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Opening Address by Mr. Ibrahim Salama Director of the Human Rights Treaties Division for the 81st Session of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

6 August 2012

Distinguished Chairperson,
Distinguished members,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to be with you this morning to open the 81st session of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. I would like to warmly welcome Ms. Patricia Nozipho January-Bardill (South Africa) who could not join the Committee at its last session. Ms. January-Bardill is of course not new to this treaty body, having been a member between 2000 and 2008.

The main issue I would like to address today is the treaty body strengthening process. After almost three years of consultations held among different actors, including treaty body experts, States parties, national human rights institutions, civil society organizations and United Nations entities, the High Commissioner released her report on the strengthening of the treaty body system on 22 June 2012. The High Commissioner’s report is based on all inputs and discussions in which treaty bodies, including your Committee have played an active and crucial role. It provides a coherent framework compiling the proposals made by different stakeholders, identifying synergies, linkages, and areas of mutual reinforcement, and a basis for future common ground. You have certainly seen in particular that your proposal to establish a joint working group on communications is one of the proposal of the report.

Other proposals addressed to the treaty bodies in the High Commissioner’s report include:

  • Establishing a comprehensive reporting calendar that ensures strict compliance with human rights treaties and equal treatment of all States parties;
  • Ensuring continued consistency of treaty body jurisprudence in relation to individual communications, and increasing coordination among the treaty bodies in relation to individual communications and adoption of common guidelines on procedural questions;
  • Increasing accessibility and visibility of the treaty body system, through webcasting of public meetings and use of other new technologies;
  • A simplified, focused reporting procedure to assist States parties to meet their reporting obligations with cost savings for them and the United Nations, while maintaining the quality of the process; and
  • Alignment of other working methods to the maximum extent without contradicting the specific normative requirements of the treaties, including aligning models for the adoption of general comments, standardising interaction with NGOs as well as appointment of focal points to prevent reprisals against those who have engaged with the treaty bodies.

The report also contains a concrete costing of each proposal, to help take the vital decision on the necessary resources for implementing them.

The report of the High Commissioner was also discussed at the twenty-fourth annual meeting of the chairpersons of the human rights treaty bodies held in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) from 25 to 29 June 2012. I am sure that your Chair, Mr. Antonomov will soon report back to you on this very rich meeting. You have also received the final report of the Annual Meeting.

In Addis Ababa, the Chairs welcomed the report of the High Commissioner and endorsed the vision it contains. They have expressed support for the valuable proposals contained in the report and recommended that each treaty body should carefully review the recommendations addressed to the treaty bodies and compare these with their current working methods in order to determine whether and what steps are required for the implementation of these recommendations. I understand that time have been allocated for such discussions during your session.

Following their discussion on the High Commissioner report, the Chairs held a videoconference with the two co-facilitators of the General Assembly process on strengthening and enhancing the effective functioning of the human rights treaty body system, as established by resolution 66/254. In this context, the Chairs highlighted the fact that although the process of the General Assembly is inter-governmental in nature, the treaty body system is by definition a multi-stakeholder system where both States parties and treaty bodies have specific competencies under the respective treaties. The Chairs particularly stressed that the treaty bodies as relevant UN bodies should participate in the deliberations as resource persons and trusted that States would make such arrangements.

As you know, the Chair and Vice-Chair of the twenty-fourth annual meeting of chairpersons were invited and participated as resource persons in the informal meeting of the intergovernmental process held New York from 16 to 18 July 2012. They have reported back to you soon after by e-mail on these States consultations.

Also of interest, the Human Rights Committee issued a Preliminary Statement on 12 July 2012 welcoming the report.

Dear Members,

A significant achievement of the twenty-fourth annual meeting is that the Chairs discussed and endorsed guidelines on the independence and impartiality of treaty body members (the “Addis Ababa guidelines”) which they strongly recommended for prompt adoption by the respective treaty bodies, inter alia through inclusion, in an appropriate manner, in their rules of procedure. The Chairs have re-affirmed the importance of human rights law in ensuring the independence and impartiality of the treaty body members and underlined the powers of treaty bodies to decide on their own working methods and rules of procedure, and guarantee their independence as defined in the respective treaties. The guidelines are annexed to the chairperson’s report to the 67th session of the General Assembly which is available in your files. Both the Human Rights Committee and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women have reviewed the Guidelines and on 27 July, the CEDAW Committee adopted a resolution in support of the Guidelines. I believe that the Secretariat has set aside some time for you to discuss these in details.

During the second part of their meeting, the Chairs held a fruitful dialogue with the African human rights mechanisms, namely the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, the African Peer Review Mechanism, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the East African Court of Justice, and the ECOWAS Court of Justice, as well as stakeholders including United Nations agencies, national human rights institutions and civil society organizations. Discussion focused on complementarity between the United Nations human rights treaty bodies and the human rights mechanisms of the African system, including joint strategies for promoting implementation and follow-up of their respective recommendations, as well as improved consistency of the jurisprudence by the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights and other regional mechanisms with that of the UN treaty bodies. The meeting adopted joint recommendations that the chairs encouraged each treaty body to give appropriate attention to with a view to strengthening their cooperation with the African human rights mechanisms and stakeholders. In this regard, I am delighted to inform you that the President of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights will be in Geneva later in the session and a meeting with your Committee has been arranged.

Dear Members,

Let me know turn to your agenda. Racist hate speech, including dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority or hatred and incitement to racial hatred should be penalized by States parties. In acknowledgment of this important provision of ICERD, your Committee has identified a day of thematic discussion as an additional initiative to contribute to the fight against racist hate speech. The debate aims to enhance understanding on the causes and consequences of racist hate speech, and how the resources in the Convention may be mobilized to combat it, through an exchange of information and experience, and an examination of progress made, challenges that remain, and lessons learned.

OHCHR has actively taken up this issue in a serious of regional workshops on the prohibition of incitement to national, racial or religious hatred. It brought together relevant experts from UN human rights mechanisms, special procedures and treaty bodies, to join hands in an effort to address the complexities of incitement to hatred. It was therefore of crucial importance to have benefited from the participation of a CERD member in each event. Moreover, the initiative has produced a wealth of information, analysis and recommendations which we will consolidate at a final event later this year. However, all inputs, background studies, and chair's wrap-ups that were produced in the course of last year are already available online. I hope these resources will be of use to you and I am sure that can serve a great purpose in the development of your general recommendation on article 4 of ICERD.

I am aware that you have a busy session ahead of you. The Committee will consider the implementation of the Convention in ten States parties. You will also consider several country situations under the Committee’s early warning and urgent action procedure, a number of countries under the follow-up procedure and individual communications under article 14 of the Convention. 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.