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Opening address by the Representative of the Secretary-General by Ms. Wan-Hea Lee, Chief of the Groups in Focus Section, Human Rights Treaties Division, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights - Committee on the Rights of the Child, 57th session (30 May – 17 June 2011)

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

It is my pleasure to welcome you to the fifty-seventh session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child. In particular, I would like to welcome to Geneva the newly elected members:Ms. Aseil Al-Shehail, Mr. Jorge Cardona Llorens, Mr. Bernard Gastaud, Mr. GehadMadi, Ms. Kirsten Sandberg and Ms. HiranthiWijemanne. I wish them all the best in their work with the Committee for the next four years. I would also like to extend my best wishes to Ms. Susana Villarán de la Puente, who tended her resignation in March, as she embarks on her new role as Mayor of Lima. In this regard, I welcome here in Geneva the candidate nominated by the Government of Peru to replace her, Ms. PilarNores de García.

I would like to bring to your attention a number of new developments which emerged since your last session last January 2011and also note some upcoming events which relate to your work.

Open-ended Working Group on an optional protocol

On 16 February 2011, the Open-ended Working Group on an optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child established to elaborate a communications procedure adopted text and transmitted it to the Human Rights Council. As you are aware, it is scheduled for consideration by the Council at the present session, which is also opening today.

The draft Optional Protocol provides for individual complaints, inter-state communications and an inquiry procedure. Now a child, in his or her own right and capacity, has at last the possibility to complain directly to the Committee. The High Commissioner notes the disappointment of the Committee that some of its suggestions, such as the collective communications procedure, were not included in the text, while others that it did not support, such as the possibility of States parties to opt-out of the inquiry procedure and to make reservations under the Optional Protocol, were retained. She is nevertheless of the view that the Optional Protocol is a positive development in protecting and advancing the rights of the child and is appreciative of the important role played by the Committee in its elaboration.

Establishment of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances

The long-awaited establishment of the Committee on Enforced Disappearance is now imminent. In accordance with article 26 of the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance, the first meeting of States parties will be held tomorrow in New York to elect the ten inaugural members of the Committee.

Treaty-Body Strengthening

In 2009, the High Commissioner for Human Rights made a call to different stakeholders, including States and civil society organizations, soliciting their views and concrete suggestions regarding ways and means to strengthen the treaty body system. The consultation stage of this process, which started in Dublin in November 2009, continued in Seoul in April 2010 with civil society actors and in Sion earlier this month with State representatives. The Seoul Statement reminds us that the purpose of the strengthening process is “to improve States’ compliance with their obligations under the Treaties to which they are party so as to improve the promotion and protection of human rights on the ground”.   As expected, civil society participants had many concrete ideas for improvements, several of which were supported by States in Sion. Madam Chair represented you ably at both meetings.

In Sion, with the support of the Swiss authorities and thanks to the good organization of the International Institute of the Rights of the Child, headed by Mr. Jean Zermatten, 150 participants representing more than 90 countries, the Chairpersons or other representatives of all the treaty bodies and the High Commissioner for Human Rights herself discussed ways to improve the treaty body system over two intensive days. Issues included State party reporting process with suggestions on how to rationalize and focusing the reporting obligation as much as possible, for instance by using List of Issues Prior to Reporting and clear page limits for reports.

Regarding constructive dialogue there were many references to the value of face-to face dialogue, supported by video conferencing to broaden access to the process. Several States mentioned better time management for the dialogue, the need for focusing the dialogue on treaty obligations and for balancing the time when the Committee and the State party delegation take the floor. There were discussions about the independence of experts and there were proposals on guidelines on eligibility and independence of treaty body members, as well as gender balance and expertise. While we are still far from a consensus on the necessary actions to strengthen the treaty bodies, the consultations have yielded a bountiful basket of proposals – some quite far-reaching, and others which should be easy to implement quickly and painlessly. The new members have assumed duties just in time to join this most interesting discussion. Further consultations are foreseen in next month with grass root civil society organizations in Pretoria, with academics in Luzern and in the same city also with UN actors and selected regional mechanisms. A wrap-up meeting will be held in Dublin in November and the High Commissioner will present her report in early 2012. 

