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Concluding Remarks by the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights: Consultations with States on strengthening the treaty bodies 7-8 February 2012

8 February 2012

Mr. Moderator, distinguished delegates,

By way of closing, let me offer you just some observations. They are inevitably short, and in no way a full or logical reflection of all the comments and ideas discussed during these two days of rich discussions. The room was full when we started yesterday morning, and when I look around now, it remains pretty full to these final minutes. I think this is a clear demonstration of the importance we all attach to the subject under discussion.

I thank you all for your active participation, the moderators for facilitating the discussions, and the treaty body experts for sharing their experiences.

I think we all learned a great deal about the scope of the challenge facing us, and all the issues that we need to think through. And this task certainly does not end here, but will now move on to New York.

But I think a couple of points have become very clear to all of us: the treaty bodies’ work is the bedrock, the central pillar that holds together the United Nations human rights machinery, and indeed the global human rights movement. This is where the written norms of the treaties are given life and continue to be enriched. This is where the normative foundation of the human rights work continues to be nurtured and strengthened.

It is also clear that the system faces huge challenges, which are now at the center of attention of States, and that the status quo is no longer viable. Furthermore, we would all agree that the goal is to strengthen the system, so that the treaty bodies can do more, not less, for the protection and promotion of human rights on the ground.

It is also my sense that there is general agreement that we have to remain faithful to the parameters of the treaties, and that changes need to be made within these parameters. This has been clear from the outset when the High Commissioner initiated this process in late 2009. This is why she called it a strengthening and not a reform process.

I am encouraged by the vast number and rich substance of all the proposals that have been made, including in writing, on issues of financing, membership, and working methods, and the dialogue between the treaty bodies and states parties which is the core of the process. I can say that I have already made some personal contribution to the effective functioning of the treaty body system, from the States parties’ side, when I was a delegate at the Third Committee in New York, campaigning for Korean candidates to the treaty bodies elections, all of whom, I am proud to say, have gone on to make outstanding contributions to the treaty body system as truly independent experts.

Of all the proposals discussed, I believe the great response and interest was expressed on fixed calendar proposal. When we were putting this together, we meant it to be a reflection of what the system should look like, what the schedule of states parties engagement with the treaty bodies should be, if the system were to fully functioning, as foreseen when the treaties were adopted by the GA and ratified by the states parties. It is simply a translation of the legal obligations under the treaties into a practical structure, if all states parties undertook their reporting obligations on time and the treaty bodies had all the resources they needed. But the system is not fully functioning. The gap between what the system should be, as approximated in the calendar, and the current reality of only 33% compliance rate and huge backlogs, is at the crux of the matter. So the challenge is how to go about closing the gap. It may be unrealistic to start implementing a fixed calendar along the five-year cycle, as indicated, but I do believe there has to be some framework, some calendar that provides for a measure of predictability that all can work around and build upon. In any case, we greatly appreciate all the comments and suggestions on the idea, which we will take on board as we continue to refine it. Hopefully, we will have a further developed version when we meet with States in New York in April. I do believe it has strong merits, in particular for the much needed predictability for all stakeholders.

As I said in my opening remarks, when the High Commissioner launched her process, we had every expectation that towards the end of the process, at the appropriate time, there will be, indeed has to be, intergovernmental deliberations, as many of the issues, in particular on resources, can only be decided by states. The High Commissioner’s report which will compile, analyze, and cost all the proposals, and reflect the High Commissioner’s own views as appropriate, will be issued later this year, and we very much hope that the report will inform the intergovernmental deliberations.

While the discussions in Sion in May last year were held more between States and the treaty body chairpersons, the consultations yesterday and today were more of a flow-flowing discussion, with delegations building upon and responding to comments from other delegations, enriched by the thoughtful observations made by the treaty body experts.

The New York consultations on 2 and 3 April will hopefully prove to be equally engaging. Those discussions should not start from scratch but be informed by and build upon these two days of consultations in Geneva. I urge you to ensure that your colleagues in New York are fully debriefed of our discussions in Geneva.
And I invite all delegations to provide us with comments as to whether the structure of the meeting in New York should follow the Geneva consultations outline or whether adaptations need to be made.

Lastly, I would like to thank my colleagues from the Human Rights Treaties Division for their exceptional commitment, professionalism and technical expertise with which they have undertaken the HC’s initiative. I hope this was evident to all during these two days.

And with these brief concluding remarks, I release you into the cold! Thank you.