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Opening address by Ms. Carla Edelenbos, Chief , Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights at the 58th session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child

19 September 2011

Monsieur le président,
Distinguished members of the Committee
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to open the fifty-eighth session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child. This will be another session in which you will make your important contribution toward helping to ensure that all children will be able to enjoy their rights, focusing specifically on seven States parties and several events that I will review with you in a moment. This session, however, is also important for another reason. It will be your last before the High Commissioner sums up the results of two years of consultations with all stakeholders with a report presenting her proposals for treaty body strengthening. In this sense, it will be your last meeting where you will be able to discuss any further contributions you may wish to share with her.

The context of these efforts continues to evolve at a rapid pace. It might therefore be useful to review the most important developments of interest to the Committee that have taken place since your last session.

Draft optional protocol on a communications procedure

I will begin with the growth of the treaty body system, specifically concerning the CRC. Following the adoption by the Human Rights Council, during its 17th session, of the draft optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child established to elaborate a communications procedure, the draft Optional Protocol will now go before the General Assembly for approval during its 66th session. We are confident that this year children will finally join the ranks of full-fledged rights-holders empowered to bring their complaints about violations of their rights to an international body.

Human Rights Council resolution on Sexual Orientation

During the same session, the Human Rights Council also adopted, for the first time, a Resolution expressing grave concern about acts of violence and discrimination against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. The Resolution calls on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to commission a global study to document discrimination and violence on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, which has been a most divisive issue at the Council as well as in some treaty bodies. A panel discussion informed by this study will take place at the 19th Session of the Human Rights Council in 2012.

Establishment of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances

On 31 May 2011, during the first meeting of the States parties to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which took place at United Nations Headquarters in New York, the ten inaugural members of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances were elected. The long awaited Committee on Enforced Disappearances, established following the entry into force of the Convention on 23 December 2010, will hold its first session in November of this year. It will be the tenth human rights treaty monitoring body and the ninth that administers a review process on reports of States parties.

Treaty-Body Strengthening

As anticipated in previous statements, the process of treaty-body strengthening is advancing. Since your last session, new consultations were held with civil society organizations in Seoul and Pretoria. These will be followed by consultations with academics and with UN actors and regional mechanisms later this fall, both in Luzern. A wrap-up meeting will be held then in Dublin in November and the High Commissioner will present her proposals in early 2012.

There are many messages that are coming out of these meetings, which I know you will review during this session and in due course. Civil society organisations are clearly calling for strengthening of the system and they propose many specific ways in which this can be pursued, with varying degrees of complexity. One key demand is that all treaty bodies align their engagement procedures, instead of multiplying them in different forms and formats; this reinforces the same request by national human rights institutions made some months before. On the other hand, the key message of States, who also lend moral support to strengthening the treaty bodies, is clearly one of austerity and self-discipline, particularly in respect of the so-called “non-mandated activities” undertaken by nearly all treaty bodies, such as follow-up procedures, and the development of general comments.

With respect to Secretariat support, 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. Two documents on the growth of the treaty body system and resource implications were prepared by OHCHR for the Sion consultation. They were prepared at the repeated request of States parties, who are continuously confronted with ad-hoc requests for additional resources by individual treaty bodies, among them the request of the Committee for a double-chamber session each year on a permanent basis. I believe that more and more States are beginning to see that in the absence of a comprehensive solution, these ad hoc requests will become a permanent feature of the treaty system.

12th Inter-Committee Meeting and 23rd Meeting of Chairpersons

The Inter-Committee Meeting (ICM), held on 27-29 June, focused on enhancing the effectiveness of the treaty bodies, in particular by reinforcing coordination on the structure of the constructive dialogue 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 also looked at the harmonization of working methods. This meeting was followed on 30 June-1 July by the 23rd Meeting of Chairpersons which addressed the harmonization of working methods, eligibility and independence of members and enhancing the meeting of chairpersons. Your former and current Chairs, Ms. Lee and Mr. Zermatten, attended these meetings on your behalf.