Inter-Committee Meeting

The next Inter-Committee Meeting, to be held on 27-29 June, will focus on enhancing the effectiveness of the treaty bodies, in particular by reinforcing coordination on the structure of the constructivedialogue with States parties; the structure and length of concluding observations; and interaction with stakeholders, in particular national human rights institutions and non-governmental organizations. It will also look at the harmonization of working methods. This meeting will be followed on 30 June-1 July by the 23rdMeeting of Chairpersons which will address the harmonization of working methods, eligibility and independence of members and enhancing the meeting of chairpersons.

The High Commissioner is appreciative of the role of the Committee as a leader in promoting coordination. You were among the first to empower your Chair with decision-making authority at the Meeting of Chairpersons, which was a milestone in the efforts to strengthen the treaty bodies. We note that the Committee continues to demonstrate the potential for coordination and joint action by pursuing the development of its first joint General Comment with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which will be on harmful practices. 

Child-related activities

I also wish to inform you that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Violence against Children, the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the NGO Advisory Council for the follow up to the UN Study on Violence against Children are organizing an expert meeting on the legal framework required to prohibit, prevent and respond to all forms of violence against children. The expert meeting will take place in Geneva the first week of July 2011.  The aim of the Consultation is to formulate practical recommendations to accelerate the adoption of effective legislation to protect all children from violence. The Consultation will focus on progress achieved and factors critical to legal reform, covering selected issues from among the five settings identified by the Study as key areas where violence against children manifests itself (in the home, in the community, in schools, in institutional care and justice institutions, and in places of work). Participants in the consultation will include experts in the area, including the CRC, special procedure mandate holders, UN agencies, parliamentarians and members of civil society. 

In addition, the Office of the SRSG on Violence against Children, the Council of Europe, the Norwegian Royal Ministry of Education and Research, the Norwegian Royal Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion and the Norwegian Royal Ministry of Foreign Affairs are organizing another expert meeting on “Tackling violence in schools”. The event will take place in Oslo, Norway on the 27th and 28th of June 2011.  OHCHR will be participating in the meeting, which will aim at sharing recent European and global data and research in combating violence against children in schools; consolidating the various national and international methodologies, strategies, initiatives and good practices to make schools free from violence.

It is expected that recommendations from both expert consultations are presented by the SRSG on Violence against Children in her report to the General Assembly. OHCHR is coordinating with the SRSG Office to ensure participation from the CRC in both events.

Secretariat support

Turning to your own Committee, I am pleased, after a long transition period, to finally be able to announce that your new Committee Secretary and core team are now fully in place. Unfortunately, the news from the documentation services remains unaltered. At the Sion meeting, we learned for the first time the full resource requirements for the preparation of the documentation needed by the treaty bodies.  It reinforced with greater precision what we already knew: that the level of resources never increased to match the growing number of procedures adopted by the treaty bodies and the States parties requiring additional documentation; that the capacity to service further meetings is stretched to the maximum; and that a more dramatic reduction than was anticipated is now foreseen in the budget of the United Nations Secretariat that will further negatively impact its ability to translate documents on time. Knowing this, our colleagues in UNICEF have again helped with the informal translation of some documents for this session and I would like to sincerely thank them for this.

UN greening policy

Please help us to protect the environment by using as little paper as possible. You can see before each of you the thousands of pages which have been printed for your folders, most of which will be thrown away at the end of the session. The UN as a whole is gradually reducing the production and distribution of hard copy documents, and some Committees have already conducted paperless sessions. I hope that with your cooperation we can find practical ways to reduce the quantity of pages that need to be printed for future Committee sessions, perhaps as early as your next September session.


Finally, we note that today you will elect a new Bureau. I would like to congratulate the outgoing Bureau for all its good work over the last two years. In particular, I would like to warmly thank Madam Chair, Ms. Lee, for her wise guidance and leadership over the last four years, a period when the Committee has had to face great challenges, including sessions in double chambers, the entry into force of the two Optional Protocols and the elaboration of a third, as well as the tireless efforts to promote national implementation. May I also commend the important role she played during this past year as Chairperson of the Inter-Committee Meeting. She has exhibited constancy and commitment, and I am sure that you will all join me in thanking her and wishing her all the best in readjusting back to “civilian life”.
I wish you a very successful and productive 57th session.