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Opening Address by Ms. Wan-Hea Lee, OIC, Human Righties Treaties Division to the Human Rights Committee 103rd Session

Madam Chairperson,
Distinguished members of the Committee
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my pleasure to welcome you to the one hundred and third session of the Human Rights Committee (HRC).   This will be another session in which you will make your important contribution to ensuring that civil and political rights are enjoyed by all, focusing specifically on five States parties and 20 individual communications.

Firstly, I am delighted to introduce you to a new member of staff of the Human Rights Treaties Division (HRTD), Mr. Simon Walker, who will replace Ms. Carla Edelenbos as Chief of Section 1. As you are aware, Ms. Edelenbos was selected as Chief of the Petitions and Inquiries Section a number of months ago. On behalf of Mr. Salama, Director of the Branch, I would like to take this opportunity to thank her warmly for her flexibility and hard work.

Human Rights Council and the treaty bodies

The Human Rights Council held its 18th session from 12 to 30 September.

You may be interested to note that among the numerous resolutions adopted by the Council was a resolution on the promotion and protection of freedom of expression on the Internet. According to this resolution, a panel discussion will be convened at its nineteenth session on this item, with a particular focus on the ways and means of improving its protection in accordance with international human rights law. This Committee’s newly adopted general comment on article 19 of the Covenant on freedom of opinion and expression will no doubt be a valuable source of reference for such a discussion. 

The Council also considered a report on the death penalty by the Secretary General and adopted a resolution requesting him to continue to submit to the Human Rights Council, a yearly supplement to his quinquennial report on capital punishment, paying special attention to the imposition of the death penalty on persons younger than 18 years of age at the time of the offence, on pregnant women and on persons with mental or intellectual disabilities.

Recent developments

The third regional expert workshop on the prohibition of incitement to national, racial or religious hatred, to explore legislative patterns, judicial practices and policies in this regard, took place in Bangkok, between 6 and 7 July 2011. The Chairperson participated in this meeting.  During this conference, many experts referred to the fact that insufficient ratification of international human rights instruments, particularly the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, is one of the challenges in the Asia-Pacific region to implementing this provision. They also emphasized that existing anti-blasphemy laws in a number of countries of the region have negatively affected the human rights of religious minorities and their relationships within their own communities as well as those with other religious communities. The last regional workshop in this series took place from 12 to 13 October in Santiago.

Treaty-Body Strengthening

As anticipated in previous statements, the process of treaty-body strengthening is advancing. The consultation process which started in Dublin in November 2009, continued in Marrakech in June 2010, in Poznan in September 2010, Seoul in April, Sion in May, and Pretoria in June 2011. Consultations specifically on the individual communications procedures of the treaty bodies will take place here in Geneva on 29 October. A wrap-up meeting on this entire process will be held in Dublin in November and the High Commissioner will present her proposals in early 2012.  Thus, this will be your last meeting where you will be able to discuss any further contributions you may wish to add to this process.

This Committee has been playing a crucial role in the treaty body strengthening process and I am pleased to see that for this session you have organized a formal meeting with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Such meetings can only impact positively on the work of both Committees’ with respect to the substance of your work on gender issues, as much as on your working methods. I also note that you will be continuing your discussion, commenced at the last session, on improving collaboration with National Human Rights Institutions and NGOs and observe that you have adopted a similar approach to other treaty bodies by setting aside time during your formal session to hear from them.

Secretariat support

You are all familiar with the budget limitations which continue to have a negative impact on the organization of treaty body sessions. During the consultations with State parties in Sion last May, we learned for the first time the full resource requirements for the preparation of the documentation needed by the treaty bodies. You will find copies of these reports in your basic reference files. 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. 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. This year’s report of the Secretary-General to the General Assembly on measures to improve further effectiveness, harmonization and reform of the treaty body system presents a possible way forward: a functional system whereby the resource needs for the work of the treaty bodies would be reviewed periodically, instead of having to continue to rely on ad-hoc requests for additional meeting time.

Some of you have posed specific questions on budgetary issues many of which go beyond those covered in the budgetary documents abovementioned. For that reason, it should prove interesting for you to hear from Mr. Kyle Ward and some members of his team who will take some time this morning during your Working Methods meeting to respond to specific questions in this regard. The information provided should assist you in your discussions during the 6th meeting with States parties which I understand will take place at this session.

Elections

At the last session, the High Commissioner extended her best wishes to Ms. Keller and Mr. El Haiba both of whom tendered their resignations, effective 30 September. On 3 October, the Secretary-General declared the two seats vacant and invited States parties to submit nominations for elections, which will be held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on 16 January 2012. Thus these posts should be filled prior to the Committee’s session in New York next year.

UN greening policy

I would like to share with the Committee the welcome trend among the treaty bodies to implement the UN greening policy.  I welcome the extension of the extranet established prior to the last session to the petitions section. In addition, the Secretariat will make some further suggestions during the session on how to reduce down the amount of paper which will be thrown away at the end of the session. I am hopeful that greater rationalization of documentation will lead to the same positive results we are seeing with other bodies we service. 

One hundred and third session

This Committee session will again be a busy one with the consideration of five country situations, including one State party in the absence of a report, 20 individual communications under the Optional Protocol and follow-up reports to concluding observations and to Views. You will also be adopting for the first time list of issues prior to reporting on five States parties, as well as five lists of issues under the regular reporting procedure.

In conclusion and without further ado, I wish you a very successful and productive 103rd session and open the floor for any questions or comments from the Members. 

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