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105th Human Rights Committee Session (9 – 27 July 2012) Opening – Ms. Mona Rishmawi, Chief, Rule of Law, Equality and Non-Discrimination Branch, RRDD

Madam Chairperson,
Distinguished Members of the Committee,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am honoured for this opportunity to open your 105th session and to engage with you briefly this morning.

I. Remembrance - Mr. Rajsoomer Lallah

On behalf of the staff of OHCHR, I would like to begin with a few words of remembrance for our dear friend and respected expert, Mr. Rajsoomer Lallah, or Justice Lallah, as I called him, who passed away a few weeks ago. Since his election to the Human Rights Committee in 1976, Mr. Lallah was a regular presence in the Office, assuming many roles in addition to being a Committee Member, including those of Special Rapporteur for the Situation in Myanmar, and Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Chile.  Our staff had the privilege of working with him throughout the years in his many capacities. In whatever task Mr. Lallah was engaged, he always inspired confidence and deep respect in the people who worked with him for his humanity and his intellect. I knew Justice Lallah for many years, when I had the privilege of working with him when he was the Chief Justice of Mauritius between 1991 and 1995. I remember him as  an active member of the International Commission of Jurists and of the Centre for Independence of Judges and Lawyers, and I recall his passion forlegal education and the many ideas about how to make human rights a reality for people across the globe.  He will be sorely missed by all of us.

II. Welcome to new Committee member (elected upon nomination by Tunisia following Mr. Amor’s death)

Allow me to give a warm welcome to a new member of the Committee, Mr. Yadh Ben Achour, a long standing human rights defender, who stood for decades for the defence of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. Most recently, he headed Tunisia's Higher Political Reform Commission, which is charged with overseeing constitutional reform in post-Ben Ali Tunisia. Mr. Ben Achour comes with a wealth of knowledge and experience to contribute to your work. I wish you success and satisfaction in your new expert position.

III. General Introduction of ROLENDB’s work

I am particularly pleased for this opportunity to address you this morning and, I hope, trigger further interaction between your Committee, your secretariat within the Human Rights Treaties Division, and the Research and Right to Development Division in which I act as Director of the Rule of Law, Equality and Non-Discrimination Branch.

The Branch is composed of four Sections: Rule of Law and Democracy, Women’s Human Rights and Gender, Anti-Discrimination, and Indigenous Peoples and Minorities. Overall, it assists in filling the knowledge and capacity gaps in these areas through the provision of substantive and legal expertise and support to the High Commissioner and colleagues in Geneva and the Field, analyzing policies, documenting good practices and elaborating guidance and tools. The Branch also supports several intergovernmental and expert mechanisms.

The Branch is concerned on a daily basis with the promotion, implementation, and operationalization of human rights, including in its focus on implementing two Office-wide thematic strategies: a) the strategy on Discrimination, in particular discrimination on the grounds of race, sex and religion and against other marginalized persons and b) the strategy on Combating Impunity, strengthening accountability, the rule of law and democratic societies.

IV. Focus on rule of law related activities

Owing to lack of time, I shall limit my remarks today to our activities in the area of rule of law and democracy, but shall be happy to answer any questions you may have with regard to other activities of the Branch with regard to Women’s Human Rights and Gender issues, discrimination and indigenous peoples and minorities.

As you know, recent developments around the world, including in the Middle East and North Africa, are demanding our ever-increasing engagement in rule of law and accountability issues. To support sustainable transitions with human rights at their core, we know that democratic institutions governed by the rule of law need to be established or re-established. Effective mechanisms to hold perpetrators of human rights violations accountable and, crucially, provide victims with appropriate remedies and redress, must also be put in place. Provision of legal expertise and technical assistance in this area is in a nutshell, at the core of my Branch’s mission and within it, in particular of the Rule of Law and Democracy Section.

Clearly, there are many ways in which the ICCPR, and the work of your Committee, informs our work. I cannot do justice to them all today and will, therefore, highlight two main areas: development of policy guidance and furthering the protection of human rights. I will also say a few words about some issues we see arising in relation to Article 9 of the Covenant.

Developing Policy Guidance

When developing policy guidance in a wide range of areas, the work of the Rule of Law and Democracy Section staff is being constantly informed by the ICCPR and the jurisprudence developed by your Committee as well as your General Comments.   For instance, your work is referred to extensively in substantive guidance provided by the High Commissioner through her regular reports to the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council with regard to human rights and security policies, including counter-terrorism.  In her 2011 report on these issues (A/HRC/20/14), the High Commissioner’s analysis of due process-related concerns linked to the targeted sanctions regime, as well as to the use of intelligence in criminal justice proceedings, relied on the Committee’s work on article 14 of the Covenant.

With regard to supporting the right of victims to an effective remedy, article 2 of the ICCPR, provides the underlying framework and impetus for much of our work. It forms a key pillar of transitional justice, on which OHCHR is the lead within the UN system. Over recent years, we have supported the design and/or implementation of transitional justice processes and mechanisms worldwide, including through a series of tools on issues concerning, amongst others, truth commissions, amnesties, prosecution initiatives, vetting, reparations, and national consultations.  We are currently developing a new tool that will offer practical guidance on developing national victim and witness programmes to enable effective investigations and prosecutions of international crimes and other gross human rights violations, protect fair trial rights, and enable victims to claim the reparations and remedies due to them.

