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Closing remarks by Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonović at the Consultations for States Parties on Treaty Body Strengthening

UNITED NATIONS, NEW YORK
APRIL 2 – 3, 2012
 
Ambassador Seger, Distinguished delegates.
Allow me to make some concluding remarks.
I would like to thank you all for the rich, frank, constructive and useful exchange of views that we had during these past two days and which will inform the preparations of the High Commissioner’s report to be released in June.
The Secretary-General could not have said it better, human rights are at the heart of the United Nations system and treaty bodies are at the heart of the United Nations human rights machinery.
I believe that this consultation was essential in bringing together the High Commissioner’s process of reflection which will culminate in her report, with the process of action by States, through the intergovernmental process led by the President of the General Assembly.
As you proceed in that direction of decision taking, let us reflect together on two possible scenarios:
 
Firstly, let us try to imagine a scenario in which nothing is done to strengthen the system:
• An increasing number of States is falling behind with their reports, despite repeated reminders from the treaty bodies.
• Because the reports are overdue, there might be no time to consult with anyone outside government or to assess the situation on the ground.
• When the report is finally approved and submitted, the state is informed by the treaty body that the report just submitted will not be scheduled for consideration until four years later.
• The treaty body faces a growing backlog of increasingly outdated reports, and requests additional meeting time to deal with it.
• As the report will be out of date by the time it is reviewed, the treaty body will require an update. In the meantime, the State ought to start work on the next report which is due prior to the consideration of the one submitted.

Consequently States are not benefiting from useful expert guidance on ways to implement human rights treaties at the national level.
Distinguished delegates, I am sure we can agree that this is not the vision we want for the treaty bodies. Yet, for some committees and some states, this is already becoming the reality.

Now let us try to imagine an alternative scenario in which the treaty bodies are strengthened along the many suggestions that have emerged to date:
• States know well in advance the date by which their report should be submitted and the date on which the Committee will consider the report.
• Preparation of the report is simplified because the State receives from the Committee a list of questions.
• In preparation for the report, the State conducts national consultations with stakeholders. Through this process, the Government obtains both valuable insights into the human rights situation on the ground as well as fresh ideas on what action the Government can take to address particular issues - even before the report is considered by the treaty body.
• Using the reporting calendar, the secretariat is able to plan sessions well ahead and the General Assembly is not being faced with unpredictable, repeated and ad hoc requests for additional meeting time.
• The discussion between the State and the treaty body is substantial - a real opportunity for the exchange of ideas and sharing of information. States parties are able to benefit from the expertise of treaty body members through practical and actionable recommendations that assist States in planning their next steps in terms of implementing human rights at home.
• The discussion is conducted openly before the domestic audience through live webcasting, which increases its impact.
• Because reporting is regular, States produce better and shorter reports. This helps to reduce costs.
• Treaty bodies’ timely recommendations feed into the Universal Periodic Review.
• They also guide OHCHR’s assistance to member States – which enables improvement on the ground.
Excellencies, distinguished delegates,
The treaty body members and the secretariat are well aware of the severe financial crisis facing member states and the United Nations. Indeed it is because of concerns of this nature that the treaty bodies and the secretariat have for years taken under-funding as a given and have absorbed much of the costs of a rapidly expanding system. Requests for additional resources have been modest and inadequate to address the fundamental shortfall.
This situation is no longer viable. Of course treaty bodies and the UN Secretariat must be solution-oriented and responsible in the use of scarce resources, explain and justify their costs.
Yet, notwithstanding some room for cost savings and greater efficiency, it is quite clear that the treaty body system will constantly deteriorate without additional investment by Member States.
Why? Every month, several States undertake new ratifications or accessions to some of the human rights instruments.
More ratifications are a welcome step. Each ratification opens a door towards better protection for rights-holders around the world. Yet it also carries a cost implication for the treaty bodies in terms of reports and individual communications.
For too long there has been no acknowledgement of the direct correlation between the act of ratification, the workload of treaty body and the consequent resource requirements. For too long we have tolerated a low-level of compliance with reporting obligations in order to fund the treaty body system.
Over the past two days, therefore, considerable attention was given to the proposal of a comprehensive reporting calendar based on 100 per cent compliance with the reporting obligations established in the treaties. This is one part of a rich body of proposals that have emerged during the past 2 years. Your observations have been valuable and will guide us in further developing and costing these proposals.
Distinguished delegates,
As we move forward, success can only be achieved if each stakeholder steps up to its responsibilities and respects the competence of others as prescribed by international human rights treaty law.
 
I wish to thank the treaty body experts who participated in the meeting and encourage them to continue harmonizing working methods to the extent possible within the framework of the treaties. The Secretariat on its part is committed to supporting the treaty body system in this endeavour.
 
I have every confidence that the President of the General Assembly will put in place an inter-governmental process which embraces the multi-stakeholder approach, which respects the powers and importance of all treaty bodies, and which builds on the work of the last two years.
Thank you.