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Opening Address by Mr. Ivan Šimonovic, Representative of the Secretary General, Assistant Secretary General OHCHR, New York to the Human Rights Committee 104th Session, 12 March 2012

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

It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to the 104th session of the Human Rights Committee.  Allow me to begin with a few words of remembrance about our former colleague Mr. Abdelfatah Amor, whose sudden death earlier this year left us all in deep sadness.  Mr. Amor was a longstanding and sincerely committed member of the Committee. He was elected for the first time in 1998 and throughout his thirteen years on the Committee diligently pursued several important roles including, Chairperson, Vice Chairperson and Special Rapporteur on Follow-up to Concluding Observations. He will be sincerely missed by all of us.

Members of the Committee, the main issue I would like to address to you today is the treaty body strengthening process.

The system has grown dramatically in recent years and this growth continues. The much anticipated tenth human rights treaty monitoring body – the Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) – held its first session in Geneva in November 2011.  The Committee has a mandate to review State party reports and receive individual and inter-state communications as well as undertake inquires.  It also has the possibility of taking urgent action to seek and find persons who were disappeared. 

In addition, the General Assembly adopted the third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child introducing a communication procedure for the Committee.  A signing ceremony took place on 28 February during which 20 States signed the Optional Protocol.

I warmly welcome these developments which will contribute greatly to the protection of rights-holders.  However, they are further reminders of the concomitant increase in the workload of the treaty bodies as well as the Secretariat.  The status quo is no longer viable as we can no longer function at an acceptable level in this way: something has to change.

This realization has been the impetus for the High Commissioner’s call to strengthen treaty bodies. The process, ongoing since 2009, is reaching its climax.  In June this year, the High Commissioner will publish her report, including her conclusions and recommendations drawn from the last three years of consultations. 

Follow-up to that report will depend on actions by treaty bodies themselves as well as States.  For this reason, the High Commissioner has focused consultations on these principal actors.  In this regard, allow me to update you on several developments since you met last year.

With respect to treaty body members: last November, the Chairpersons and representatives of treaty bodies participated in a meeting in Dublin that gathered the conveners of all the consultations held over the past two years and led to the adoption of the Dublin II Outcome Document.  Participants at the Dublin meeting, including Mr. O’Flaherty, will confirm that it was a painstaking process to draw together the results of this long reflection process, as well as to present clear recommendations to all relevant stakeholders. The Outcome Document was shared with you electronically and is now available in your folders.  You will see from this document, that concrete recommendations are addressed to treaty bodies, States and OHCHR. 

I am pleased to note that, in addition to the many individual treaty body members endorsing the Dublin II outcome, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, as a Committee, endorsed the document in January this year.  The organisers of Dublin II invited each expert to reflect upon the recommendations in the Outcome Document and to consider endorsing the document as well. Your input and views on this document and indeed on the process in general is important to enrich the High Commissioner's report, due to be finalized in June of this year, and to signal the level of commitment of treaty bodies to move forward on the various recommendations.  

I would also like to invite you to consider creative solutions to some of the challenges you face.  I am aware that you have raised many questions and concerns about the resourcing of the treaty bodies and your Committee in particular. The OHCHR will continue to provide detailed information on this issue when necessary. In the meantime, while the General Assembly did not reduce the current resources to the Human Rights Committee for the next biennium, no increase was provided either. 

Similarly, I encourage you to use your own voice to highlight the Committee’s concerns to Member States.  I was pleased to learn that the General Assembly amended its resolution on the twin Covenants to allow for the Chairpersons of this Committee and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the opportunity to engage for the first time in an inter-active dialogue with the General Assembly, commencing this year. This will be an excellent opportunity for the Chairperson to raise awareness of the work of this Committee to the GA as well as the challenges facing the Committee at this particular time.

In addition to working with treaty bodies in the strengthening process, the High Commissioner has been active in consulting States, the other key actor in the process. 

In this context, the High Commissioner facilitated a second informal consultation for States in Geneva in February and will facilitate one here in New York in April, immediately after your session. I understand that Mr. Fathalla and Mr. Flinterman will brief you later in the session on the highlights of the Geneva consultations.  States parties have become increasingly aware of and interested in the work of the treaty bodies, reflected not only in the large number of participants taking part in the consultations but also in the fact that over 30 substantive written submissions have been received from States parties in response to this process. A compilation of these submissions has been provided to you.

Ladies and gentlemen,
States are increasingly demonstrating their engagement in the treaty body strengthening process.  On 23 February 2012, the General Assembly adopted a resolution, tabled by the Russian Federation, to launch an open-ended intergovernmental process on strengthening and enhancing the effective functioning of the human rights treaty body system. While acknowledging the concerns raised by some stakeholders on this process, the OHCHR considers that this initiative could serve as an extension of the High Commissioner’s process itself. We consider it appropriate and indeed necessary that, through this process, States parties reflect on how to concretely resolve the financial challenges faced by the treaty bodies.

The OHCHR will do its utmost to ensure that the treaty bodies have a strong voice in this process. We will also continue to insist that key principles should be borne in mind during all of the deliberations throughout this process, including the independence of the treaty bodies, the necessity to uphold the existing legal framework, and the multi-stakeholder approach. As confirmed in the resolution itself, the High Commissioner’s report will present proposals based on several years of consultations with all stakeholders. Thereafter, it would be our hope that the discussions will no longer be about what can be done but will be done.  This same approach should be taken by the treaty bodies.

Further information on the treaty body strengthening process will be provided by Mr. Salama, Mr. David, and Ms Lee when you meet with them in the last week of your session.  I hope you will take advantage of their presence to ensure your full contribution to this process. 

Finally, allow me to give a warm welcome to two new members to the Committee, both of whom come with a wealth of knowledge and experience to contribute to your work. Mr. Kalin is of course not new to this treaty body, having been a member between 2003 and 2008. It is testament to his previous excellent work with the Committee that he has been re-elected. Mr. Sarsembayev, is a renowned academic in the field of human rights. I wish both members success and professional satisfaction in their new positions.

Turning to the work at hand during this session 4 States parties’ reports will be considered (Dominican Republic, Yemen, Turkmenistan, and Guatemala) as well as the examination of the country situation in Cape Verde, in the absence of a report. Country Task Forces will adopt lists of issues on the periodic reports of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Paraquay, the Philippines, Portugal, and Turkey. 

During this session, you will also consider 28 individual communications, adopt your annual report as well as the progress reports submitted by the Special Rapporteur for Follow-up to Concluding Observations and the progress report on Follow-up to Views.   

In conclusion, I wish you a very successful and productive session.