Furthering the protection of human rights

The Covenant and the interpretation of some provisions by the Committee are also heavily relied upon by the Office when working towards the furthering of human rights protection.

For instance, both in your General Comment No. 31 and in your concluding observations, your Committee has affirmed the continued application of human rights law to situations of armed conflict and the extra-territorial application of human rights obligations. We have  relied upon the Committee’s work in this area in a 2011 publication “International Legal Protection of Human Rights in Armed Conflict”, which provides guidance to State authorities, human rights and humanitarian actors and others on the application of these bodies of law for the protection of persons in armed conflict.

With regard to the death penalty, the Committee has assisted in furthering understanding and application of Article 6, particularly through its focus on what constitutes “most serious crimes” and its call to some States to review the imposition of the death penalty for offences relating to, for example, drug trafficking (e.g., CCPR/CO/84/THA). In parallel, and applying this work of the Committee, we have focused most recent efforts on the organization of the Global Panel on “Moving away from the Death Penalty: National Experience”, held in New York just last week. The meeting, inter alia, built momentum for this year’s General Assembly resolution on the moratorium of the use of death penalty and enabled sharing of recent positive initiatives for the abolition of the death penalty.

I also take this opportunity to update you on two interesting developments in the administration of justice with which we are engaged. In Vienna, in April, the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice adopted a resolution containing new United Nations Principles and Guidelines on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems. Guideline 3 provides that the State should “promptly inform every person detained, arrested, suspected or accused of, or charged with a criminal offence of his or her right to remain silent; his or her right to consult with counsel or, if eligible, with a legal aid provider at any stage of the proceedings, especially before being interviewed by the authorities.” The Principles and Guidelines are also interesting in that they extend the right to legal aid to suspects. They also have special provisions for legal aid to be made available, as appropriate, for victims, witnesses and children, and indicate that implementation of legal aid rights should be carried out by incorporating a gender perspective.

I understand that you are considering elaborating a new General Comment on article 9 of the Covenant. The right to security and liberty of the person is an issue that is at the core of our work and concerns. Violence and insecurity resulting from criminal activity is a growing problem in many parts of the world, prompting serious challenges to law enforcement and criminal justice. In a number of countries, a response to weaknesses in law enforcement has been to re-engage the military in internal security and public order functions, or to adopt repressive measures in the name of security. Addressing high and rising crime rates and social violence, particularly in countries where the criminal justice system is ineffective, presents serious challenges. The Office increasingly is called upon to assist with guidance on how best to ensure the right to liberty and security of the person in the face of these challenges. Further determination by the Committee of the scope of application of Article 9 in contexts such as this will be invaluable.

I would also like to mention that through OHCHR’s role as chair of the UN Counter-Terrorism Implementation Taskforce, we are working on Basic Human Rights Reference Guides to assist Member States to strengthen the protection of human rights in the context of counter-terrorism. One guide currently being developed concerns detention. In this context, we are also co-organizing a series of regional expert workshops on issues related to the right to fair trial in the counter-terrorism context, which encompass articles 9 and 14. This work will need to draw on the Committee’s past and future work.

Finally, I draw your attention to the resolution adopted by the Crime Commission in April regarding the revision of the existing Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, approved by the Economic and Social Council in 1957. On the basis of recommendations, the resolution categorized a number of areas for possible consideration that relate to the right to liberty and security, such as investigation of all deaths in custody, as well as any signs or allegations of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of prisoners, protection and special needs of vulnerable groups deprived of their liberty, and the right of access to legal representation. 

V. Treaty body reform

Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very happy to inform you, on behalf of Mr. Salama, who unfortunately cannot be with us today, that the High Commissioner’s Report on the Strengthening of the Human Rights Treaty Body System has been published. I understand that you have all received a copy.  The report will be officially launched in New York on 16 and 17 of July.  Mr. Salama will be returning to Geneva during the last week of your session when he will be available to listen to your views on this report and answer any questions. He will also debrief you on some of the reactions of other stakeholders on the report and inform you of the next steps in the inter-governmental process.  In addition, he will inform you of the financial restraints that OHCHR is currently facing.

Madame Chairperson
Distinguished Members of the Committee
Ladies and Gentlemen

I thank you all for your kind attention, and I wish you a most successful session. 

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Oath of office for new member (replacement for Mr. Amor)

[Now move to item 2 of the agenda]

May I now call on the distinguished new member of the Committee, Mr. Yadh Ben Achour, to pronounce his solemn oath of office in accordance with rule 16 of the rules of procedure [the new member will have the text of rule 16 before them in E/F/S, which reads –
“I solemnly undertake to discharge my duties as a member of the Human Rights Committee impartially and conscientiously.”]

Thank you very much. I wish you the best of luck in the discharge of your important duties.

Now I would like to return the floor to the Chairperson to deal with item 3 on the agenda dealing with the adoption of the agenda.