protected by the rights guaranteed in the treaties. As it has been pointed out in many occasions, regional and international remedies also provide a strong incentive for strengthening national protection mechanisms. The future optional protocol would serve the same purpose, thus improving access to remedies and relief for victims.

While we welcome the adoption of new instruments, they also represent a challenge for my Office in terms of the additional workload and structural efforts involved. This is valid in connection with all monitoring mechanisms, including State reporting and communications procedures. The treaty body system needs to be provided with the necessary means to meet that challenge. I trust that your deliberations on the optional protocol will also take into consideration this concern.

In support for your mandate and upon the initiative of the Chairperson of the Committee, Ms. Yanghee Lee, my Office organized last June an expert consultation where most of the relevant issues regarding the optional protocol,  were discussed. For two days, experts on litigation on children issues shared their experience and expressed their views as to the possible content of the future optional protocol.

While acknowledging the merits of existing communication procedures and their valuable contribution to the development of a rich body of international jurisprudence, experts were generally in favour of an optional protocol which would be innovative, adapted to children and which would take into account the main principles enshrined in the Convention. They considered, inter alia, that the communications procedure should be transparent and that measures should be taken to ensure wide dissemination among potential users. Consistent with the campaign for their universal ratification, the optional protocol should apply to the rights protected under the Convention and its two optional protocols. Experts were generally in favour of including provisions allowing the Committee to examine both individual and collective communications, as well as including a provision by which no reservation to the optional protocol would be allowed. They believed that the Committee should have the competence to request interim measures in cases pending before it, and that a call should be addressed to States to take action  when such requests for interim measures are formulated. Experts were also in favour of including a procedure for friendly settlement between the parties in a communication, while ensuring that such procedure would fully take into consideration the interests of the child.

I encourage you to give due consideration to the suggestions made by  the experts as well as to the comments on the proposal of the Chairperson prepared by the Committee on the Rights of the Child and circulated to you in document A/HRC/WG.7/2/3. As the monitoring body of the Convention and future monitoring body of the optional protocol, the views of the Committee are particularly relevant at this stage. I also encourage you to pay attention to relevant regional human rights instruments, such as the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, which contains a communications and inquiry procedure.

Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Drafting a new international instrument is usually a long process but the progress you have already made is very promising. I encourage you to keep in mind the need to ensure consistency and coherence with the existing body of international human rights law but also to be innovative in order to achieve  the best possible level of protection for children through the most effective mechanisms.

I wish to take this opportunity to emphasize, once more, the importance of the treaty body’s work. You know how much it means to me to support this unique human rights protection system and tool for the progressive development of human rights law. While States are the owners and creators of the system and bear the primary responsibility of ensuring respect for the obligations they undertook when ratifying the treaties, the treaty bodies have a central role in monitoring those obligations and provide States with the wealth of their rich expertise. In this regard, I feel optimistic in view of the positive responses that we are receiving to my initiatives on the treaty body strengthening process and encourage you to continue the reflection on ways and means to improve the treaty bodies functioning and outputs.

Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I wish you a very fruitful and successful session on this important new phase in your work.