The Treaty Bodies’ Chairpersons adopted a number of important decisions (relevant documentation is added in your files). Firstly, the Chairpersons decided to abolish the Inter-Committee Meeting in its current format. The reasons behind this decision were the low rate of implementation of ICM recommendations and uncertainties regarding the availability of the necessary funds in 2012-13 in view of the present funding crisis. It was agreed that if funding is available, OHCHR could support a substantive meeting or working group if deemed necessary by the Chairpersons. The intention is to replace the ICM with other meetings involving all concerned treaty bodies, to be convened as deemed necessary to deliberate on issues of common interest.

The Chairpersons also decided to engage in a drafting process of guidelines on the independence and expertise of members of treaty bodies and to hold their next meeting (June 2012) in the African continent in order, among others, to interact with the regional mechanisms and other actors. Finally, the Meeting of Chairpersons, while noting that the autonomy and specificity of treaty bodies should be respected, recommended that the Chairpersons be empowered to adopt measures on working methods and procedural matters which are common to all treaty bodies. Chairpersons will consult with their respective Committees on these matters in advance, and if a treaty body is not in agreement with the measures adopted by the Chairpersons, it may subsequently dissociate itself from it.

Child-related activities

In regard to child-specific activities, 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 organized an expert meeting on the legal framework required to prohibit, prevent and respond to all forms of violence against children. It took place in Geneva in the first week of July 2011. The expert meeting, which benefited from the participation of Mr. Kotrane of the Committee, led to the formulation of a number of practical recommendations to accelerate the adoption of effective legislation to protect all children from violence. Such recommendations are presented in the SRSG’s report to the General Assembly.

Additionally, OHCHR, with the support of AVIVA, the Consortium for Street Children and UNICEF, is organizing a meeting "on promoting and protecting the rights of children living and/or working on the street: bridging the gap between policy and practice". The meeting, which will take place on 1-2 November in Geneva, aims at gathering inputs for the report that the High Commissioner will present to the 19th session of the Human Rights Council on this subject in March 2012. Your Chairperson has been invited to participate in the meeting.
An Expert Meeting on violence in the Juvenile Justice system will also take place in Vienna in January 2012, to be organized by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, OHCHR and the Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) on Violence against Children.

The SRSG on Violence against Children has transmitted a Global Survey to Member States to assess progress in the follow-up to the recommendations of the UN Study on Violence against Children. The findings from this survey will inform a report to next year's session of the General Assembly, during which the SRSG’s mandate will be reviewed.
A positive measure regarding children affected by armed conflict was the unanimous adoption by the Security Council, during its annual Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict on 12 July, of a resolution expanding the criteria for listing parties to conflict in the Secretary-General’s annual report. The criteria, which listed parties who recruit or use children, kill and/or maim children, or commit sexual violence, now also include parties who attack schools and hospitals.

Secretariat support

With respect to Secretariat support, the news from the documentation services remains unaltered. A more dramatic reduction than was anticipated is now foreseen in the budget of the United Nations Secretariat. The Committee has felt the negative impact on the timely availability of translations of essential documents, especially Replies to the List of Issues. I would like to sincerely thank once again our colleagues in UNICEF who have again helped with the informal translation of some documentation for this session.

However, this problem reaffirms that we are facing a serious issue of resources which we all need to flag with all our counterparts (especially with States) continuously. As highlighted during the Sion meeting, an effective treaty body system needs to have sufficient resources that allow it to function properly.

The present session

This session promises to be a very interesting and busy one. You will consider seven States parties’ reports, six on the Convention (Italy; Republic of Korea; Syrian Arab Republic; Iceland; Panama; and Seychelles ) as well as the initial report of Sweden under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. You will be also holding a Day of General Discussion on “Children of incarcerated parents” in Palais des Nations on Friday 30 September 2011.

Allow me to conclude by wishing you a very successful and productive 58th session.