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Opening address by Ivan Šimonović, Representative of the Secretary General, Assistant Secretary-General OHCHR, New York

Human Rights Committee  
101st session, New York, 14 March 2011


Distinguished members of the Committee,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is with great pleasure that I welcome you all to the 101st session of the Human Rights Committee. Allow me to congratulate and warmly welcome the three new members to the Committee all of whom come with a wealth of knowledge and experience, which will greatly contribute to the excellent work of this Committee. Mr. Flinterman from the Netherlands is of course not new to the treaty body system having been a long standing member of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Both Mr. Neuman from the US, and Ms Waterval, from Suriname, are also renowned academics in the area of human rights law and I wish all the new members success and professional satisfaction in their new positions. Congratulations are also due to those members who were re-elected last September.
New York Office
As you may know, I assumed my functions as Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights in July last year. Until that time, the High Commissioner had lacked representation at UN Headquarters at the principal level.
Over the past six months, we have reinforced and restructured our Office in New York, creating dedicated teams working on thematic human rights issues, country-specific issues, external relations and outreach, and intergovernmental affairs. We are also working to strengthen linkages between New York, Geneva and the field.
The investments we are making in staff and activities in New York reflect the fact that the decisions reached here in this building, both at an inter-governmental level and within the UN Secretariat, are critical in shaping international responses to global challenges. I am confident that in the year ahead we will be better positioned than in the past to maximize the impact in New York of work being carried out right across the UN human rights system, including the work of this Committee.
Now I would like to highlight several recent developments that have taken place since your last session and also note upcoming events that relate to your work organised by the OHCHR in Geneva.
Treaty body strengthening

2011 will be a challenging year for treaty bodies, as it will be for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  Following the High Commissioner’s call in the autumn of 2009 to treaty body experts, States parties, civil society actors and other stakeholders to initiate a process of reflection on ways and means to strengthen the treaty body system, a series of events have taken place, and others are scheduled in the coming months.  These events aim at bringing together individual groups of stakeholders to solicit their views and concrete suggestions on strengthening the working methods of the treaty bodies and making them more efficient and effective for rights-holders worldwide.

The Dublin Statement, adopted in November 2009, paved the way for current treaty body strengthening process.  As you know, it was followed in June 2010 by the Marrakech Statement containing recommendations for enhanced cooperation between national human rights institutions and treaty bodies.  Last September, the Poznan Statement was adopted. In addition, a meeting of the working group on follow-up set up by the ICM took place from 12 to 14 January 2011 in Geneva and was attended by Mr. Amor and Mr. Iwasawa from the Human Rights Committee. This working group focused on the follow-up procedures relating to concluding observations, decisions on communications, visits and inquiries, including an assessment of their effectiveness.  You have received in your files the points of agreement of the working group, which will be placed before the ICM and the Chairpersons meeting in June for further action aimed at harmonization. A consultation for States parties is scheduled for the 12th to13th May in Sion, to which the Chairs of all treaty bodies will be invited.  Consultations for United Nations entities and civil society actors are planned for later in the year.  Finally, a meeting is expected to close the consultative phase in Dublin next autumn. 
            You will recall that on 16 October during the last session your Committee engaged in a one-day consultation in Avenières and you should be aware that since then the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Committee on the Elimination of All forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), have also taken part in similar exchanges. As most of you are aware, the Office has been organizing these series of one-day consultations involving the eight treaty bodies’ which have a reporting procedure. The objective of these retreats is to provide opportunities for members of the treaty bodies to discuss in advance topics selected for the next Inter-Committee Meeting in June; and to provide a space for creative thinking with a view towards strengthening their working methods. 

            I am pleased to advise that the High Commissioner is very much encouraged by the commitment expressed by all Chairpersons to bring the treaty body strengthening process forward.

General Assembly

Members may also be aware that at its sixty-fifth session, the General Assembly session adopted various resolutions, including two approving additional meeting time for the Committee on the Elimination of All forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the Committee against Torture (CAT), to address the backlog of State parties’ reports and individual complaints.  Moreover, the GA requested the Secretary General to submit to the General Assembly at its 66th session concrete and tailored proposals on the human rights treaty bodies, including the Human Rights Committee, to improve their effectiveness and to identify efficiencies in their working methods to better manage their workloads and programmes of work, bearing in mind budgetary constraints and taking account of the varying burdens on each treaty body.        

