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Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination 80th Session: Opening Address by Ms. Carla Edelenbos

13 February 2012

Distinguished Chairperson,
Distinguished members,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to be with you this morning to open the 80th session of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. I am delighted in particular to address the new members elected on 30 November 2012: Mr. Carlos Vazquez (USA) and Ms. Patricia Nozipho January-Bardill (South Africa). Unfortunately, Ms January-Bardill is prevented from being with us at this session. I am certain that the skills and experience of these new members will further strengthen this Committee’s work.

I would also like to congratulate with their re-election Mr. Alexeis Avtonomv (Russian Federation), Mr. José Francisco Cali Tzay (Guatemala), Madam Fatima-Binta Victoria Dah (Burkina Faso), Mr. Ion Diaocnu (Romania), Mr. Humang Yong’an (The People’s Republic of China) and Mr. Dilip Lahiri (India), Mr. Pastor Elias Murillo Martinez (Colombia) . I express my deep appreciation for your excellent work in combating racial discrimination and related intolerance. I can assure you that we, in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, will continue to provide you with the best support and help possible.
Please allow me to bring to your attention some developments of interest that have taken place since your last session in August 2011.

Ratification of ICERD

Djibouti ratified the Convention on 30 September 2011, bringing the number of the States parties to 175. This high number of States parties is a matter for satisfaction and reflects the international community’s continuing interest in advancing the goals and objectives of the Convention.

10th Anniversary of Durban Declaration and Programme of Action

As you are aware, on 22 September 2011, the General Assembly held a one day high-level meeting to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA). For this occasion, your Committee issued a substantive statement at it 79th session in August 2011, emphasizing that the DDPA and the outcome documents of the Durban Review Conference offer a comprehensive United Nations framework for combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. Your statement played a very positive role in advancing the negotiations among Members States towards an agreed text. A political declaration was adopted by consensus. A copy of the declaration is available in your files. Furthermore, Mr. Kemal represented the Committee at the high level meeting and participated at the round table discussions dedicated to the theme of “Victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance: recognition, justice and development”. I am confident that Mr. Kemal will brief you in the afternoon meeting dedicated to inter-session activities.

Closure of the International year for People of African Descent

On the occasion of the closure of the 2011 International Year for People of African Descent, a high-level thematic debate on the achievement of the goals and objectives of the Year was convened by the Secretary-General on 6th December 2011, at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. The main objective of this closing event was to take stock of the initiatives and activities that were undertaken by Member States, United Nations bodies, specialized agencies, intergovernmental organizations, as well as civil society, including Non-governmental organizations and organizations of people of African descent during this year. Your Committee was ably represented by Mr. Martinez Murillo. The contribution made by your Committee, namely the day of thematic discussion on racial discrimination against people of African, organized at your 78th session in March 2011 and the subsequent adoption of a general recommendation on same subject were highly valued.

At its 66th session the General Assembly adopted a resolution on “Global efforts for the total elimination of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and the comprehensive implementation of and follow-up to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action” where it encourages the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent to develop a Programme of Action, including a theme, for adoption by the Human Rights Council, with the view to proclaim the Decade for People of African Descent for 2013/2023. I understand that the Working Group will continue to engage with your Committee and draw from your expertise in elaborating the Programme of Action. In this regard, the Secretariat has arranged a meeting with the Chief of the Anti-Discrimination Section in the course of this session.

Regional expert workshop on the prohibition of incitement to national, racial or religious hatred

The fourth and last 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 Santiago, between 12 and 13 October. Mr. Cali Tzay participated in this meeting. The reports on the discussions of these workshops will soon be available and they will certainly be of inspiration to your thematic discussion on racist hate speech which will take place at your next session in August 2012. In this regard, I would also like to draw your attention to the Human Right Council Panel on the right to freedom of expression on the internet which will take place on 29 February 2012. The panel will be moderated by Riz Khan from Aljazeera and is expected to be very interactive.

Growth of the treaty body system

Let me turn to two new developments in the wider treaty body system. Since your last session, the much anticipated tenth human rights treaty monitoring body was created. The Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) held its first session here in Geneva from 8 to 11 November 2011. The Committee has enthusiastically taken up its tasks, which include certain innovations such as the possibility of acting on urgent requests to seek and find a disappeared person as well as to bring situations of widespread or systematic practices of enforced disappearance to the urgent attention of the General Assembly.

Second, on 19 December 2011, the General Assembly approved a new Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child which establishes a communications procedure. This protocol will allow the Committee on the Rights of the Child to receive individual complaints regarding violations of the Convention, as well as of its two optional protocols on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography and on the involvement of children in armed conflict, and make specific recommendations to the relevant State. The Committee will also be able to initiate inquiries into grave and systematic violations of the Convention and its first two optional protocols.

Treaty body strengthening process

The treaty body strengthening process has reached a decisive stage. The series of meetings and statements on the treaty body strengthening process, which began in Dublin in November 2009, culminated in the “Dublin II” wrap-up meeting of 10-11 November 2011. Representatives of the convening organizations of all the consultations held to date attended this meeting, as did the Chairpersons of seven treaty bodies and several more treaty body members participating in their personal capacity. Mr. Kemal participated in this meeting.

The Outcome Document was shared with you in electronic format in December and is now available in your files. Concrete recommendations are addressed to treaty bodies, States and OHCHR, respectively. You may wish to note that the Committee on the Rights of the Child as a whole endorsed the Dublin II Outcome Document at its recently concluded session.

Since the reflection process began, we have been confronted – now with greater frequency and interest – with the question of what will come next. While the issues might seem complex, the High Commissioner’s response is simple. There are recommendations for all stakeholders. All must do their part to reflect on what is expected of them and on what they can and wish to implement. All treaty body experts were invited to engage in a closed online discussion about various proposals. I understand that there will be a more in-depth exchange on this topic with Mr. Ibrahim Salama, Director of the Human Rights Treaties Division during the session.

The High Commissioner has continued facilitating consultations with stakeholders. On 7-8 February 2012, the Office held a consultation for States in Geneva, and a second one will soon follow in New York on 2-3 April 2012. The Geneva consultations were well attended and provided for a rich exchange among States, with the participation of some treaty body members as resource persons. Ms. Dah participated in the consultations and will certainly brief you extensively on the discussions which took place. The report of the High Commissioner on the strengthening of treaty bodies will then be published in June 2012.

Secretariat support
Finally, I am delighted to introduce you to a new member of staff of the Human Rights Treaties Division (HRTD), Mr. Simon Walker, who has been appointed as the new Chief of the Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Section of our Division. He brings with him vast experience and expertise from different parts of the Office, including from the field. It is also my pleasure to introduce you to Ms. Hyeyoung Lim, temporarily replacing Ms. Harumi Fuentes who is currently on maternity leave, Mr. Valeriano De Castro and Ms. Mounia Atiki who will be providing administrative support to the Committee while Ms. Chedra Bullock is away for health reasons.

Session of the Committee

Let me then turn to the work of your Committee during this session. I am aware that you have a busy session ahead of you. The Committee will not only examine the periodic reports of eleven States parties, but also consider several country situations under the Committee’s early warning and urgent action procedure, a number of countries under the follow-up procedure, an individual case under article 14 of the Convention and the adoption of the annual report. Let me assure you OHCHR’s full support for your work.

I extend my best wishes to all of you for a successful session.

Thank you.