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Opening address by Navanethem Pillay, High Commissioner for Human Rights to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, 56th session, 17 January – 4 February 2011

Committee on the Rights of the Child 56th session
17 January – 4 February 2011

Palais Wilson, Ground Floor
17 January 2011, 10 am


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

It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to the fifty-sixth session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child and extend my very best wishes for the New Year. Since your last session in October, there have been important new developments in the field of child rights which I would like to bring to your attention, as well as highlight several upcoming events of concern to the Committee. 

Treaty-Body Strengthening

In response to my 2009 call, a series of events have taken place, and others are scheduled in the coming months to solicit the views and concrete suggestions of different stakeholders regarding ways and means to strengthen the treaty body system.  

Due to its heavy workload, this Committee intimately knows the importance of maximizing time and resources.. The cap on the backlog of pending reports that the double-chamber sessions represented has now been removed. Working once again in a single chamber the backlog is beginning to rise anew. It is time to find sustainable solutions.

The foundation of the current treaty body strengthening process was laid out in the Dublin Statement, adopted in November 2009, followed in June 2010 by the Marrakech Statement and last September by the Poznan Statement.  The consultation phase of the process continued with a meeting of the working group on follow-up from 12 to 14 January 2011 in Geneva, where the Committee was represented by Ms. Lee, who served as its chair, and by Mr. Krappman. The meeting focused on the follow-up procedures relating to concluding observations, decisions on communications, visits and inquiries, including an assessment of their effectiveness.  A consultation for States parties is scheduled for May in Sion, and consultations for United Nations entities and civil society actors are planned next spring. The consultative phase will close next autumn with a meeting in Dublin. 

The Office is also organizing a series of consultations which brings together two treaty bodies at the time.  Their objective is to provide opportunities for members to discuss in advance the topics of the next Inter-Committee Meeting. I understand that your Committee is scheduled to meet with CEDAW on Saturday, 29 January 2011. 

I am encouraged by the commitment expressed by all Chairpersons to bring the treaty body strengthening process forward. The various consultations will culminate with a compilation of proposals stemming from this exercise which I will present this year. I sincerely hope that this joint effort to strengthen an ever expanding treaty body system faced with increasing challenges and resource scarcity will result in tangible recommendations for a more robust and sustainable system.

Open-Ended Working Group on an Optional Protocol

I am following with great interest the Open-ended Working Group of the Council tasked with the elaboration of an optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child that would establish a communications procedure.  I know that you, Madame Chairperson, and Mr. Zermatten participated very actively in the Working Group and that the Committee prepared a very useful written contribution. There are still pending issues on which consensus has not yet been reached, the most significant being a collective communications procedure. I hope that agreement can be reached in February and that the final text will not only reflect  the standards set in the most recent optional protocols on communications adopted to complement other human rights treaties, but that it  will also provide approaches best suited to the special needs of child victims of violations.

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and SRSG on Violence against Children

Later this year, the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary‑General on Violence against Children and my Office will jointly organize an expert meeting on the legal framework required to stem such violence.   I exhort you to speedily adopt your General Comment on Article 19, which will provide crucial elements to this joint endeavor.

I am also following with interest the initiative by this Committee and CEDAW to prepare a joint general comment on harmful practices.


I am confident that you followed closely the election last month for Committee seats. I would like to take advantage of our encounter today to express my personal gratitude and best wishes for the future to the outgoing members of the Committee: Mr. Citarella, Ms. El Ashmawi, Mr. Filali, Mr. Krappman, Ms. Ortiz, and Mr. Puras. May I also extend my heartfelt congratulations to the re-elected members of the Committee: Ms. Aidoo, Ms. Herczog, and Mr. Kotrane, as well as the newly elected members: Ms. Aseil Al-Shehail, Mr. Jorge Cardona Llorens, Mr. Gehad Madi, Mr. Bernard Gastaud, Ms. Hiranthi Wijemanne and Ms. Kirsten Sandberg.

Secretariat support

Knowing that this Committee has faced numerous changes in recent months, I am glad that the worst turmoil is now over. The recruitment of the new Secretary and the full CRC core team is now nearly completed. Those that have not already joined the team will do so next month, so that by the time of your May session, you will be serviced by the full complement. In the meantime, your new temporary Secretary of the Committee is none other than the Chief of Section, in whose good hands rests the organization of your present session.

Unfortunately, the issue of documentation remains thorny. The resource constraints facing our translation services and the growth in demand from other mechanisms have led to a situation with which you are all too familiar. For this Committee, it is exacerbated by the high number and volume of documents requiring translation. In this regard, I would like to personally thank our colleagues in UNICEF for stepping in to help. I would also like to express appreciation for the efforts of the Committee to limit the length of its concluding observations. I know that you are operating under difficult circumstances, and I appreciate that you are actively trying to help find solutions.

Concluding remarks

Let me conclude by noting that, while the situation of many children has improved thanks, in no small part, to your work and commitment and that of our partners, many other children continue to be victims of poverty, of societal or State negligence, of unscrupulous persons seeking to exploit them, or even of their own families or communities. I’ve observed with great concern that some countries are beginning to lower the age of criminal responsibility. In some countries, the financial crisis and other factors are reversing the progress that had been made toward eradicating child labor. We are also seeing the exploitation of children feeding on old fears and superstitions, such as in the recent rise in the branding of children as witches, causing already poor families to become further indebted in order to pay for expensive, cruel and sometimes life-threatening exorcisms. Where children are involved in armed conflict, the Secretary-General has noted that there is near total impunity for grave crimes perpetrated against them in the countries reviewed in his most recent report on this subject to the Security Council.

Thus, I cannot overemphasize the importance that I attach to the work of this Committee. Its in-depth examination of the situation of children, country by country, and its recommendations for action are important guiding tools for all of us to counter abuses.  Be assured that the Committee has my full support and that of my Office. At the same time, I would like to personally invite all the members to continue to actively engage in the process of strengthening the treaty body system as a whole.  

I wish you a very successful and productive session.

Thank you.