Status of new Optional Protocol on individual communications to the CRC

The Committee members will be interested to hear that on 17th February this year the open-ended Working Group on an Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child of the Human Rights Council adopted a draft Optional Protocol to establish an individual communications procedure under that Convention. This draft will be placed before the Human Rights Council for formal adoption in June of this year and subsequently before the General Assembly for approval during its 66th session.

New ratification

On another positive note, members will be pleased to note that Guinea Bissau ratified the Covenant on 1 November 2010 without reservations. It will enter into force on 1 February 2011. This means that there are now 167 States parties to the Covenant. This additional ratification represents an important stride towards the universal ratification of the Convention. In addition, the Committee will also be pleased to learn that on 6 December 2010, Kyrgyzstan became the 73rd State party to the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.
Distinguished members of the Committee,

May I draw your attention to the issues relating to the servicing of the Committee. The Office continues to note the rightful concerns of the Committees about servicing levels.  OHCHR works closely with all the relevant units of the UN Office in Geneva to ensure that the highest possible level of servicing is provided to the treaty bodies.  As most of you are aware, however, the demands on the conference servicing units in Geneva have grown tremendously in recent years without the requisite increase in resources. OHCHR and the chairs of treaty bodies have worked to sensitize the General Assembly about the need to ensure that additional human resources are provided as required for any request for additional meeting time or for new treaty based requirements.

As most of you are aware, 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.   We are also in discussions with the translation services and other units to see how to make the most effective use of the limited resources available to them and us.   

I understand that States parties themselves face difficulties in focusing their reports and note that the discussion on the structure and length of concluding observations continues in the ICM. I am also interested to learn that you will announce during this session the first five States parties which will be considered under the new procedure of list of issues prior to reporting, and for whom such lists of issues will be adopted during the October session this year. I believe that the new procedure of lists of issues prior to reporting may have the potential to 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 look forward to hearing your experiences once you have started receiving reports on that basis. They should be examined carefully to evaluate the full potential of the new procedure.

On another positive note, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has been making great advances in stabilizing the staffing for the treaty bodies. The Human Rights Treaties Division is no doubt pleased to have a strengthened core team servicing the Human Rights Committee. The core team consisting of Ms. Kate Fox Principi, the Secretary of the Committee, and Ms. Thodiyil and Mr. Mwenifumbo has recently been joined by Ms. Prophette-Palasco, who comes to the team with extensive field experience, which will surely be of great advantage to the Committee as much as the Secretariat.

Turning to the work at hand, this session will, as usual, be a very busy one with the consideration of 4 States parties’ reports (Togo, Slovakia, Serbia, and Mongolia) as well as the examination of the country situation in the Seychelles, in the absence of a report. Country Task Forces will adopt lists of issues on the periodic reports of Iran, Dominican Republic, Norway, and Yemen. You will also adopt a list of issues on a State whose initial report is long overdue, Malawi.

During this session, you will also consider 26 individual communications as well as the progress report submitted by the Special Rapporteur for Follow-up to Concluding Observations and the progress report on  Follow-up to Views.  You will also devote several meetings to the second reading of your important and timely draft General Comment no. 34 on Article 19 of the Covenant, which deals with freedom of expression and information.  

In this context, some of you are already aware that the expert workshop for Europe on the prohibition of incitement to national, racial or religious hatred took place in Vienna, between 9 and 10 February 2011.  This is the first in a series of expert workshops, organized by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, on the prohibition of incitement to national, racial or religious hatred as reflected in article 20 ICCPR. The aim of these workshops is 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. The workshop was well attended with around 100 participants, including academics, ombudspersons, civil society representatives, Member State delegates, and some Committee members, including Mr. O’Flaherty from your Committee. The various experts and many of the observers praised the High Commissioner's initiative and the high quality of the substantive debates. A report on the discussions held and suggestions made during this workshop will be forthcoming. The next workshop will take place in Nairobi, from 6 to 7 April 2011 for the African region and Ms. Majodina from your Committee will participate in this event.

In conclusion, and not wishing to keep you further from the formidable workload before you, allow me to wish you, on behalf of the High Commissioner, a very successful and productive session.